EMPOWERING RURAL WOMEN WITH INCOME GENERATING PROJECTS
Women have formed savings and business groups with the aim of improving household incomes. Each woman runs a business and saves money within the village bank. These savings are geared toward reaching a set goal to enable a particular economic project.
Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community Project, together with its partners (including Swisshand Foundation), have created a pool of funds. Women come in to borrow money to initiate new projects or expand on existing ones, and they pay back their loans at an interest rate of 2.5%. The interest charged takes care of administrative work and inflation.
This provision has motivated women to use their time, space, skills and knowledge, and local resources to go out and work in order to earn a living, rather than leaning on men for provision. The groups also provide a platform for women to discuss issues that affect them and thereby strengthen each other.
Before a loan is given, women attend two-days of training. Then they have to develop a business plan and a commitment plan detailing how they will pay back the loan. The size of the loan ranges from $130 to $ 150, and the repayment period is 3 to 6 months.
This program targets women in rural areas who have no access to external sources of funding and are willing and able to initiate and sustain local projects. 240 women now benefit from this scheme annually. The project is growing and has been very successful.
Anne had an interview with Martha Muyama a beneficiary of Matunda Micro Finance Program, a loan scheme for rural women run by Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community Project. Anne then wrote a letter to Muyama.
An interview with Martha Muyama
A: Thank you for making it possible for this talk.
I would like to talk about being a group member and the work you are doing in the group where you are the secretary. What do you think about that? M: That’s ok. A: When did you start the group? What kind of an initiative was the starting of it? M: We started 5 years ago. A friend of mine in the political life told me that if we started a female group as an initiative against poverty, it would be a possibility to ask for public support. So we did, I gathered some female friends and we registered the group and every year we’ve asked for support but still we have not got any financial support. We have been saving money and we have supported each other to find ways to earn money to our families. In the beginning we were 5 women. During these years the group has grown and all together we are now 30 women in the group. We have meetings once a week and 15 – 20 women are coming to these meetings.
We were informed of the Matunda Program from the chairperson in the district. When the program started in June, we were more than 5 people in the group that applied for loans and all of us have started new businesses due to the loans. A: When you started up with the group, what kind of knowledge and skills do you think that you brought into the group? M: I was active in the church run by the Salvation Army. At that time I had some experience from the church of teaching other women. The church valued female initiatives and I was reflecting very much about empowerment for women. For me that is to trust yourself, stand up for yourself and not always wait for your husband to fulfil your wishes. To get more self trust it’s important for all of us to read, study and collect and share knowledge. A: Did these skills and principles of yours differ from the rest of the group? M: I do think that all of us were thinking in the same way about the necessity for women to value female skills and creativity and to stand up for ourselves. A: What kind of other skills and knowledges did the other women bring into the group that you appreciated? M: I would say skills of singing, dancing, storytelling, making poems and skills in saving money. A: Thinking of your skills in teaching and training and your thoughts about female empowerment, do you have any idea where these skills and that kind of thinking have come from? When did it all start? M: I think that I’ve brought some of it with me from my family. When I was a child – one of 13 children - I was sitting by my grandma listening to her stories. She was a good storyteller. And while listening to her I also started to sew clothes to my handmade dolls. A learned a lot from her and from my mother. I wanted to become a hard workingwoman just as they were. My father was a chief in the county. A well respected man. He encouraged me to take responsibility not just in my family but also in the community were we lived. He has inspired me to my political engagement in the county. A: Do you think that all these skills are based on something that is important and valuable for you? M: What I would call self-help is very important to me. I want to handle my own life, and I don’t want to become dependent of my children. I will also highlight hard work and activity. It’s important for me to use the time in a good way. Justice and honesty are also very important values for me. Besides these values, faith is important for me in every day life.
Next year I’ll attend a new education – one year of public administration. I’ll end my engagement in the political life and go for further learning. I hope to get another job as a civil counsellor. A: Do you share some of these values with the other members in the group?
M: We are all very different. But I think we share responsibility and helpfulness. All of us engage very fast and offer help if people around us have to handle for example illness and death. A: You have all brought knowledges and skills into the group. If you were asked to tell other women of how they should start and run a group, what would you have told them? M: I would have told them to be faithful, obedient, respectful and transparent and to avoid rumours. And I would advice them to define certain democratic rules for the group. At the start they ought to meet very often, once or even twice a week and in this way build up a sort of responsibility. They have to select a leader, a treasurer and a secretary. It has to be an obligation to appear at the meetings and everyone should be obliged to help at funerals or critical diseases in the families of the group members. A: What are the special skills and values that make a female group sustainable? M: I think it’s very important to have rules for the members, for the economy and savings and for the organisation. Besides of that the group has to have practical goals. Doing practical work most of the members can use their own skills. In our group we’re in 2012 going to hire a piece of land to cultivate onions. We’ll harvest onions and sell them on the market and earn money for the group. Besides rules and goals, we have to have some rituals. In our group we set an agenda for the meeting, we sing and we pray and we document our work. A: You mention one of your goals in the group – the onion field. Do you have other short or long term goals? M: We have our saving project and we want to be registered as a serious working group and to get a national certificate. And of course we have our businesses connected to Matunda Finance Program and all the goals that are connected to these loans.
