World Pulse

A Bit of Bread and a Big Vision

Kim Crane
Posted May 14, 2015 from United States
Leah Okeyo

Meet Leah Auma Okeyo, a Kenyan World Pulse leader sparking a confidence revolution for women in her community.

Leah Okeyo profile image

Auma | Kenya

As the founder of a women’s empowerment organization in Kisumu, Kenya, Leah Auma Okeyo often meets women when they have nowhere else to turn. In a typical day, a woman might come to her with some version of this story:

She can’t find employment and she lacks education. She would like to start a business, but she can’t get the capital. No one will give her a loan because her property is in her husband’s name. Her husband fears the loan officer’s threats: If she doesn’t give us back our money, we will come to your home. We will take your cows. We will take your furniture. Even if she gets a loan, she now has corruption to contend with: up to a 20% bribe in addition to interest. And before she even makes it that far, she’s likely already been worn down by constant messages minimizing her worth.

Ten years ago, Leah went into community work to change this story.

“When your self-esteem is so low, how are you going to run a business?” Leah asks.

She recognizes that many women in her community are still a long way from achieving economic independence, and when she looks around her, she sees huge obstacles remaining: hunger, entrenched poverty, HIV/AIDS. This year, the region was hit with a devastating drought.

While Leah doesn’t have a quick fix to solve all of the problems of the women who come to her, she is witnessing something happening in her Positive and Active Towards Change Organization (PACHO) that gives her hope: groups of women coming together to produce beadwork to sell, including sandals, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and clutch bags.

The earnings from sales provide a modest source of additional income for women. “I know the local prices we have are very meager,” Leah says, “but still we say a bit of bread is better than none.” She has her sights set on international markets where women can earn more for their crafts. And as her vision expands, so does the vision of the women PACHO serves.

“They have to dream about getting out of that situation,” says Leah. “One of the biggest issues we have as women is lack of self esteem. You feel like you cannot do anything that has any value. Unfortunately, for a long time we have not been able to look at our skills as a way of boosting us economically.”

At PACHO, women are discovering their skills and recognizing the value of their contributions. They are now saying, “I can do things. I can start something new even when I’m above 20 or 30.”

Leah knows this is crucial because it was the key to her own success story.

“I have worn the shoe, so I know where it pinches,” she says.

When she gave birth to her first child the same week she turned 15, Leah’s life was on a trajectory that felt set in stone: “You are a teenager; you’re married; you’ve fallen out of school. You have children and you’re young and you don’t know how to go about life,” she says. It would have been difficult for her to imagine her life now as a globally-connected leader in her community who others turn to for help.

One of the first members to join the World Pulse online community in 2007, Leah quickly rose as a leader in the community and an inspiration to others. She shared her story, her poetry, and her encouragement with women around the world. She says, “Before this time, I thought it was a strength to be quiet. You are strong to suffer quietly.” Quickly, she came to realize we share the same challenges, even across borders. She began speaking out.

“From that time onward I never went back,” she says. In 2014, Leah traveled to New York to train with the Empowerment Institute and hone her vision. As the power of Leah’s voice has grown, so have the voices of those around her.

In the craft groups, women are developing their voices, and this, Leah says, is just as significant an outcome as the income they are earning. These are forums where women can talk about the challenges they are facing and come up with solutions. “We work on knowing ourselves, realizing what we have and where we are, and then making our goals. We train the women to have a voice so they can express themselves and their needs.”

Leah points out that her activism has followed a similar path to the lives of the women she works with. Her organization itself is working towards economic sustainability; it is constantly learning, discovering its potential, and struggling to thrive in an environment with scarce resources and ingrained corruption. Seven years ago, Leah says, she wasn’t seeing the impact she had hoped, and she felt stuck. It wasn’t until the past two years that Leah really felt the momentum picking up. The difference, she says, is the clarity of her goals.

Leah has come to realize the power of her vision, and the influence she can have leading by example. Her vision for PACHO involves continually exploring markets and opportunities for women in Kisumu. Through a mentorship program for girls, she envisions a future generation of empowered young leaders who can break through today's taboos.

