The Women of Kasigau: Meet the Bungule Women's Group

From left to right: Dorocus, Elpina, Josephine, Eunice, Margaret, Christine, Emarline, Hope, and Dorine

From left to right: Dorocus, Elpina, Josephine, Eunice, Margaret, Christine, Emarline, Hope, and Dorine

Editor's note: This post is a new approach for Zawadisha. Normally we feature the women who we currently with in Kenya. But we recognize the importance of telling the stories about the women who are waiting patiently for their water tanks, their solar lamps, their clean cook stoves. Our community includes them, and we want to share their stories with you. You can help us fund them by donating to Zawadisha and typing Bungule in the memo line.


“The more you work hard, the more you get.” - Group mantra


Meet the Bungule Women Basket Weavers, the very first women’s group to form in the rural Kasigau area located approximately eight hours south of Nairobi.  By joining together, the women have empowered each other and inspired more independence in each other.  Through basket weaving and growing vegetables in their greenhouse, they now earn additional money to that helps them “stand on their own two feet," as they like to say in Kenya. The women are not solely dependent on their husbands as the only providers of income, and the result is that they now are able to determine the necessities that they need. This group leads by example and has inspired others in the area to form similar groups.  

The women’s group has participated in table banking for the last year, where the women contribute a small amount to the group each month so that a different member can take out a loan.  Once they have taken a loan they pay a higher rate until the loan is paid back.  This practice has instilled the discipline to pay back their loans and opened so many more opportunities.  Now if they need money to pay for their children’s school fees they have somewhere to turn.  Loans of water tanks and iron sheets will help the women to collect more water at their homes.  This will keep them from having to walk long distances to collect water and allow them more time to weave baskets which is their primary source of income.

Chairlady: Christine Nyange is the chairlady of the Bungule Women basket weavers.  She has lead the group since it was founded 13 years ago.  The group works based off the principle, “The more you work hard, the more you get.”  She leads the group by ensuring that everyone is sharing ideas and working together.

Meet Our Members | Florence Katiwa

“We’ve now gotten multiple avenues to be able to advance, so it can get nothing but better” [CLICK TO TWEET]

Z: Please tell us a little about yourself and your family -- where did you grow up, do you have brothers/sisters, how many children do you have now...

F: I was born and raised in Machakos in a house of 2 kids from my immediate parents. My father later remarried, and had 6 other kids, bringing the total to 8 kids. I also schooled in Machakos. I got married in Shinda Hills. Eventually my husband wanted his own land, and bought land in Marungu. We then moved and have lived here ever since. I have four kids.


Z: What is your most memorable experience as a child?

F: When we were kids, we were playing outside in a compound that was made up of homes with grass thatched roofs. While we were playing, we decided to play around with fire. One of the kids threw the stick upwards that had some fire, and it landed on the house that stored all our food, which of course went up in flames. When our parents returned, we were severely beaten, and I have never forgotten that.


Z: What has changed in your village/Kenya since you were a young girl?

F: Education. People did not place focus on education for female students. Not so much anymore.


Z: Now that you are a grown woman, what is the one thing that you are most proud of?

F: I a proud of having being married and having a homestead to call my own, and that I am able to manage my homestead. I go back home to my own place.


Z: What brings you joy?

F: The progress that Zawadisha brings us.


Z: What does the future look like for you, your family, and your community?

F: It will be easier and better than it has been. We’ve now gotten multiple avenues to be able to advance, so it can get nothing but better.


Z: What do you want other people to know about you, your family, and/or your community?

F: To know how much me and my life have changed due to joining a group.


Z: If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be?

F: If I could go back and be a child again, I would push myself through studying. I have learned too late about the importance of education.

Unraveling The Single Story in Microfinance

This blog post was inspired by our founder's TEDx Talk “Rethinking the Paradigm of Poverty” and originally featured in the Month of Microfinance. #MoMF16 is a grassroots movement with a passion for client-centered microfinance and an intense commitment to learning. Learn more about the Month of Microfinance here.

In 2009, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stood in front of hundreds of people at TED Global and delivered “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this talk, she spoke of the myopic perspectives of Africa, including her own experience pitying another African family after being told of their poverty over and over again; she said she was never able to see them as anything but poor. She also described the crippling and unintended consequences of telling just one story about other people whom you do not know:

“It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Adichie is one of many people in this world who argue for a more nuanced, authentic, and accurate depiction of Africa. That is quite difficult to achieve when the single story of Africa—in particular African women—permeates not only the development sector, but our daily lives as we are inundated with corporate social responsibility campaigns, buy-one-give one programs, and the like.

