Women of Change in Kenya
Updated: Apr 24
Guest post by Gloria Teimuge, Eldoret Kenya
Traditional brewing of alcohol is still common in Kenyan communities and has remained an important activity despite the introduction and commercialization of other types of brews. It is a vital aspect in the rural economy. Some families have their sole income generated from the making and selling of alcohol.
In Kenya, the most common types of traditional brews are: Chang’aa (a distilled home-brewed grain-based spirit with up to 86% alcohol content by volume) and busaa (a sorghum-based beer). These brews are cheap, unregulated and often toxic.
In most of these villages where there is a lot of brewing, the women are the sole breadwinners in their families. Some of them are widows and others have husbands who are absent. The responsibility of taking care of their families and paying school fees lies squarely on their shoulders. They resort to making quick money from home-brews, which are currently illegal in Kenya. They risk arrest and even imprisonment if and when caught. Local law enforcement and administration are always on the search for illegal alcohol brewers, often carrying out random raids in the ‘dens’ where they brew or hide them.
A group of these women, wanting to change their lives, have started a local organization in Kenya, called Women of Change. Spirit in Action is partnering with Women of Change to provide some of the women with Small Business Fund grants of $150 to start new, legal businesses.
Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, where many of the Women of Change live.
When the women get together to forge a new life, they recall together the struggles they faced when brewing. Some of these women have gone through the worst ordeals. They have been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned.Others have been in violent marriages or have had their children taken away from them due to negligence.
Ruth’s New Opportunity
Ruth comes from a small village in Nyaru, Kenya. She was an infamous brewer in that area and there were wanted posters of her all over town. Her husband passed away in 2011, and that is when she started brewing. There were thickets and bushes in her property where she would hide when she was warned about the arrival of the police. Her family life was very unstable. There was not enough food at home and her children were not doing well in school. When a raid happened, the children would have to lie about where there mother was hiding.
In 2015, Ruth heard about Women of Change and decided to join on impulse. Ever since, she has developed skills in business, farming, and baking. With this grant, Ruth has finished building a bakery that is suppling bread and pastries to nearby schools and communities. She is now on good terms with her neighbors and the government. Ruth has hired two young men to help with making fried dough to sell in the neighborhood. (See pictures above.)
Small Business Fund coordinators Dorcas and Wambui, both from Nairobi, visit Ruth’s bakery and home and taste her fried dough squares.
Grace, from Iten, (where many of the Kenyan marathon runners practice, because of the high altitude) recalls how she would get drunk together with her husband and pick fights with the neighbors. Standing on a hill, she would shout and scream in the middle of the night. They had no order or harmony in their household, and she did not get along with her relatives. After attending the training with Women of Change, Grace’s family is transformed. She ventured into livestock and crop farming. (See pics below.)
Grace has a lot of land around her house, but when she was brewing she wasn’t using the farmland productively. She now grows maize, greens, tomatoes and keeps sheep and rabbits, and has a fish pond. She has enough food for her family, year-round, which is a good sign of success.
Being involved with Women of Change gives these women a purpose, a new family, and a sense of belonging. Through the Small Business Fund, they can engage in legal economical ventures, nurturing the skills learnt, and in the process become productive members of the community.
Gloria Teimgue hosted us with her family in Eldoret, Kenya this summer.
(R to L) Tanya Cothran, Gloria Teimuge, Dennis Kiprop, & Samuel Teimgue (Gloria’s dad). Dennis and Samuel help train and organize the Women of Change.