Leah hopes to build on the global networking and relationships she has been nurturing and expand PACHO to become a full-fledged entrepreneurship training center and safe haven for women, equipped with a bakery and IT facilities.

“Sometimes we have battles,” she says. “Sometimes we have internal problems, like political fighting and tribal fighting, and we don’t get along with each other because we don’t speak the same language.” She says that when her organization is able to bridge these gaps as community leaders, the rest of the community can embrace this approach.

Despite government leadership that Leah says can’t be trusted, and systems that reward corruption and tribalism, PACHO is attempting to model a different reality. Every training includes members from more than one tribe. The doors are open. Minds are opening.

The problems Leah sees in her community come from the top, and she sees the solutions rising from the bottom. She places her hope in the growing confidence and leadership of women who have very little, who have been told they don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute.

“It’s not just jewelry making,” Leah says. Women are daring to take control of their own destinies.


Dive Deeper: You can connect with Leah directly on World Pulse. For further discussion on the themes in this story, consider joining theEconomic Empowerment or Leadership group on World Pulse.

Comments 25

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Nyapaul
May 15, 2015
May 15, 2015

Dear Leah,

I like what you are doing. I like the recognition of corruption and that leadership rewards on nepotism and tribalism. i pray that in future this will be a thing of the past.

Thank you

Nyapaul

Auma
May 30, 2015
May 30, 2015

Thank you Nyapaul for the encouragement! I agree with you and can't wait to see a different world for women in the future!

Asante sana!

Leah.

 
 
 
 
Yvette Warren
May 15, 2015
May 15, 2015

When women feel empowered, even in the smallest ways, the sky is the limit in what we can achieve. Thank you, Leah.

Auma
May 30, 2015
May 30, 2015

Thank you, Yvette. Together, we will get there!

Leah.

ma.chona lasaca
May 16, 2015
May 16, 2015

You have a strong vision and an equally strong heart ready to hurdle the challenges along your way, Leah. You have shown to the world that you are not defined by the situation that you are in, but by the everyday choices you made to economically empower women . Thank you and keep us inspired.

Auma
May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015

Thank you my sister, ma.chona! This is encouraging. Also, kudos for the great work that you do!

Much love from Kenya,

Leah.

 
 
 
 
lauren5848
May 16, 2015
May 16, 2015

Dear Leah, 

You are creating a sense of community for women in which they feel self-empowered and economically empowered. The following statement resonated with me, “Before this time, I thought it was a strength to be quiet. You are strong to suffer quietly". I used to think this as well and it is only after we move past this association that empowerment can occur. Thank you for providing women with the tools to empower themselves. You are an inspiration.

In solidarity, Lauren

Auma
May 30, 2015
May 30, 2015

Thank you, Lauren! Unfortunately, many of us have sufered in silence. It is great to know that more and more women are learning to use their voices as a tool towards empowerment!

 
 
 
 
Osai
May 17, 2015
May 17, 2015

Dear Leah,

Your work is inspiring and many more community leaders are needed to bring about change in the lives of women. I want to know if you have a dedicated site/market for marketing or selling the goods made by this women. Can you share what items they make? and can you share stories of 1 or 2 who has seen a significant change in her circumstances since she was trained by you.

Thank you for the good work you are doing.

Best wishes, Osai

Auma
May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015

Dear Osai,

Thank you for this. We are working on developing this market. You will also find them on www.leahokeyo.weebly.com once updated. We are also looking for experts and volunteers of online marketing so if you know of any please send them our way :>)! I am happy to share the stories and pictures here as there are success stories. They make jewelry from beads and fabric, bags, sandals and more.

Thank you my sister.

Love,

Leah.

 
 
 
 
Damilola Fasoranti
May 17, 2015
May 17, 2015

'Women are daring to take control of their destinies" this line ring a bell and pushes me to think that young people, male and female must apply this word to their lives too. Yes, the problems keep growing from 'below' and we have to take our destinies in our hands and take action.

