What happens when you bring together 50+ women in Kenya 

Invest in women

It’s a powerful thing when women come together

There are certain events that resonate with us long after they have passed and make us feel more inspired to make our world a better place.

This June we held our first ever annual meeting where we invited our group’s chairladies. So much of working with these women and their groups has been about beginning relationships and listening to one another. The event gave the women we work with an opportunity to talk, leading to engaging discussions on what has worked so far, and what has not worked since they joined Zawadisha.

Our aim was to bring out some of the social issues affecting the region, carve out ideas to create a positive impact, whilst at the same time celebrating these women, their ideas, self-determinations and innovations.  

I am writing this feeling very inspired after spending that day with these women and I have some reflections and insights from this event.

Keep pushing, keep on going, and be inspired.

Everyone was eagerly waiting to hear from Zawadisha founder Jen Gurecki. As a social entrepreneur, she is driven by the values of access to opportunity and equality. However much the women were truly grateful to Zawadisha in providing them with a chance for a better livelihood, Jen explained that it was these groups of women that inspired her to do more. We admired their passion to find positive solutions to the problems they had. Having a chance to be with such a dynamic group of people, who are willing to push themselves to better their lives, their families as well as their environment, is a reminder of what we should aspire to achieve.

There is still so much work to be done, and the aim is to see the communities we work with live sustainably. The mission being to see more groups joining Zawadisha and achieve that financial independence, as well as showing a deeper appreciation for their social and environmental responsibilities.

Culture has to work with the changing times.

This was a theme that echoed much during the event when the Region Assistant Chief took the chance to speak to the women.  There is a rising tide when it comes to the shifting attitudes to the traditional gender roles.

She insisted that the world is rapidly changing and this could have a profound impact on women’s lives in terms of accessing new opportunities. The cultural barriers that keep women at the bottom of the pyramid are now being shifted to provide a climate where women now have expanded prospects to literacy, education and employment.

The notion that women should just be housewives is now being challenged. They are questioning the societal norms that are seen to be outdated. As a result they are being better recognised in the society, and their work embraced. Coming from a remote area does not mean that one should become voiceless and unimportant. Women are the pillars to their homes and that is where the self-drive to work hard should start.

Monica explaining to the ladies on the benefits of solar lamps

We can all be mutually supportive.

The highlight of the event had to be hearing what the group chairladies had to say. It is the recognition that they are the needed social captains that can help contribute to development in some of these areas. For the programmes to succeed, we need to understand the issues affecting them, and these women provide that knowledge at the ground level, explaining what did and did not work.

Climate change:
When you hear stories from these ladies, of how they travel long distances to fetch water, and at times find there is no access to it, or that it is perhaps dirty, you begin to realize how fortunate we are, and also the sheer daily challenge they face in getting it.

The climate change crisis, has really affected their access to water, and affected their food security situation. Water is something most people who have it never think can be such a ‘big issue’ for their livelihood.

Loan Repayments:
The chairladies told us the women love receiving these loan products. Their lives are changed in a very exceptional way. However when it comes to the repayment periods, that can be a challenge. They told us that they have to keep reminding the ladies to make the repayments promptly. They see first hand how these products are improving the lives of many people and how their communities are benefitting. They feel they can accomplish a lot, and so keep pushing the women to make the repayments on time. In return, they are able to get more loan products that can benefit them.

Solar products:
These have received so much appreciation. Families have for their entire lives been using very harmful sources of lighting, like the kerosene tin lamps that emit a lot smoke. The solar lamps have really changed the way most families live. They now have access to clean energy sources, and are able to save the money they would normally use to buy paraffin.

Entrepreneurial Training:
Zawadisha’s trainings have really been received well. People from these communities are now more encouraged to take part in them. From the soap making, the teaching on establishing kitchen gardens, Zaipits farming, and finance management trainings.

These are meant to instill an entrepreneurial spirit to the communities and the encouraging effect is they are working. Women are now more inspired to take on more training as they are now able to reap financial rewards from them. Most people are using them practically to generate income by either selling their produce from their gardens or selling the soaps they make. One of the chairladies told us, “I really want to encourage women to take these training sessions, and for the groups not taking them yet, to just take the plunge, it’s one of the most fulfilling things most of us have had a chance to do.”

Appreciation:
Listening to these women, you come to realize how much effort they actually take to push their lives further. It’s truly admirable. We at Zawadisha had a little surprise for the ladies as a token of our appreciation for the work they do. Everyone received household utensils, and those who had succeeded in exceptional work got to take home a solar lamp as well. Seeing them dance and sing whilst receiving the gifts gave us all the reason to keep working together.

The Takeaway
Although we are saddled with challenges, one thing was clear: collaborating and engaging with these communities is one of the ultimate ways to bring about a desired change.  In providing the loan products like water tanks, iron sheets and solar products, we represent a strategy, a drive towards financial self-sufficiency. The bottom-up approach of first involving the women builds our social capital and ultimately satisfies these distinctive needs of their communities. It reminded me of a quote I once read: “Any time women come together with a collective intention, it's a powerful thing.”