By MUNYASYA MUSYA (PSCU)
When her husband died in 2008 leaving her with three children, two in secondary school, Hellen Gacheri was devastated. Jobless and broke, life was hard and unbearable.
She was scared of the daunting task of single handed fending for her children and ensuring they remained in school. To make matters worse, her neighbours and relatives openly taunted her that her children would drop out of school.
Today, Hellen is a happy mother. Her two children completed school, went to college and graduated. One is now a nurse in Kitui County while the other is working in Meru town. Hellen has also built a new modern home and boasts of several dairy cows courtesy of money from the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF).
Pressed by the burden of raising her children, Hellen joined the Giantune Gitwiki Self Help Group in Meru County in an effort to overcome her financial difficulties.
“I thank the Giantune Gitwiki Self Help Group because of their support to educate my children. I have also used loans from the group to build a house and buy cattle. Since I joined the group, my life has significantly improved,” she said.
Founded in 2005 as a merry-go-round, the group received its first loan of Shs 50,000 in 2012 from the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF). Over the years, the women group has grown in leaps and bounds. It is now seeking a Shs 750, 000 loan from the Fund.
With support from WEF, the self-help group has adopted a table banking approach to provide its members with low interest loans that have enabled them to start and run their own businesses.
For thousands of women in Kenya, the Women Enterprise Fund is a fountain of hope. It has opened new avenues for income generation thereby restoring hope for a bright future for many women who previously had no steady sources of income. Businesses are booming and the lack of access to credit for women enterprises that was a major hurdle has been removed.
According to Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary Professor Margaret Kobia, the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) has disbursed over Sh15 billion to 1.5 million women through 95,000 groups since its inception.
In the far-flung and arid Marsabit County, most rural women are housewives, tending to their families. They stay at home and wait for the saving hand of men who scrub the rustic vastness to raise incomes from livestock farming.
Thanks to WEF, the Lawai Women Self Help Group emerged and true to its founding objectives, it is transforming the lives of its women members drawn from across the vast Laisamis Sub County.
The group has enabled women to venture into the once male dominated livestock trade. They buy goats in the manyattas, market centres and later sell them at Laisamis and Merrile markets.
“We started a year ago with a loan of Shs100,000 from Women Enterprise Fund with which we bought goats. We have also embarked on table banking that has enabled us to start small businesses. From these businesses we support our families,” says Mrs. Kaberia Lakalnapal, the Chairlady of the group.
Banking for the Future
Across the country, women self-help groups with the support of WEF have entrenched the table banking concept. The groups are supporting their members to adopt a saving culture, access low cost credit and credit counselling and investment advice. This has motivated women to set up small-scale businesses in various sectors of the economy.
“We have witnessed transformation. We started by taking Sh100,000 loan from the Women Enterprise Fund in 2015. This was followed by another loan of Sh200,000 and last year Sh350,000 loan. Through table banking, our members have been able to start different businesses such as dairy cattle, goat, poultry and pig rearing, farming, salons and other forms of trade to improve their lives,” says Priscilla Kagendo, the Chairlady of Argon Self Help Group in Ciakariga Ward in Tharaka Nithi County.
“I got a Shs 20,000 loan and bought a dairy cow. Each year the cow gives me a calf and I sell the milk and go back to take another loan for other activities,” says Doris Kenanio, a member of the group who also runs a pig and poultry project with support from the group loans.
The group also grows hibiscus flowers which they process in a small juice extraction plant, a move that has boosted food security and improved nutrition of the local community.
In the neighbouring Isiolo County, the Eagles Self Help Group supports members start their own businesses besides running a common project.
Started in 2007, the group received its first Shs 50,000 loan in 2009 which members used to purchase tents and chairs for hire.
“Fortunately, we were the first people in Isiolo town to start such a business. It thrived. It expanded so fast. So we took another loan of Shs 100,000 and purchased two 100-seater tents and 200 chairs,” says Besty Mburugu the group’s chairperson.
Today, the group owns a three-storey block of a rental units in Isiolo town which they are construction incrementally.
Through table banking, the group provides low interest loans to its members to start their own businesses.
“I have personally benefitted a lot from the Women Enterprise Fund. I took a loan and initiated chicken rearing project starting with only 50 which I have increased to 200. I have used the loan to buy more chicks and construct chicken houses,” Ms Mburugu said.
“I am thankful. The Women Enterprise Fund has pushed me very far and I expect to grow even bigger,” says Harriet Kinyua, the group’s treasurer who owns several dairy cows. She said individual members of her group own a variety of businesses.
Venturing into charity
Apart from generating income for members, some self-help groups have also ventured into charitable activities. For instance at Chera Market in Tharaka Nithi, Gitareni MustWise Women Group has gone beyond business into charity. The group is helping vulnerable children and the old in their community.
The group which started as a merry-go-round in 2011 is engaged in the hire of catering facilities, photography and printing services, cereals trade, tree nursery and fish farming with loans from WEF. The group is currently servicing a Shs 500,000 loan.
“Besides our group projects, we give soft loans to our members using the table banking method. This helps members start their own business initiatives. We are also supporting vulnerable children and the old as our way of giving back to our local community,” said the group’s coordinator Juliet Kanjiru Severino.
Despite the many triumphs by the beneficiaries of WEF, the intervention has experienced challenges too. For example, after Juhudi Self Help Group of Mbeti Ward in Embu County set up a fish pond, one night, just when their tilapia was ripe for harvesting, thieves struck at night and stole all the fish.
“We were devastated but we never gave up. We restocked the fish pond with mudfish which are now ready for harvesting. Interestingly, the fish have started decimating their own flock through cannibalism,” says Mrs Caroline Njeru the chairperson of the group who rears poultry and runs an expansive miraa (muguka) farm on the side.
“You need to be patient when you form a group. We started very small but now we’ve grown very big. Our incomes from group and individual initiatives have risen,” she advises.
According to WEF chief executive officer Eng Charles Mwirigi, the fund was started in 2007 to empower women.
“Women being majority of the population in Kenya and having been largely marginalized, there was need for the government to set aside some funds to deliberately empower women economically,” the CEO said.
After 12 years of relentless efforts, the Women Enterprise Fund has empowered and transformed lives of women across the country. As a result, women groups have progressively emerged as dependable support structures and the most effective means for socio-economic development for rural Kenya.