The Making of a Myth

The single story about African women is part of the “myth making” that has lead to the creation of iconic images of women and simplistic slogans. Those of us involved in microfinance are not immune to this myth making. How many of us tell the story of a single $25 loan lifting a woman out of poverty when there is ample data (that most likely neatly fits with our experiences in the field) that it does not? Does our stories about “empowered women” come from our loan portfolio or from rigorous qualitative and quantitative data collection from the field? This (girl-washing) has rendered the term empowerment nearly useless as it stands for everything and nothing all at the same time. Those who are our intended beneficiaries are rendered silent, denied agency as outsiders construct their identity.

Perhaps we perpetuate these myths because we need something to believe in, something to sustain us as we face overwhelming obstacles of poverty and inequality, pain, and suffering. Our moral conviction and sense of purpose can be so deeply tied to these constructs that we arguably have had no choice but to create and sustain our belief in our own myths. Despite the good work that we do helps millions of people around the world, there are consequences that can be difficult to discern.

Reconceptualizing Poverty

Unfortunately (and unknowingly), we have contributed to recurring binary themes that exist about women: women as vulnerable or women as virtuous. Women from the global South, both as individuals (woman) and as a larger homogeneous demographic (women), are portrayed to fit neatly into the predetermined construct of poverty. This is problematic in the sense that it results in policies and strategies that are ineffective (not to mention also locking women into a singular time and place devoid of context). Microcredit is not generating significantly higher incomes on average for the average micro-entrepreneur operating in the informal sector. And yet many of us have focused almost exclusively on the power of women and entrepreneurship while overlooking many systemic issues and holistic solutions.

Poverty is a cross-cutting, complex issue, yet it is often reduced to a simple economic understanding of the net worth of an individual, a net worth that can be molded—or shall I say transformed—by entrepreneurship, the free market, and microfinance. But we should not confuse wealth with well-being; economic activity alone cannot account for what is important in people’s lives. There are other forms of capital accumulation—social, natural, and human—that play a significant role in the health and well-being of people and communities.

Partnership, Not Pity

As microfinance professionals and advocates, we have an opportunity to build solutions and tell stories that move beyond the limitations of traditional economics. It is time to transcend the development trope of the empowered entrepreneur/woman/girl/insert-next-big-thing-here. The lives of the people we serve are far more nuanced, and they deserve to be represented in ways that tell their entire story. If we want to create radical change we cannot continue the myth making that as Adichie notes, (accidentally) dehumanizing the very people we aim to help. We need to unravel the single stories that we are creating about the poor. That process can be quite messy as it requires us to look with a more discerning lens at the normalcy of our beliefs about entrepreneurship, capitalism, development, globalization, and the like. But I firmly believe that if we challenge ourselves to ask the hard questions and become comfortable with being uncomfortable, then we will be able to move away from selling pity and more toward an authentic partnership with the people that we care so much about.


The Challenge

Water tanks being delivered to the Neema Women's Group in Maungu, Kenya.

Water tanks being delivered to the Neema Women's Group in Maungu, Kenya.

Women bear the brunt of Africa’s infrastructure deficit. While both men and women are affected by poor infrastructure, the lack of local infrastructure—particularly power and water—creates a significant burden for women. In Kenya, the majority of people—73%—live in rural areas that lack infrastructure. Of the 44 million people living in Kenya, 75% light their homes using kerosene lamps. They are dim, expensive, create poor indoor air quality, and cause fires.

Approximately 80% of households depend on biomass fuels such as wood and charcoal for their cooking, and 39% lack access to safe water.  Women, as the primary caregivers in the home, are the ones responsible for collecting water, finding fuel wood, cooking on sub-par stoves, and working by toxic kerosene lamps. Women spend long hours each day collecting fuel wood, and as they cook with it, extreme health hazards result from premature death to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; more than 15,000 people a year die from Household Air Pollution (HAP), and approximately 81% of the population has health-related issues. Without electricity, household tasks become more laborious.

And finally, collecting water is another heavy burden for women who can spend up to 20 hours per week collecting water; this represents two full months of labor lost.

As a result, women face a double workday—50% longer than men’s—that makes them chronically time-poor. They are forced to make difficult decisions around seeking healthcare, earning an income, or attending to their and their children’s education. Despite the innovations in clean energy and water, the cost is prohibitive for the rural families; nearly 70% of all Africans cannot afford the $12 - $18 price point for a basic solar lamp. Most organizations in the clean energy and water space struggle to include communities within their supply chains, a necessary component for success within this segment.

To compound the issue, only 7.6% have access to financial services, making solar lamps, rain water tanks, and clean cook stoves out of reach for most people. Traditional micro-finance institutions are not equipped to deal with these issues or this population. They struggle in rural areas because of minimal community engagement, low trust, and high fees. Therefore, communities continue to be often left out and marginalized.

Zawadisha addresses these issues by providing in-house credit, direct delivery to villages, after-sales service, and training.