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Grade 7 drop-out beats all odds

YANDE SYAMPEYO, Lusaka
HE IS a Grade Seven dropout and his childhood was nothing close to comfort. However, this gloomy beginning did not deter Bowers Sikaonga of Lusaka’s Kanyama township from aiming high in life.

Today, Bowers, 37, has changed his fortune with a K5,000 start-up capital and is a proud owner of a company that manufactures cleaning detergents and food stuff.
Born in a family of two in 1980 in Kanyama, Bowers was forced to drop out of Chinika Primary School in 1997 as his parents were financially crippled and could not afford to support him and his brother, who unfortunately passed on.
Bowers loved school and was devastated to drop out but the financial situation at home was the underlining factor and he had no choice.
His mother was a house wife while his father worked part-time on some farms and was not paid enough to sustain his family.
Frustrated at the development, Bowers resolved to travel to his village in Isoka district of Muchinga Province where he started farming to sustain his livelihood.
However, village life was not so friendly and he was forced to return to Lusaka in search of greener pastures.
“Upon my return, I worked for various companies as a casual worker. The monies I realised assisted me to support my family,” he recalls.
In 2003, Bowers was engaged by a company called Real Products that dealt in the manufacturing of cleaning detergents and food stuff.
It was here that he acquired the skills and expertise, and after working for years, he decided to quit.
Having saved K5,000, in his account, Bowers used it as start-up capital to get the business up and running.
“As I worked for that company, I thought it would be prudent to develop my own business. I had acquired the necessary skill and so when I had a substantial amount of money in my bank account, I made a ‘landmark decision,” he recalls.
Notwithstanding the fact that the sector he was about to venture into was infiltrated by reputable companies, in 2008, Bowers registered B Sikaonga Enterprises with the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA).
Married to Mervis Nalumbwe and with four children, Bowers marketed his products through radio and television and enhanced publicity by registering the business with the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA).
“Of course, the start was rough but with persistence, the public slowly began to appreciate our products,” he recalls.     
The company, whose products are branded ‘Super’, is involved in the manufacturing of various products such as vinegar and multi-purpose liquid detergents.
The school dropout-turned-entrepreneur says he sources raw materials within the country as he believes in supporting fellow local businesses.
He is the director of the company located at Lusaka’s City Market area and currently employs three people.
Bowers has partnered with Chuma, a friend he worked with at his previous site.
He is quick to point out the benefits he derived from being a member of ZDA as the agency assisted the company in the labelling and packaging of products.
‘To put icing on the cake’, ZDA assisted the company to secure a contract with one of the country’s chainstores, Pick ‘n’ Pay, where it is supplying vinegar.
Bowers says emphasis on quality of the products and branding have enabled the company to compete favorably with international brands.
“This has to some extent also enabled us to penetrate the market, although we are currently only supplying Lusaka and some towns along the line of rail,” he says.
“The agency also assisted the company to exhibit at the Zambia Agriculture and Commercial Show, where it was recognised and awarded certificates,” he says.
He explains that currently, the company is able to produce 300 cases daily of the various products.
With more finances at his disposal, he plans to procure more equipment and expand the business towards Livingstone, Nakonde and Chipata.
“I have a plan and vision to open up more branches across the country because I’m confident that Zambians are slowly beginning to appreciate local products. Success lies in the quality of the product, packaging and branding,” he says.
On the social circles, Bowers has taken it upon himself to improve the livelihood of his parents and other members of his family.
Having missed out on school, Bowers has vowed to ensure his four children, namely Gift, Jude, Bowers Junior and Jesus, get an education.
“I wouldn’t want my children to pass through the hardships I experienced as a youth, and so I want to prioritise their education,” he says.
With a loving and supportive wife, Bowers has not completely lost hope of returning to school as he plans to do so when his business expands.
“Knowledge is power and although it has been years since I was at school, I intend to return at an appropriate time. For now, my concentration is on expanding the business,” he says.
To his peers, he has one message: “Never give up in life even when the light at the end of the tunnel is seemingly invisible.
“Never dwell on your misfortunes, rather keep your head high, work hard and always have hope that tomorrow will be a better day.”
This story is not just Bowers’. It is a story about experiences of many other Zambians who stop school due to financial constraints and they face setbacks in pursuit of their dreams.