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The story of one kind man and his kiosk

Many moons ago, a gentleman called Chege ran a food kiosk close to the main campus of the University of Nairobi. Chege’s place was well frequented by students, and was an institution unto itself.

Many of these students came from relatively humble backgrounds from all over Kenya, and lacked support systems in the big, unfriendly city. The meagre ‘boom’ allowance they were given soon ran out, and towards the month-end many students did not have sufficient funds to have three meals per day.

Chege was a godsend at those times of month, for he could offer a big mug of steaming tea and two very thick slices of bread with butter – a meal that could sustain many a stomach for the rest of the day.

But Chege had another attribute: he was very kind-hearted by nature. Unlike his fellow businessmen, Chege had a soft spot for these struggling students. Many of them could turn to Chege at the most difficult times of month, and ask for some food on credit. Chege would often oblige. He ran credit accounts with many a student, and they loved him for it.

A question: was it wise for Chege to offer credit to the student community? It was certainly not shrewd – few businessmen I know would take a risk with such an un-creditworthy group. “Pay cash or take a hike” would be the normal policy. Sound business practice is about profit maximization, is it not? Those students would take advantage and never repay poor old Chege, don’t you think?

That’s not how it worked out, though. Chege’s beneficiaries mostly repaid him. Years later, Chege aged and wished to leave the ugly, noisy, corrupt city and retire to his rural home. But he had no means of generating income back in his rustic abode. And so he remained stuck in the city.

A benefactor appeared: one of the students who had benefited from Chege’s kind heart years back had never forgotten it. He was now a well-regarded professional with a thriving practice. When he heard of Chege’s quandary, he showed up at the kiosk and offered Chege enough money to pack up in Nairobi and start a whole new venture back home. A surprised and very grateful Chege accepted.

This heartwarming tale was told to me by a student of that era, himself a beneficiary of Chege’s informal credit facilities. I am told there are many like him, part of the city’s movers and shakers today.

What’s the lesson here? Do people favours, so that someday one of them might do you a big one back? Not at all. Chege had no way of knowing that’s how things would work out for him.

The real lesson is about unsolicited kindness. Most of us become hardened against being kind, particularly when we live in a ‘me-first’ society. Those of us who run businesses become even more flinty, suspecting every customer of being a fraudster and thinking it dumb to do favours in business. The only good turns we do offer are of the “you do something for me and I’ll do something for you” variety.

A great life is not like that, and nor is a great business. Keeping a part of your heart open for strangers is an essential part of being human. Helping people randomly, with no hope of a ‘return’ on this ‘investment’ is an extremely wise thing to do. Good is not brought into the world by wishing others would do it; it is by doing it yourself, in the smallest but most sincere way.

You may never become materially rich this way, but you will certainly become very wealthy. Your wealth will be the pool of decency and kindness in the world, and the success of the people you helped when they needed it most. And when the final tally is done of whose life was more meaningful, you will be way ahead of most folks around you.

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