Lena Mueni is 42 years old, and lives in the Kenyan village of Kimangau, a two hour drive east of Nairobi along hot and dusty roads. She has been married for many years, and is blessed with three wonderful boys.
Compared to the life of an Australian woman, or indeed most women around the world, Lena’s life has not been easy. Due to financial pressures facing her family, she missed out on the opportunity to complete her schooling, and was unable to find any stable employment to support herself. There was little option but to get married, and rely on the support of her husband. Although he worked hard to provide for his family, the wage from his casual labour on local farms was meager, and the young family struggled to pay for their boys’ school fees and other basic household needs.
The effect of this poverty left a mark on Lena’s self esteem, and she tended to avoid social interactions, leaving her feeling lonely and isolated. When she started noticing the successes of women in the local “merry-go-round” savings group, however, Lena knew she couldn’t let this opportunity go. Summoning the courage, she joined the other women with her small contribution of 100 Kenyan shillings (around AU$1.40), and began learning the benefits of the scheme.
Put briefly, each member of this group contributes a small sum of money on a regular basis, and each time the money is collected, the full sum is paid out to one of the members. The members take turn receiving the pay-out, so that after one full cycle, every member of the group has had a turn. By participating, members are essentially saving up for a larger sum, which helps manage larger expenses over time.
During 2012 the Anglican Development Services Eastern (ADSE), ABM’s partner in Kenya, identified Lena’s village as particularly vulnerable, given the severe ongoing drought and lack of government services in the area. ADSE began partnering with Lena’s group, upgrading it to a Village Savings and Loans model, which included various training on financial management and good agricultural practice.
Through the initiative, the group gained skills in modern farming and mixed farming practices, allowing the members to diversify their income streams. Lena applied these new skills straight away, and began selling excess produce at the local markets.
However, the greatest opportunities for her income generation were still to come. During 2013, ADSE supported the group to scale-up their activities, so members could receive a greater return on their savings. Lena started investing more into the scheme, from 100 to 300 shillings per month, and then to 1000 shillings several years later. She also began taking out small loans to pay for food, clothing and school fees for her children.
From 2016, after many successful years in the group, Lena has increased her monthly savings contributions to 2000 Kenyan shillings (around AU$28). She has also qualified to take out bigger loans to match her growing agricultural and animal husbandry skills, being recognized by ADSE as someone who can reliably repay within the designated time frames. Through these loans, she has built a poultry house, and purchased three goats and two cows. She has also been able to pay 40,000 shillings in school fees for her sons, as well as purchase a television set for the family.
Beaming with confidence, Lena spoke about the scheme;
“It is through these loans I am able to qualify after all the savings, that I am able to access funds to buy farm inputs during the land preparation stage and seeds which gives me a good harvest during the rainy seasons, support my husband in offsetting the school fees and other household basic needs.”
She is so happy with the work ADSE is doing to improve people’s livelihoods, lifting families such as hers out of poverty.
“If it is not for ADSE I don’t know how my life and that of my family would be. My happiness is on seeing my children happy and doing well in school. I wish ADSE well and prosperity in everything they do.”
ABM would like to thank all our generous donors who support the work of poverty alleviation through the Kenya Sustainable Livelihoods program. We also thank and acknowledge the Australian government Aid program, which provides partial funding to support this work.