I would like to put some more issues into our meetings. We could for example invite some medical persons to teach about health-bringing activities and female diseases. A: If your goals should be fulfilled, and some of the effects of these fulfilling are what you hoped for. What should that be? M: I really hope that my children could get the opportunity to educate themselves at the university. That cost a lot of money and I have to work hard to fulfil that dream. A: When you are reaching a certain goal in the group, or when one of the group members is reaching one of her goals, do you celebrate it in one way or another? M: Hmm. That was a good idea. I’ll bring that proposal into our annual meeting. But we do celebrate some times; we are cooking and eating and singing. But may be we should celebrate even more. A: Can you tell me what kind of supplement working in this group has been for your personal business and for your life? M: I have got a lot of support for my activities at our farm and in my family. And it has been a support to my belief of empowerment.
A: What kind of response do you get from your family? M: That is positive. They give their support to my activities. A: If you should have the opportunity to invite a person that is important to you to listen to us today, who should that be? M: I would like to invite my sister Sara. She is now living in Australia. A: What do you think Sara would say after listening to our talk? M: I think she would have been proud of my development. She would have told me. A: If you could bring some of your skills, knowledges and values further to your children, which ones would you prefer? M: The most important for me is that my children never get tired of education, that they value self-helpness and that they don’t make themselves dependent of a partner. I hope that they will go for equal rights for men and women and that they will estimate the self-worth of every person.
I do hope that they will be able to keep hope in their minds. A: Thank you very much.
A letter to Martha from Anne.
Thank you for sharing your stories with me and thank you for inviting me into your home, your garden and your workshop.
I don’t know if you have heard about the metaphor “Tree of Life.” This metaphor is used as a tool to make stories out of your own life from the past, the present and the future. It is very much used to enable groups of children and groups of adults to talk of aspects of their lives in a way that make it possible to look for the preferred stories of life.
Mt.Elgon Self-help community project uses this tool in some of their programs.
A tree has its root, it’s planted in a ground, and it has a trunk, branches, leaves and fruits.
People are encouraged to draw their own tree. By the roots they write down where they come from, extended family and the people who have taught you the most in life.
The ground represent where and how you live at present time.
The trunk represents valued skills, valued memories, knowledges and what your stand for in life.
The branches represent the hopes, the dreams and the wishes for your life.
The leaves are representing important people in your life.
The flowers represent the gifts that have been given you - not only material gifts but also gifts of for example kindness and care.
The fruits can be seen as what you will be able to harvest. That can be your ideas, plans, projects and all kind of activities.6
In a group like yours where will be many trees – and a whole forest is less vulnerable than a tree standing alone on the ground.
When I listened to you, I got the picture of a large tree with a huge crown and ripe fruits.
This picture is made of the glimpses I got into your life. The roots are your family, your grandma, your father and your mother and all your brothers and sisters and all the support and learnings they have given you. The ground is your house and your farm, your banana plantation and your dressmakers shop and your present family; your care for your mama, your children, your political engagement and your care for the members of your church.
And what really impresses me is the huge trunk of your tree with all your knowledge about political and community life, running a group, encouraging and empowering skills of your own and of others and your caring motherhood.
The branches of your tree widen out all your hopes for the children; higher education, good health and that they will rely on their own resources and that your children and grandchildren can make themselves independent of material support from other people.
And another hope that you let me know was that you‘ll never stop educating yourself. You’ll start again in 2012 and I wish you good luck. The leaves of your tree are green and rich – filled up with people from your family, the church, and the community and from the female group. And some of the fruits that you can harvest in the year that follows are practical projects due to your businesses and new knowledge during your new education.
When you and all the women in the group are sharing the skills and knowledges that you possess, I imagine a nice forest or garden with different fruits, ripe at different times and filled up with ideas, plans and practical mutual help for each other.
Dear Martha, I will bring all yours and your group members’ wisdom back with me to Norway. I will share these stories with the women I meet in my own counselling work and with my friends.
And thank you for reminding me of that as long as we stay together, loyal to our values and believes, we will always have the possibility of doing something with our own lives and to be a good contribution to the lives of some other.
All the best for you and your family.
$130 can support a family to begin a business of their own. If you would like to support this project, please send us an email.
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