Once a dream, Juja Modern Hospital is now a fast growing health facility, drawing patients from different parts of Kenya
By George Gichuki
Like the proverbial cat, Sarah Ng’ang’a has nine lives. She has weathered many storms and navigated difficult terrain in her tough journey as an entrepreneur. A professional nurse whose speciality is midwifery, Sarah is bold, calculating, assertive and resilient. Her vision to venture into business was conceived while recuperating at her residence after developing slip disk complications. The complications forced her to retire from her nursing job at St. Scholastica Uzima Hospital in Nairobi. While undergoing physiotherapy sessions at the Aga Khan Hospital, she was advised by the doctor not to carry heavy weights in order to recover fast and fully.
Sarah is a devoted Christian. Her boss at St. Scholastica Uzima Hospital, Sister Rosa Pascal was a close friend and mentor who played a pivotal role in strengthening her faith as a Christian. In that respect, she embraced her illness with a lot of grace and accepted to take an early retirement. With a young family requiring her support, her future at that juncture seemed bleak. Amidst all these challenges, she one day had a vivid dream. Some chicks which appeared lost and helpless at a dingy place, were crying for her assistance. At that point in time, the dream made no sense to her. That was not the end of this mystery. After a few days, while washing dishes, Sarah experienced a strange vision. “ I saw a mother knocking a gate, while carrying an infant ; a man was holding her hand,” she recalls vividly.
The dream and vision triggered her thoughts. Gradually, it dawned on her that a pastor, by the name Maina Njagi had confided in her that her illness would catapult her to the world of entrepreneurship as an owner of a healthy facility, where babies would be delivered. “ This was a pipedream in so far as I was concerned given that I didn’t have any capital to invest in such an ambitious project,” she further recalls.
A step of faith
As she sat in her house trying to figure out how she would cope with her predicament, a voice that was urging her to embark on the ambitious project became louder and louder. She decided to obey it. She therefore used public means from her home at Kenyatta Road estate to Juja town. Her goal was to get a suitable building for setting up a business. After alighting from the matatu, she painfully walked to a nearby commercial building that was nearing completion. After negotiating with its caretaker, she decided to let some space in the building once it was completed. “ Believe it or not,” she says. “ That is the building which had appeared in my dream,” she adds. Since her savings had been depleted by illness, she borrowed money from a friend in order to book space in the building. That marked the beginning of her gruelling journey as an entrepreneur.
The next major task was equipping the hospital, purchasing drugs and hiring staff. Clearly, this required a lot of capital. Sarah therefore requested her mother and siblings to allow her sell a family plot at Nairobi’s Embakasi Ranching Scheme in order to generate the seed capital. Fortunately, they agreed.
Even after managing to get someone who was ready to purchase the plot, Sarah still faced another hurdle. The management of the giant ranching scheme insisted that she had to wait until the issuance of title deeds was complete. That made her very anxious. As luck would have it though, the directors of the ranching scheme convened a shareholders’ meeting to address that issue. Sarah accompanied her mother to the meeting. With a lot of confidence, she rose during the meeting and requested the chairman to allow her mother to sell her plot before being issued with a title deed since she had an urgent domestic issue to address. Ordinarily, Sarah’s small body frame would have made her inconspicuous in the meeting since it had a very high attendance. But she rose to the occasion by eloquently prosecuting her case to the chairman and his directors. Moved by Sarah’s fighting spirit, the chairman gave her mother a waiver to sell her plot.
That opportunity was godsend. Very fast, the family sold the plot and Sarah got the seed capital for her business. She named it Juja Modern Hospital. To start with, she purchased the hospital equipment from a leading supplier in Nairobi. After that , she recruited five staff members – a clinical officer and three nurses. At long last , she thought that she had got a breakthrough. But no! In the first three months, the business was very slow. Three of her staff members left. Bills were accumulating – especially rent. Given these difficult circumstances, Sarah decided to bring two partners ( who were medical doctors) on board. The two partners injected more capital to the business which was used to purchase more medical equipment.
Gradually, the business started to pick. But before Sarah could uncork the champagne bottle, her partners made some proposals that she found quite difficult to meet. This broke the partnership just . Once again, she found herself in a tight corner. Compounding her challenges, after breaking their relationship, the two medics took away the equipment whose purchase they had financed. It was very devastating.
A rock and a hard place
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Sarah made a very bold decision. She made an agreement with Trust Med Suppliers to sell her residence at Kenyatta Road. In turn, the company replaced the lab and medical equipment that had been seized by her former partners. The debt would be settled after selling the property. On another positive note, Juja Modern Hospital was accredited to the National Hospital Insurance Fund ( NHIF).
The entrepreneur might have thought that she was finally out of the woods. But Lo! She encountered yet another challenge. One unlucky afternoon, the landlord locked up a section of her business because she had unpaid rent amounting to Kshs. 1.6 million. This caught her off guard. Just before she threw in the towel, she made a call to the area chief who advised her to appeal to the Business Premises Rent Tribunal. As luck would have it, the tribunal gave her a court order restricting the landlord from evicting her until her case was heard and determined. Bernard Odero Okello, a lawyer whom she met by chance when the hearing of the case was about to commence, agreed to represent her.
