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.”
 

Creating economic stability and pride for women: Our Trainer's Story.

Invest in women

Selina ~ one of our trainers

On a recent Thursday morning in Marungu village, Taita Taveta County Kenya, a group of women with notebooks and pens sat under a tree keenly listening to Selina, one of our Peer Educators, who held a talk on basket making and how to save money. She was speaking to the Tumaini group, whose name translates to hope. It was started in 2015 and meets at least twice a month in efforts to advise each other and find ways of uplifting their community. The main hope is to find ways to generate income and be able to take care of their households.

I got the chance to have a one on one with Selina Mwambogo after her training just to have a sneak peek into the life of  a Zawadisha’ Peer Educator.

Tell me a little about yourself?

I am Selina Mwambogo, 35 years old and a mother of two. I have lived in Marungu almost my entire life so I really feel very connected to this community.

When and why did you join Zawadisha?

It was the beginning of last year 2016. My children have grown and I had the desire to do more for my community. I wanted to be more involved with what is around me, rather than just be a housewife depending on my husband. I felt I had a chance to contribute to our society and also to my family. When a friend of mine told me of Zawadisha and the work they do, I got very intrigued. I approached the community coordinator (Monica) here in Maungu to see how I could get involved.

You see, the harsh economic and climate crisis we are experiencing here has made it hard for families to afford daily livelihood. We needed to find additional ways to generate income for the sake of sustaining our households. At the time Zawadisha was implementing the Training of the Trainers program (this is aimed to employ local educators - mostly women, on how to maximise the resources in their County and be able to pass on skills and knowledge to the other women in the region). I was so happy to be chosen to participate in the training. I never hesitated making this decision to be part of this, because I knew this would totally change my life and the life other women.

With my knowledge from these trainings, I can train women, who basically umbrella their families on how to meet their ends. So far so good.

What sort of training have you been able to do so far?

Our aim is to unlock that entrepreneurial spirit and have women being able to earn income.

I have trained the ladies on basket making. A simple weaving of a 'chondo' (which is what we commonly refer to the baskets in our local dialect), boosts their income when they make sales from these products. The baskets are made from readily available sisal which is a resource readily grown in this county.

Our region is a very disadvantaged when it comes to rainfall distribution.This has greatly affected the food security situation in the region. We receive water tanks from Zawadisha which has helped when we experience water shortages. We harvest water and store it in these tanks. There is so much relief when you do not need to travel long distance to fetch water. A lot of time was wasted in these journeys to go the rivers as they are far, and it is also very tiresome. It is my hope and dream that even with water shortages in our area, people will always be sustained by this water harvested in the tanks, and that everyone eventually will own one.

The water tanks have opened up other avenues for us, in that we have been training the women to take on small kitchen vegetable gardening. You have to understand that this would never be viable before, we did not have this reservoir water. If one started a small vegetable patch, it would wither away because there was no water to sustain it.  However, kitchen gardens provide households with food provision throughout the year. They are also actually simple and effective way to reduce your impact on the environment because you are planting your garden in a place that was not earlier covered with plants. Not to mention the experience of pleasure that comes from growing your own food.

The aim of my training is basically to impact knowledge on ways to make ends meet, like in the gardening case, a small idle land that would otherwise continue laying idle is put into use.

Sukuma wiki (kale), carrots and onions are some of the plants that can be readily grown.They can easily sustain feeding families or sold whenever their is a surplus, and life continues.

 

Mshigha women receiving training

How else has Zawadisha been helpful?

Oh! The Solar products we get from Zawadisha have have come in so handy.

See, families were a bit reluctant to try the solar products. It is said, “a habit is a disease,” some ladies were more accustomed to firewood light at night and kerosene lamps. Until they discovered the health benefits of solar. Not only do these lamps give proper illumination in comparison to the kerosene ones, they work out to be way cheaper in the long run. The amount of money we spent on buying kerosene is now saved to cater household uses or even for school fees. We have noticed they also provide cleaner energy than the traditional methods. Our houses are not smelling of smoke anymore.

We keep encouraging the women to take on these solar lamps and radios as they come with added other benefits. We live on the off-grid lines, so we do not have access to electricity. We urge people to be creative and value these products as resource to make money. Most of us have mobile phones and apart from providing light, these products also have added charging ports. A solar radio/lamp will not only provide entertainment, but will be a  money-maker. Women can earn money when others ask to charge their mobile phones. They could easily make even Ksh 200 from this.

Still, I am tasked to reach the more traditional people, who need more convincing. Through organisations like Zawadisha, people are eventually breaking away from the norms and embracing cleaner and sustainable projects.

What do you hope for?

