They Never Expected This

By Anne Marie Gattari

In July, Zawadisha did something that no one expected. We opened a retail shop in the available space adjacent to our office in Maungu, located on the main dirt road that is the artery into all of the villages that pepper Taita Taveta County.

In a matter of days, the team cleaned, painted and stocked the shelves. Flyers circulated among the surrounding villages, and on the morning of the first day a line of local women waited for the doors to open.

“The energy is wild,” Jen Gurecki, who founded Zawadisha 10 years ago as a funding source for safe, sustainable household items, said. “Everyone is so excited. We are making items available so they can shop where they live and work.”

The shop may be small, but the impact it is having is big: offering the convenience of buying locally and avoiding the hours-long commute to Mombasa and providing employment training to women who might otherwise need to leave their communities to find work in urban centers. 

Zawadisha means “to give a gift” in Swahili. The gift from Zawadisha is not the solar lamp or rain barrel or hot pot that makes the woman’s daily life more efficient, safer and healthier. It’s the sense of pride, independence and confidence a woman feels that comes from being able to better care for her family and send her children to school, Monica Makori, our Director, said.

As we get our legs under us with this new ventures, we’ll also be developing job training courses in retail operations. The training will include inventory management, record keeping of credit, and cash sales and marketing.

“Our value to the community is to help make daily lives ‘good’ for the women and their families who live here,” Monica said.

And Jen agreed: “We don’t strive to make them rich by western standards. But to be able to stay on their small farms, own a piece of land and live in peace and quiet, that’s a rich life.”

As do many nonprofit organizations in Africa, Zawadisha works with women’s savings groups, or chamas, to grant micro-loans and explain how they are intended to be used. Women’s savings groups have become prevalent in the past several decades as African nations advance the economic empowerment of women, which is now largely recognized as the solution to poverty.

In a July 2019 article published in Africa Renewal, United Nation’s officer Kingsley Ighobor wrote that  women’s economic empowerment is the key to achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063, a continental framework for socioeconomic transformation.

One of the tenets of Agenda 2063, for examples, envisions an “Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.” This vision is also consistent with several goals of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

PS: Did you know that 100% of your purchase supports our work in Kenya? Click here to shop the handmade sisal baskets made by the women of Zawadisha.