It said that when it rains, it pours! On another fateful afternoon, while Sarah was waiting for a team from a leading savings and credit co-operative society ( Sacco) to negotiate for a loan facility, some strangers came knocking. Guess whom they were? They were the dreaded auctioneers. They had a court order demanding that she should settle her rent arrears failure to which her equipment would be auctioned.
The auctioneers refused to honour the court order that she had secured from the rent tribunal despite her plea. Consequently, they took her equipment and office furniture to Juja Police Station. Fortunately, her lawyer came in the nick of time with a new court order. He negotiated with the auctioneers who agreed to release the seized goods on condition that she would settle their fee. She obliged.
A few days after the ugly incident, lady luck smiled on Sarah. She got a call from the United Kingdom ( UK). The caller was willing to buy her house. To that end, he visited Kenya. After settling on the price, a sales agreement between him and Sarah was prepared by a lawyer. As a commitment to this agreement, he gave Sarah a down payment of Kshs. 2 million. “ I used that money to settle my rent arrears,” Sarah happily says.
When he went back to the UK, Sarah’s customer finally acquired the house after paying the balance ; Kshs. 11 million. It was a huge relief for her. She used that money to settle her debt with Trust Med, pay rent in advance and to purchase a residential plot at Kenyatta Road estate. For sentimental reasons, the plot was in the same locality with the property that she had sold. In the new plot now stands a magnificent maisonette put up by the resilient entrepreneur. Many doubting Thomases would never have imagined that her huge gamble would by any chance pay off at some point. It did.
Juja Modern Hospital has overcome great odds to register substantial growth over a short period of time. It draws patients from different parts of the country including : Uasin Gishu, Nairobi and Kiambu counties.
During the Covid-19 epidemic period, most patients could not travel abroad for treatment. The hospital filled that gap by organizing tele-medicine sessions with hospitals in India among other countries. “ That way, many patients were able to consult their doctors in foreign countries from our facility,” says Sarah adding that these patients would then buy the medicine prescribed to them locally. The hospital is offering this service to date.
The fast growing hospital has also been able to attract corporate patients ( mainly from its neighbourhood) including : Wendani Valley View School, Corner Brook School, ACK St. Mathew School in Juja, Bristar Girls and Precious Blood Children’s Home.
From a skeleton staff of two, the facility now has thirty staff members comprising : a resident medical doctor, three clinical officers and nine nurses among others. Additionally, the hospital has engaged consultant doctors in gynaecology, dentistry and orthopaedics.
Sarah is a visionary entrepreneur. “ My goal is to grow this hospital to a Level five status in the near future,” she says. In order to achieve that audacious goal, Sarah has purchased a plot in Juja town where she will put up a building to house the new hospital. “ We have already applied for building approvals from the county government and construction will commence soon,” she says adding that this development will help her to lower the operational costs since she will stop paying rent.
By and large, Sarah attributes her success in the business to the support from Madam Ann Wambui Njoroge, mother to her landlord, Robert Mukundi Njoroge. “ She stood by my side when my rent arrears were very high to the extent of almost disagreeing with her children,” recalls Sarah. “ She is very precious to me,” she adds.
Giving back to the community
Her father passed on two weeks before she was born. He never got an opportunity to see his beautiful girl. Sarah was left under the care of her mother who is a small scale farmer. “ We are ten children in our family and my mother educated us single handedly after a lot of struggle,” Sarah painfully recalls. The local community organized a fundraiser to meet her college fees. “ I will forever be grateful to all those who raised funds in order for me to pursue my nursing course,” she happily says.
Against this background, Sarah is active in giving back to the community. Currently, she is educating three girls in the university and two in primary school. Additionally, she is educating a boy in high school. “ I would like my legacy to be defined by the role I play in supporting the education of children from needy family backgrounds,” she says. “ My goal is to transform their lives and to make them financially independent,” she adds.
Advice to women entrepreneurs
A few decades ago, one of the major challenges that women faced in their entrepreneurship journey was shortage of capital. That was mainly because they did not possess collaterals like title deeds that were required by financial institutions in order to access loans.
Times have changed though. Nowadays many women have broken the glass ceiling. They own property, operate bank accounts and run big enterprises. Sarah is a good example. Nevertheless, the world of business is still dominated by men. One way of filling this gap is by encouraging successful women entrepreneurs to mentor their upcoming colleagues. “ My advice to women wishing to succeed as entrepreneurs is that they should not fear challenges since they usually turn out to be opportunities for more growth because of the lessons that they offer,” she says.
Sarah also advises prospective women entrepreneurs to be focused on their businesses. “ If you want to succeed in entrepreneurship as a woman, you should avoid paying attention to pessimists and naysayers,” she firmly says. “ it is also important for you as an employer to treat your staff members with utmost decorum since they are the backbone of your business and they should therefore be highly motivated and productive,” she adds.
Sarah’s moving story is unbelievable. It is like a piece of fiction – with imaginary characters and episodes. She has been able to soldier on after being bruised by hard jabs in the world of the entrepreneurship. Her fighting spirit has set her apart from ordinary folks…the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Sarah at a glance
Favourite cuisine : Ugali served with beef stew and kale
Hobbies: listening to gospel music and dancing
First car : Toyota Fielder
Dream / current car : Toyota Harrier
Diary: Sleeps after mid night, wakes up at 8.00 am and reports to work at 9.00 am
Favourite book : My Life in Crime by John Kiriamiti