Dear Leah, your approach is innovative and taking a cue from this, you have showed that the possibilities to acheiving whatever we desire is possible with courage, determination and vision.

Leah, keep keeping up.

Auma
May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015

Thank you, Fasoranti! Yes, this is the beginning of a revolution for women, the world over, in different ways! Thank you for the encouragement!

Best,

Leah.

 
 
 
 
Tangwa
May 24, 2015
May 24, 2015

Dear Leah

I appreciate your initiative and courage to bring out women from their societal bondage and limitations. How I wish every woman could emulate this example and begin to do something for their communities, then the world of women will seized to be a dependent one but that of powerful and capable women ready to handle their own challenges. Keep it on and train more women so that they will spread the good news to the entire world.

Auma
May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015

Dear Tangwa, Thank you for the good wishes and the encouragement! I agree with you- we are towards the great path of taking on our own challenges, and managing them efficiently. I salute you for recognizing this! Best, Leah.

Elaine Millam
May 26, 2015
May 26, 2015

So nice to see this wonderful story, Leah!  I am behind you 190% as you know.  I have been blessed to get to know you up close and personal!  KEEP UP the good work....blessings, Elaine

Auma
May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015

Hi Elaine, I am excited to read your comments! Thank you so much for your continued support this far! It has been a blessing to know you, and also work with you! Asante sana, Elaine, for everything! Love and blessings, Leah.

Lisa Anderson
May 26, 2015
May 26, 2015

Bravo, Leah! I admire your tenacity and vision. Shine on!

Warm regards,

Lisa

Auma
May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015

Thank you, Lisa! World Pulse has always been the Pivot Point!

Love,

Leah.

 
 
 
 
Claudia Ashah
May 27, 2015
May 27, 2015

Hi Leah,

I am very proud of you that you did not allow your circumstances to overshadow your vision. It ia amazing what you have managed to do and how far you have come.

I have a question: what role would you say ICT has managed to play in what you have been able to accomplish so far i.e in/during the development process that has taken place in your organisation/community?

Regards,

Claudia.

coolasas
May 30, 2015
May 30, 2015

Hello Leah, 

Very interesting approach to women empowerment -- taking them out of their fear and comfort zone and bringing them to a whole new experience and keeping them moving forward. 

I laud you for your courage and ingenuity to break-away from the stereotype and from your challenging beginning and becoming someone other women can emulate. I hope that more women become you and inspire more to become their own person. 

Good luck to you and PACHO and to all the women in here! 

Cheers! Coolasas

Consolata Waithaka
Jun 08, 2015
Jun 08, 2015

Hey Leah, Kundos girl. That is is the way to go. Lets light candles to empower the less privileged women and girls in our society. I remember the way we started with just ideas and now we can see the fruits of our labour.

Terry Shiundu
Jun 08, 2015
Jun 08, 2015

Hi Leah,

I'm inspired. Its true that if you keep doing something long enough, someone will eventually notice. Vision truly gives life meaning. Keep doing what you do and more grace abound to you!

Blessings,

Terry

Olanike
Jun 12, 2015
Jun 12, 2015

Dear Leah,

Your are an inspiration and the great work you've got going is a pointer that WOMEN CAN! Now, all I want to scream is GO, GO, GO, you are already breaking grounds; DON'T STOP!!!!!!

Best wishes and respect,

Olanike

Domina Msonge
Jul 01, 2015
Jul 01, 2015

Hi Leah,

I am proud of you. I encourage you that, you are going to make it. I did the same with a small group of about 17 women in my home place where I joined the group in 2011 and found the group owing only Tshs 600,000/= at the sametime,  2 out of 16 members are housewifes with no business to run. My first thing was to make sure we generate funds so that we can have loans from our fund with only 2% intrest. To day 2015, we have about Tshs. seven million and every one is now able to have a capital for runing a small business and taking care of the familly too. It is our hope that the next three years we will be in a midle class in business.

Thanks for sharing with us.

CHARLOTTENYINAWINKA
Aug 07, 2015
Aug 07, 2015

thank you my freind for iam building for your information thank u so much endelesha na mungu akupe nguvu