Picture this; a group of women working in a white man’s coffee plantation, each end of the day they get paid Shillings 5 for every debe – jerrican – of coffee that they manage to pick. A decade later what started as a Friday afternoon fellowship, they claim ownership of business enterprises, own small pieces of land – plots –, are self sufficient and their lives are transformed.
Every Friday afternoon, about 40 women started fellowshipping together after working for an entire week for meagre pay at the coffee plantations known as Makiou estate, reminiscing on the struggles that defined them then, praying together and sharing the word of God to encourage themselves not to lose hope. A few men joined them and now they are smiles as they shared their testimonies of what groups can do to empower each other.
All this started early into the new millennium, (2000), where they would meet and after every fellowship, they decided that it would be wise to contribute Shillings 50 each and start a merry-go-round – revolving fund -. Every end of the month they would then divide the total amount of Shillings 2,000 amongst 4 members and thus Shillings 500 to each one of them. This money would then be returned after a month topped up with Shillings 50, a 10% interest. As the fund grew bigger members could get Shillings 1,000, 2,000 and even bigger sums. This was done until each member was given their share; and thus Kamuthi Marathon self-help group was born.
Over a decade since the fellowship started, each one of the 40 members ventured into small businesses they felt they could run; Some own their own houses they built with loans from the fund, others have sustainable businesses that range from cereal shops for both wholesale and retail, some keep pigs which they sell to big companies like Farmers Choice, some are in the transport sector and the group which now has 33 active members boasts of hundreds of thousands of shillings in their account which they hope to invest in even bigger enterprises.
Agnes Mukami one of the founder members of the group says that she would sometimes do with one meal a day; porridge as she could not afford anything else at the time.
“I was one of the many women who worked at Makiou estate and food was a luxury for me. I sometimes had to do with some light breakfast and in the evening I would take porridge for supper as food was not easy to come by. I am glad as we speak I can afford to have three meals a day, and I know my group members share similar sentiments.
The revolving fund continued for some time and they thought that since their lives were improving they could contribute more and thus they decided to double it up to Shillings 100 and start table –banking. The Shillings 4,000 would be divided to 8 members as loans which they would still pay at the end of the month with a 10% interest rate.
The table- banking continued for a year, after which they figured that they had enough funds to start loaning their members on a long term basis and this uplifted their standard tremendously.
In 2006, the OAIC supported them by giving them a grant of Shillings 112,500 which helped boost their revolving fund. “We are always grateful that OAIC gave us an enormous boost and this enabled us to advance to our members even larger sums of money. Members would get up to Shillings 10,000. We cannot forget that in 2007, OAIC gave us another grant which we are forever grateful for,” stated Rose Gathoni, the chairlady of the group.
“Before OAIC gave us the grants, they did a lot of capacity building for our group as they invited some knowledgeable people to teach us about small businesses and how we can be able to sustain our livelihoods even better. We learnt a lot and we implemented what we were taught. They also challenged us to start supporting families that were afflicted by the HIV/AIDS scourge in our community. Since then we have been able to assist about 6 families in that regards. Over 30 students some of whom are orphans to pay their school fees,” added Rose.
The group members say that having been able to support those families brings so much joy to them. Many students have also been lucky to get scholarships abroad to pursue further studies. They have been like parents to the needy children as they ensure that they have uniforms, they visit them, attend their parent’s days and ensure that they are well taken care of.
They give an example of a girl, Maurine Atieno whose parents died while she was still young. She had three younger siblings and since she was the eldest she had to fend for them. Rose picked her up and spoke to the chief in Githurai who had initially stated that it would not be possible to keep her in Nairobi as no relatives of hers could be traced and that she had to return to her parent’s rural home in Kisumu. Eventually the group was allowed to take care of her and her three siblings. She is Form 2 performing exceptionally well.
The group was also able to start a nursery school which they say has been of assistance especially to the children from the nearby informal settlement areas as they are fond of saying that “He who opens a school closes a prison”. They have among other things been able to rent a quarter acre piece of land which the members grow sukuma wiki – kales – and spinach which they sell and the money is channelled towards feeding the children in the nursery. The young people from the group have at the same time volunteered as teachers in the school.
“The households represented in this group since 2003 have seen positive developments from being squatters to owning pieces of land,” stated one member. We moved from a single meal a day then to three meals now. Members are now able to pay school fees for their children and we no longer work at the white man’s coffee farm as all of us engage in our own businesses,” stated one member.
In our recent visit to the group, OAIC presented them with a Shillings 15,000 grant. The group members were exhilarated that the organisation continues to support them in their endeavours. The group envisions an umbrella of many groups as they spread their tentacles to helping the community around them to be self sufficient as themselves.