We started out at 7:30am. Cruising down the freeway (thankfully against traffic) with Christian Swahili radio blasting and windows closed tight to keep out the overwhelming clouds of black exhaust coming from the packed buses. This is Nairobi, Kenya and my husband, Boyd, and I were on our way to the Korogocho slum with SIA’s newest Small Business Fund Coordinator, Wambui Nguyo. “So I’m the baby coordinator?” she asked, laughing.
Today we met with 14 group members from the 8 small business groups that Wambui has mentored since joining us last year. Slowly, the women arrived, some carrying children, some wrapped in blankets to keep out the air that was cold and damp from yesterday’s rain. We sat in white plastic chairs arranged in a circle in the “courtyard” of Josephine’s Korogocho compound. (Josephine is Wambui’s contact there and the other women refer to her as mama, saying that she also mentors and helps them when they need it.)
One by one the group members told us about their new businesses, which they’ve started with the $100 initial SIA grant. (Most of the groups haven’t yet received the $50 reinvestment grant yet.) Some are selling vegetables on the roadside, others are selling secondhand clothes, others are making beaded bags to sell in the market.
Florence and her mother and sister work together selling groundnuts (peanuts). Before they received the SIA grant they could only buy 2 lbs-worth to sell at a time. Now, they have become groundnut wholesalers, supplying other smaller vendors and also expanding to sell colgate and pampers. (In Kenya both these products take on the brand name as the generic name for the product, like we do with band-aids and kleenex). Last month, Florence had an eye problem and because of their successful business she was able to go to the eye doctor and then buy the glasses she so desperately needed. As someone who wears glasses all the time, I know what a life-changer they can be!
Judith, whose group sells groceries, told another story of change. Her husband works as a day-laborer and the family used to always wait for him to bring home money for food. “Now we don’t have to wait for him to come home. When he gets there we already have food prepared and we have eaten,” she told us proudly.
SIA is helping people reach new, higher levels: having enough to eat, paying school fees so that children don’t just stay at home all day, getting to do jobs they like and excelling at them.
“We are really uplifted,” several said, looking into our eyes and thanking us. We are in awe of what we have seen and heard today.
Madina, Boyd, and Wambui in Korogocho this morning
Florence (right) gives her testimony wearing her new ‘specs’.
Madina and Tanya. Tanya is wearing a necklace made by Josephine!