I want to prosper, for my family’s sake and I have the realisation that this can happen through hard work. Each month I train 4 groups each composed of approximately 30 women. I am working to train more and assist more people. At times you look at someone who is richer and doing better than you in life, and you wonder why your life is not like theirs, but the whole reason is that these people work hard. Your efforts can change your life for the better and I too can achieve a lot as well.

Any last words from you?

I hope that our supporters within the whole Zawadisha will never tire of holding our hands, it is because of their efforts and our efforts that we succeed. The trainings we are giving the women help educate us all. You find that there are women who had no skills prior, and are now gaining and learning so much from it.

It has been eye opening for me working with Zawadisha. I have the hope to see my kids succeed, I am learning alot from Zawadisha, and I feel I have set a strong trend for my children. One of them is actually an employee for Soko Kenya, an international clothes manufacturer. I am really proud of myself and of them too.

When we teach them, we engage a lot and want them to ask questions. It matters to hear what the women want. We also have fun whilst at it, we love a good dance and this is how we keep them keen to want more trainings. They always tell us they want more of these trainings when we leave. It feels really good to be able to work with these women. We have a saying “Umoja ni nguvu, utengano ni udhaifu” - together we are strong, apart we are weakened - which makes us feel like we have a bond and we can achieve what is needed to uplift our households. Thank you.

Happy Women's Month

Invest in women

Zawadisha's women march on the IWD

An African Woman's Take on How To #BeBoldForChange

International Women's Day and Women's History Month is about celebrating the role of women and campaigning for their rights. Africa is in a phase, where almost everything matters and still nothing matters at the same time. It is a continent straddling old and new – traditional ways of life intertwined with fast-growing economies – it remains at times looking for its new identity. And it is this traditional way of life that is changing, at times for the worst, but at times, with regards to women's rights, for the better.

International Women's Day from an African woman perspective had its own phase. Women are being celebrated in Africa and this is forming a new wave. The media has shaped some of our perspectives on how women are observed, especially in urban areas.
 

However, to most us, celebrating the day of women takes us back. You see, an African woman experiences the proverbial nine lives of a cat. She is a wife, a mother, a farmer, a carpenter, a teacher, a priest, a counselor, a creator. All of this wrapped together in a box inside her: the phenomenal woman, with the nine lives vibrantly living in her heart.

 

With her little exposure, knowledge, and education, she was (or is at times) believed to be a slave to her masters, the male counterparts. She was best suited in the kitchen, tirelessly cooking for her large family hour after hour.The kitchen firewood smoke burnt her graceful eyes, her fingers soaked in black dust from the charcoal. She bore few scratches as she split the firewood using the axes. She carried jerry cans on her back, in her head, from streams kilometers away. She cannot afford a rest. Her beloved family would greatly suffer. No one empathized with her and bails her out, even for a day.
 

She religiously pleased her man. Gave birth like she was paid to do so. Yet she lived in extreme poverty. Her station was after all in the house, at the family farm, at home. Year in and out, her belly popped, and a child was born. And the cycle repeated itself.


She toiled the farm with a baby on the back, under the scorching sun, she endured the cold July, with her baby gently wrapped in lesos under a banana tree. She woke up early to prepare her children to school before the cock and prayed for her families before day began. The wee hours of the morning, as the majority are still tossing in bed, saw her up, chirping together with the beautiful birds, ready to usher the day, ready to live her nine lives. Ready to make a mark in the society.
 

This woman has been too powerful, yet it’s hard to believe, with all her armour, with all her hidden strength, she was under authority. She was invisible and unheard. She was neglected, abused, rejected, and undermined. She wished, dreamed, and hoped.
 

This month we celebrate this woman who has been fighting for her liberation, for her freedom, for her education. She has accomplished and conquered the odds. She is liberated, she is educated and she now makes her choices on her own. She has fought hard to be a teacher, a banker, a doctor, a farmer and all. She continues to cause rumble because of who she is. All that was needed was a little awakening of her vibrant nine lives, which she has multiplied to became a career woman, an advocate of her rights, an educationist in her society, a role model.

She continues to soar higher every day through the enlightenment. She is no longer a voiceless kitchen being who had no life off home, who never in her wildest dreams could imagine the feel of the wheel, who never imagined could be an advocate for her rights with no fear of shut-down, who never imagined herself going for a holiday at the beach, and just soak in the sand as she enjoys her breeze on her back. She is gracefully conquering heights and making tremendous impact in her life and society. She is at the forefront to make a world a better place, and whenever she goes, her presence cannot be ignored. You inhale her presence in your nostrils, as she is too powerful, and you can’t distinguish her dreams.
 

She is a confident woman now and makes things happen wherever she steps, at home, workplace, or her social life. She is still the woman with a little grease under her fingernails on her perfectly pedicured nails, she is not afraid of the dirt. She is down to making her world a better place, at whatever cost.
 

"Give the girl the right shoes and she will conquer the world."

We celebrate these women this month.
 

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.