SIMON OGETO: PASSIONATE PROMOTER OF KENYA FROM THE DIASPORA IN CHICAGO

PASSIONATE DIASPORAN PROMOTER OF KENYA/// BY Margaretta wa Gacheru. Published August 2, 2013 in Business Daily/// Even before he got a full four-year scholarship to study Marketing and Media Relations at Chicago’s Columbia College in the US, Simon Ogeto was busy putting Kenya’s best face forward promoting tourism on a global scale for travellers from all over the world. The president of the college was just one of many travellers who went on individualised safaris that Ogeto designed in the early 1990s while still working at Pollman’s Tours Ltd in Nairobi. But the recent Utalii college graduate so impressed Columbia President Duff that he encouraged the 22 year old to apply to his college and ask for a full scholarship as well. “I was hesitant at first because I’d met all sorts of people who’d been so impressed with Kenya they showered promises on us tour guides before they left, but then we’d never hear from them again,” said the tall lanky Kenyan from Nyamira who’s been a Chicago resident for nearly 20 years, since 1994. What caused him to think twice about the president’s generous offer was the phone call that came a week after Duff’s departure and return to the US. It was from the admissions office at the school, asking where they could send their application forms. “So after they sent the forms by fax, i decided to fill them out, and within a few days, i received word I’d been admitted and also received the full four year scholarship,” he said, noting that even getting a visa from the US Embassy was a breeze. But four years turned out to be just long enough for Ogeto to complete not one but two university degrees in marketing and media communications at Columbia. “For my masters, i wrote a thesis that outlined what I’m doing today,” said the founder and CEO of the Seed Africa Group. “We do three things, all revolving around promoting Kenyan tourism: we market and design individualized tour packages; we do media promotions, and we run language workshops especially for travellers on their way to Kenya. The Kiswahili language training workshop that he just finished running in late July was especially designed for Lawyers without Borders, a band of American human rights advocates who have been following Kenyan politics and current events for the last few years. But they are just one of the groups that Ogeto has assisted since he completed his course at Utalii, went to Pollman’s and then found his way to the States where he’s worked at both Columbia College and the University of Chicago inside both schools’ international students departments. And while the bulk of his promotional work for Kenya has involved working with non-Kenyans who he says quickly come to love the country, Ogeto has also served as a sort of agent for Kenyan cultural groups who’ve gone and performed in the US, especially in the Chicago area. They include everyone from the Jabali Afrika Band and Dance Africa to the Kenyan comedians ‘Ridiculous’ and Kenyan filmmakers like Albert Wandago. So while Ogeto has effectively settled down in the States, (He’s got a wife, two young kids and a flat in Hyde Park), his connections with Kenya grow stronger year by year. In fact, he wishes he could advise the Kenya government on how to change a few of their policies to make them more traveller-friendly. That would also make his work slightly easier. But until he is called upon to offer his advice, Ogeto will simply be one of Kenya’s most passionate diasporan promoters whose love of his country is infectious and inspirational as well. Symon Ogeto’s website is http://www.seedchicago.com.

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