Have you ever battled with the decision of whether to quit your job or stay on? What then stops you? Fear? Uncertainty? Lack of capital? Well, it’s a decision that Caroline Wawira Njiru struggled with too, before she finally decided to make that bold leap to quit her job as an air hostess and delve into the murky waters of self-employment.
Today, 31 year-old Caroline is the proprietor of Valley Star Academy in Kitengela. The school offers quality elementary education to children aged between 2 – 6 years. So how did she do it? I had a chat with her about her entrepreneurial journey. Read on.
For six years while working as an air hostess, Caroline spent her days traversing different continents, meeting people and enjoying numerous shopping sprees. But as exciting as her job was, she knew she would not be in it for long.
Caroline always had a deep-seated passion for children, and grew up knowing that her destiny lay in doing something with them.
“Even though I didn’t quite know what it is I wanted to do with children, I knew that I would one day devote my life to working with them,” says the Daystar University graduate.
It was not until she got married in 2010 and soon after became a mother that she became certain of the direction she wanted to take.
“Having my daughter opened a new chapter in my life and I knew without doubt that I wanted to run a kindergarten. This would enable me work with children and ensure they received a solid educational foundation,” she says.
Caroline immediately began working towards making her dream a reality. She took out her savings and with some top up from her husband – all of which amounted to about Sh4.6 million, she started construction work for the kindergarten.
Mewanwhile, she would continue with her work as an an air hostess and she would, on her days off, spend the entire day supervising construction of the kindergarten. She would also spend hours buried deep in research, learning more about Early Childhood Development (ECD) which would be necessary in her journey as a kindergarten entrepreneur.
She also began formulating an exit strategy from her full-time job as she knew she wanted to work at the kindergarten fulltime. But as she watched the construction near completion, the reality of resigning from her well-paying job for an uncertain future began to sink in.
I began getting scared and second guessing my decision. Here I was, earning a good salary, yet I was contemplating quitting for the murky waters of self-employment. I wondered if I was making the right move,” she remembers.
Caroline then sought the advice of friends, and many discouraged her from quitting.
“They told me not to leave my job, advising me to instead run the kindergarten on the side. Becoming an air hostess does not come easy, and they wondered why I wanted to quit a job that is coveted by many!”
After getting her second child in March 2012, Caroline made up her mind not to return to work after her maternity leave. But the more she thought about it, the more her friends’ advice made sense. Eventually, she shelved the quitting idea and resumed work. But the more she worked, the more she became certain that she did not belong there anymore.
So in October 2012, Caroline handed in her resignation letter.
“Many of my friends thought I was crazy. I had earlier survived a massive retrenchment at the airline, and some told me that my resignation was selfish, that I could have saved someone else from being axed, that I was mocking those who had lost their jobs,” she says.
Finally free to pursue her dream, Caroline would now spend her days at the construction, aiming to open the kindergartens’ doors in January 2013. But she had underestimated the intricacies involved in the final phase of the project, which led her to postpone opening the kindergarten to the next school term.
Her dream finally came to be when Valley Star Academy, Kitengela, opened its doors in May 2013. But it did not go as expected. Only one child was enrolled!
Not one to be discouraged easily, Caroline soldiered on.
“I had given my assurance to the child’s parents that I would give their son the best, even though he was the only child in the school. Because I did not have a school van, I would pick the child from his home, drop him in school, ensure that he was well taught, played, ate well, took him for swimming and other extracurricular activities, then dropped him back home. Even though they knew their son was the only child in the school, I thank God for his parents who believed in my dream. Interestingly, I didn’t know them personally – they simply came across a flier I had distributed around Kitengela, visited the school and entrusted me with their child. I will never forget that couple for as long as I live,” she says.
Two weeks later, the school enrolled another child, and a week later, another child. Today, the school has 45 children in different classes ranging from toddler class to pre-unit. The school has grown and will undertake it’s first Standard One enrollment in January 2016.
It is now three years since she quit her airline job, and Caroline has no regrets.
“It has been a good journey, one of immense sacrifice, but every bit worth it. Right now I am more focused on laying a good foundation for the school rather than making huge profits. Thankfully, the school now is able to pay the salaries of its teachers, a driver, a cleaner and a cook. We have even managed to purchase a school van,” she says.
“I am now living my dream, which is working with children. When I look at the fulfillment I have today, I cannot compare it to how it was when I was employed. I am glad I decided to quit employment for entrepreneurship. Besides, I get to spend time with my husband and two children – things that I hardly did in my previous job as sometimes my I would be gone for weeks on end. I missed so many my friend’s weddings, their bridal showers and baby showers – but not anymore. I am now able to attend all my friends and family functions,” she says.
Isn’t Caroline’s story inspiring?
*I originally published this story in Saturday Nation.