"Meet the Zoomer": Heleneo Onsase, Storekeeper & Gardener March 05 2015

Hi! My name is Heleneo Onsase. I am part of the wonderful team at EcoZoom. As a store keeper and gardener, my job is to ensure that we receive, store and send out goods. I make sure that there are no missing or damaged items. With regards to the other hat I wear at EcoZoom (being a gardener), I am in charge of maintaining the EcoZoom grounds. Before I get to how it is to work at EcoZoom, I want to take you on a journey on how I got to EcoZoom.

I was born in Kisii County, the third child in a family of six boys. The region is very diverse and is characterized by ridges and valleys.  It can be divided into three main topographical zones. Soapstone mining and carving in Tabaka, Gucha South District has been going on since 1885. People in that region generally go into mining. I think part of the reason is because that is the only option we have growing up. We made quite an array of products: jewelry boxes, figurines and plates. I began mining at the tender age of ten years so as to fend for myself and my family. The concept of taking a holiday was foreign to us. We (my siblings and I) had to mine soapstone or go hungry. I would make about $4 in three days, when mining the top layer of stone. The money earned was used to buy breakfast for my family and exercise books. Rain in our community brings with it a sense of rejuvenation, but to me it spelt a season of doom. Soapstone softens in the rain and it becomes so fragile. That meant that there was very little food to go around.

Education after high school came to a standstill. My school fees for my high school education were $70 per annum. Tertiary level education would cost me $635 per annum. My parents were faced with a trade-off. They had to either let me go on with my studies at the expense of my siblings or allow me fend for myself as I previously had. They of course chose the latter. Thinking back, I do not think I would let my parents let me get on with my studies at the expense of my siblings. I continued my work in mining for 10 years, before leaving for Nairobi.

I actually came to Nairobi in a very interesting way. To this day I am in awe of what happened that day. My cousin who worked in Nairobi talked to my brother, Francis Oigara, about a job opportunity in Nairobi. At that time, Francis had a job. He gave his employer a two weeks’ notice as is required. After his departure dates lapsed, he could not leave until they found a replacement and so the opportunity was passed down to me. I left for Nairobi at 6 am. Before I could even pay for the bus ticket, we received a call from my cousin. He told us he would not be available and so we had to postpone my travel. At around midday the same day, I received a call from my cousin again. He had good news this time round. He told me to pack my bag once more and leave for Nairobi as soon as possible. I knew whatever lay ahead must have been pretty good for me to have to make two attempts at leaving for Nairobi on the same day!

I started working at EcoZoom on a part time basis. This went on for two months until I was confirmed on a full time basis. I am proud to be part of this budding organization. I got to EcoZoom at its onset (in Kenya that is). I was and still am responsible for ensuring that EcoZoom is a beautiful place. Back then, as is expected of young organization, we had minimal sales. Right now, we are moving stocks per week in their hundreds. The mode of transport has also changed. We used to use a motorbike to transport our products but now we are using a truck and motorbikes for smaller deliveries. My vision is for EcoZoom to move stock in their thousands per week. And move into an even larger office because of growing out of our current space.

EcoZoom has given me the chance to make a difference. The problems that EcoZoom is tackling are very real. I have experienced them first hand. Growing up, we used the smoky ceramic ‘jiko’ (stove), a kerosene lamp to light the house and study, and drank untreated water. The transformative products that we sell really do make a difference. In my opinion, I do not think there is anything currently in the market that can the stand the quality test against our products. Our products are of very high quality. My mother lives back home in Kisii and still uses the products I bought for her two years ago. The EcoZoom Jet 28 and the Sun King Pro 2 are still in very good condition despite daily use. I am confident that the five-year life span of the EcoZoom Jet 28 will be attained by my mother’s charcoal stove.  

In my own little way, within my sphere of work, I am glad to be part of an organization that not only cares about profits, but also about the people and the planet!