To Grow Where We Are Planted
I hail from Nyakach village in Kisumu County in Western Kenya. It was not by mistake that I was named after my clan, “Nyakach.” My parents must have had great hopes for me when they gave me this name, for people are rarely named after their clan, and those that are, tend to spend their life working to develop their town. As I grew up, I found that was all what it meant to be. My heart goes to my hometown and my life has been revolving around putting my county into the digital limelight.
Born in 1982 in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, I was the third child in a family of five siblings. My father was a civil servant, while my mother stayed as a housewife. We lived protected lives, but I was conscious of my surroundings and the struggles around me. My parents were working themselves to the bone to give us the best, and they always did. We never lacked anything essential, nor did we go to sleep hungry. These might be just simple expectations in many parts of the world, but they are still considered privileges in most households in my county. I felt lucky.
My siblings and I attended the best schools, and our father strived to pay our tuition fee a year in advance. He knew the dynamics of life and placed our education as his highest priority. We were not picture perfect, though. My elder brother was constantly vexing my parents by stealing his tuition fee to spend on something else. My older sister got pregnant in her second year of high school and had to drop out of school. Our youngest sister could not manage the school life and dropped out to pursue her artistic life, which caused stress to our family. I guess life is not, and can never be, perfect.
As a civil servant, my father would be on the move to different towns every so often. When I was in second grade, we decided to stop following him around the country. His constant moving was putting a strain on our academic performance. We needed a constant, familiar environment to enable us to learn better. When my mother shared these concerns with him, he took us to settle down in the village of Nyakach, and we were enrolled in school there.
After graduating secondary school in 2002, I entered Egerton University to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. I felt proud, and I knew my parents were proud, too. I was a laid-back, quiet and super disciplined son, so my parents did not need to constantly monitor me like my siblings.
My program lasted for six years. During the last two years in school, I conducted research for a water treatment project for the Sustainable Management of Water Shed run by University of California, in partnership with Egerton University. I was extremely lucky because I learned a lot through the project and actually got paid! I was able to take care of my personal needs without reaching out to my parents for money. It was a great feeling. I graduated college in 2008 and searched for the next step in my life.
When the project came to an end, I applied for jobs and got accepted at an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization, a foreign aid organization not directly affiliated with a government) in Kisumu. I worked for six months before resigning. The NGO, unfortunately, did not treat us well. The person who ran it failed to pay us our dues and relocated us to Nairobi without informing anyone. She left behind an office and an unpaid staff. This was my first time dealing with a con artist, and it hurt to know that she starved us of our duly deserved wages despite the hard work we put in. I felt cheated, but I knew there was nothing more I could do. It had happened, and life had to move on, even if it was hard.
I stayed jobless for a year, all the while sending numerous applications to as many organizations as I could think of. Nothing was coming. I hated sitting idle, so in 2010, I tried my hand at insurance. I first worked at Madison for about two months, then three months with Britam Insurance. I soon realized that selling policies was not my cup of coffee, and I quit.
In October that year, luck turned to me and I found another NGO job I was interested in. The organization was called Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) focusing on making rural water safe. The office was in Busia County, in Western Nyanza. Things were going well, and I was happy about the direction my life was taking once again. In January 2011 my employer threw a wrench into my plans by selecting me to be among the team to launch a new office in Kisumu. My first reaction was to object. By then I had fallen in love with Busia. Kisumu was not anywhere near where I wanted to be.
Although I’d spent most of my youth in Kisumu and felt attached to it, the town had the worst reputation back then. Following the 2007–2008 election, the town had no reputation to write home about. It was only associated with lawlessness, violence, skirmishes, burnt businesses, and theft. It felt like nothing good could ever come out of it.
I went, nevertheless, not disobeying the order, and together with one of my colleagues, settled in the town to open the IPA office. Determined to find something good about Kisumu, my coworker and I would stroll through the town in the evening to explore the nightlife. To our surprise, we came across really amazing clubs, coffee shops, hotels and other places that were nowhere close to the ugly town that had made headlines in the local news channels. During one of our explorations of the town, I had a Eureka! Moment.
“Wait a minute! How about I create a portal where important information about Kisumu County can be accessed?”
That was the birth of the “Amazing Kisumu” news website. I decided that instead of hating Kisumu, I was going to rewrite the story that surrounds it and make it look more desirable. In my spare time, I put together a website to showcase the best parts of the city and the potential for big events to be held in Kisumu. Instead of just showing the tourist destinations, I showed the smaller locations people didn’t know about. I also used the website to market the county in cultural ways by helping local organizations make their own websites, so they could engage with their audiences all over the world. It makes me feel really proud that the “Amazing Kisumu” set a precedent to help others project the town to the outside world in a positive way. I wanted to show the world the real Kisumu and encourage investors to come into the town. I have been working on this initiative since then, and I am so excited and proud to see that major developments have taken place and the town is thriving more than ever.
I realized how big of an impact we had made in our community when in 2015 I received a call from an Indian business man who wanted us to run a marketing campaign for his business through “Amazing Kisumu.” After receiving money from this campaign, my eyes were opened to the limitless possibilities the website had.
I took a risky, but confident, step. I resigned from IPA later that year to fully concentrate my efforts in running “Amazing Kisumu.” So far, I have enlisted two other individuals as co-owners to help run the site as a fully registered company. We have since ventured into digital marketing and are able to not only serve clientele in Kisumu, but the whole world.
I feel successful, but a coin has two sides. I have not done very well when it comes to my personal love life. I have had, so far, two failed relationships which resulted in the birth of my two children. I have decided to just take my time with relationships and be the best father I can be to my children.
I have opened my eyes and heart to what Kisumu really is, and in turn, I fell in love with the culture that wasn’t being showcased. From my upbringing, I saw the importance of hard work, and used that lesson to build the website and help others get exposure too. I am putting my feet forward and setting a foundation for the website to continue to thrive. I want to keep up the legacy of “Amazing Kisumu” and continue being the spokesperson of my people in the digital world. It wasn’t my original plan, but I know now it was what I was meant to do.
This is the story of Dennis Nyakach
Dennis, 36, is a father of two and the director of the “Amazing Kisumu” initiative. Since he created the website in 2011, he has been nominated twice for the Kenya yearly blog awards (named “BAKE”) for the “Best Country Blog” category. He came in second in 2018 but is optimistic in topping the list next year. He is a very patient but outgoing man who does not like to be pressured or pushed. As a child, he used to compensate for this by crying out. As an adult, he simply takes his time to do things his way. He has had to move from his palatial home and adjust his lifestyle as a result of resigning from his previous position as a liaison and policy officer with IPA Kenya. However, he is very proud of being his own boss and living life at his terms.
If you are interested in learning more about Dennis’ initiative, please visit the website at: https://www.amazingkisumu.co.ke
Life Log #120
This story first touched our hearts on July 18, 2018.
Read the story on our website: https://ourlifelogs.com/2018/08/03/to-grow-where-we-are-planted/
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