In 2012, I moved from the city to the village, to better take part in The Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, a community based organization that I had founded in 1999, in Vihiga County of Western Kenya. I wasn't sure that my babies, 8, 3 and 1 year olds would survive the move. They took to it like ducks to water, and I was glad.
Almost immediately, after holding way forward meetings with my team, my house became an office and rescue place for women fleeing domestic violence. Every week, I would shelter at least 4 different women and their children, not to mention repeat ones. It was hard for us at first, because my place is a bit isolated, and was understandably scary at night without electricity and people banging on the door in the dead of night while crying out in fear, at the tops of their lungs. After the first week, my 8 year old Dylan would open the door automatically, even before the banging started.
We live in a community where everyone knows everyone else's business so it was not hard for me to find out what happened in these women's houses. I asked them why they got beaten up and the answer was always the same. That they had asked their husbands for the basic necessities of their families. I made it my mission to do my personal research and it wasn't long before I uncovered the crux of the matter. These men didn't beat their wives because they wanted to, but because they couldn't shoulder all the responsibilities of their households, with only the one US dollar they earned from menial labor, when they got the jobs. This was the same money that their women expected to buy food, educate and clothe their children with too, and would most likely throw a tantrum when they were told that was all there was.
I noticed too that when most of these women came to draw water from the borehole in my compound that serves the better part of our Gamoi village, they would idle and pass the time swapping gossips for most of the day. That's where I decided to start. I invited them into my house, and suggested a change of behavior. I told them that instead of wasting time discussing stuff that didn't add value to their lives, maybe they could still gossip while making something constructive with their hands. Seeing that they were intrigued, I bought different types of beads and hired someone to teach them how to make jewelry which they sold at the local markets on the market days.
Although they only managed to make paltry sums in the beginning, they were so excited about making their own money, with which they helped around the house. With time, the frequency with which the women fled to my house started reducing and I realized that the little money they were making from selling their products locally was helping achieve this new normalcy in their lives.
I started thinking of what we could do to make them sustainable as they all yearned to make more money, but the local markets could only bring them so much. A year later, I got what I thought would be the solution, and which turned out to be the best decision I ever made as a grassroots leader. Problem was that we did not have the funding necessary to actualize this. This meant that I had to work twice as hard on my odd jobs, which paid off, and I was able to raise $ 500, which we started off with. I invited some financial management officers from a nearby bank who came and provided the 12 ladies we had chosen to pilot the project with real time training for a whole day, on how to run and sustain tiny businesses.
The money was put on the table, for the ladies to borrow among themselves at a discussion 10% interest rate. Trick was that the principal had to be returned on the same day every month, which they chose the 12th. We also insisted that the tiny loan could only be used to invest in a simple tiny business. We agreed that too that if for some reason the ladies couldn't pay up the principal, then it was okay to just pay the interest until they managed to pay off the loans.
These tiny loans were so phenomenal that the ladies were able to run tiny businesses and help around their homes in bigger more significant ways. Their table banking grew and gave birth to the second group, which continued to 37 groups in a span of 5 years.
The loans have grown to the point that right now, the budget for our table banking is $ 2000 and growing. The tiny businesses they started are now small businesses that are doing so well that they are able to send their children, especially girls who were treated as second class citizens before, to secondary schools and beyond.
The loan repayment rate is also really commendable, at 75%, which makes it easy to have the capital for new groups of women to repeat the cycle. Am happy that we no longer host scared, battered women, as domestic violence has significantly dropped, what with the women carrying the bigger financial loads in their families. With economic freedom, came self confidence.
We graduated into the Malkia Foundation in 2014. Ours is a national non governmental organization that empowers girls with educational opportunities and women skills for enterprise development towards gainful and or self employment for sustainability.
My Dylan is now in high school, and the babies just started primary school, in grades 1 and 2. We have also grown exponentially, and aren't afraid of the dark anymore, because our house is not only secured with fencing, but also electrified.