From pushing a pedicab to steering a healthy food cart

Indonesia, May 4, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    Gun with his pedicab. Photo: Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Dini Windu Asih/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Gun serves healthy food from the colorful Kebal cart. Photo: Dini Windu Asih/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    "Even rain and flood do not stop me from my work," Gun says, pushing his cart through rising waters. Photo: Mercy Corps

His name is Gunanto, or Gun for short. He's 32 years old with two school-aged children. His wife works as a laundry laborer in their Jakarta neighborhood and earns 150,000 Indonesian rupiah — about US$15 — per month. Gun hauled passengers in a pedicab for two and a half years, earning around 30,000-40,000 rupiah (US$3-$4) per day while working from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M.

Then a city regulation was passed that no longer allowed pedicabs in the community. Gun's livelihood — and his family's primary source of income — instantly disappeared. He was then recruited by the local sub-district office to work as a security guard for the next two years. But, when he had to take a test to secure a permanent job in the government office, he was let go because he didn’t have an adequate level of education.

Gun was out of work again. But soon, the Head of Village and a local midwife — who had both noticed him as a hard worker — talked to him about joining a Mercy Corps program that had just started up in the neighborhood: Kedai Balitaku, or Kebal.

Kebal promotes low-cost, nutritious food for children under five, as well as nutritional advice for parents. Vendors push colorful carts around Jakarta's neighborhoods, making food purchases easy for households. At the same time, Kebal also offers a new avenue of economic opportunity for low-income families — like Gun's family.

After the recommendation of his neighbors, Gun went through the selection process and passed. He was then trained by Mercy Corps staff for three days to start tending a Kebal cart in the afternoon. The training taught him how maintain the hygiene and nutrition standards of Kebal foods, bookkeeping, marketing and good customer service.

Gun is really good at it. He really enjoys meeting people, talking and building relationships with mothers and their children. Wearing the Kebal uniform of a branded t-shirt, hat and apron, personalized with jeans and sporty shoes, people have noticed that he looks different now.

At first, Gun took over the food cart from Ibu Saripah — the neigborhood's other Kebal vendor, who cooked and vended the morning — in the afternoon. But, with help from Gun, Saripah she decided to focus only on cooking the food for the cart. This gives Gun more chances to sell in the morning. Saripah enjoys this new business model of business, as she receives income based on Gun's daily orders. She is no longer taking a risk if some food is not sold and is no longer bearing the physical burden of pushing a heavy cart across damaged and rainy streets.

Today, Gun earns a profit of 500 rupiah (about US$0.05) per one portion of 2,000 rupiah chicken porridge he sells, and 250 rupiah per one fruit jelly that sells for 1,000 rupiah. He's found that, with Kebal, he's now earning more income for the family with a much shorter workday.

Of the four vendors who currently operate Kebal carts around Jakarta, Gun is the most successful: he sells 75 portions of chicken porridge in the morning and 40 portions in the afternoon, and at least 50 – 70 fruit jellies per day. He earns between 50,000 and 70,000 rupiah (US$5-7) per day as his net profit.

He sees a great future in this business. He's keeping his attention on strategic areas where there are many children under five years old, maintains his current loyal customers by giving his best service and continues building good relationship and trust. Some of his customers come from different neighborhoods and found about Kebal — and Gun — from their friends, relatives or when they visited the health center to get health care for their children. This is called mouth-to-mouth promotion, and it's vital to keeping Kebal growing. Gun and other vendors also interact daily with various government officials and staff at local schools. These people are the promotion chain for this program, which helps maintain Gun's livelihood.

Even when he’s not vending, Gun greets mothers and children with confidence and cheer. He teaches children to wash their hands with water and soap that he has in the cart, and plays with them. Fun is part of the success of Kebal: each cart is colorful, attractive and has four painted characters representing Carbohydrate, Protein, Vitamins, Fruits and Vegetable, which are featured in Kebal’s foods. Gun always plays the jingle to let his customers know that he is passing their houses. He also calls out to mothers and children with his own voice: bubur, bubur, bubur — which means "porridge, porridge, porridge," the main breakfast for children under five here in Jakarta.

He maintains his health by trying to rest and eat well during his break times. He doesn’t want to pass a day without selling. When he's sick, he feels bad because he believes that his customers are waiting for their food —awaiting the sounds from the cart. Gun is committed not only to meeting his family's needs, but also to providing healthy foods for children under five. He listens to advice from mentors on how to maintain and improve his business. He sells, goes around the neighborhood and finds potential new areas to sell.

"Even rain and flood do not stop me from my work," Gun says. "I have to deliver the healthy food for them, or I will feel bad to them, and to my family, if I don’t bring any cash home."

Gun is really grateful for his new job — a new opportunity to become a successful entrepreneur. He is eager to learn more from successful entrepreneurs and anyone who can give him helpful advice. He believes this is a combination of a big challenge and an opportunity for him to grow with this business and bring more to his family.