As part of its sustainability strategy for the Kenya Integrated HIV & AIDS Program, AMURT has provided microfinance loans and grants for almost 1500 caregivers of vulnerable children throughout Kenya. During my trip to Kenya in July 2012 I assessed the effectiveness of this program through a client satisfaction survey.
I was especially impressed with the women in the slums of Thika, an industrial town about 2 hours drive from Nairobi. When they talked about their success in business they bubbled with an effervescent energy. It was as if the Spirit of the universe was channeling itself through them, transforming them into something greater than their individual selves.
- Spirit rising, rising high
- Before I would walk, now I can fly
- Before I would try, now I just do
- I’m better than me, greater than you
The women spoke with pride about their transformation, using phrases such as “I am uplifted” and “I have risen to a new level.” One woman even said, with a sparkle in her eye, “Now people see me as a rich person.” This reiterates the fact that the longing in every human being to progress is a powerful force and should be given full scope for its expression.
Many of the women had been struggling as casual laborers before our program, working hard to earn little more than $2 a day. Given the unreliability of such work, they would use all their earnings on basic survival. Now, having started businesses such as roadside cafes, market stalls, roofing sheet making, sandal making and drinking water vending they are well on the road to self-sufficiency.
We can all follow the example of these women, not only by keeping the flame of our hopes burning strong, but by making the most of every opportunity that comes our way. Let me tell you the story of one woman who exemplifies this attitude perfectly.
Lucy: a newly born entrepreneur
When her husband died, Lucy had no choice but to become a commercial sex worker in one of the Thika slums to support her children. Given the harshness of life in such slums – the high level of violence and alcohol abuse amongst men – prostitution is an incredibly tough activity. Lucy was therefore ecstatic when offered a $50 business grant from AMURT. In the beginning she opened a vegetable stall in the market and noticed how people would throw away the outer leaves of cabbages. “How can I use this free resource?” she wondered. “Rabbits!” was the response.
Lucy bought two rabbits and collected the unused leaves from the market to feed them. As the rabbits multiplied she sold them to others, making a good profit. One day her rabbits got sick so she took them to the vet. He wanted KSh. 1000 ($12) for the medicine, which she could not afford. Undaunted, she memorized the name of the medicine, purchased it in the market and injected her own rabbits. Then she realized she could do this for others, and has now become a “street vet” treating other people’s rabbits for KSh. 50. Her next project, in collaboration with another veterinarian, is to cross-breed rabbits to develop a stronger breed. When opportunity knocks, Lucy is quick to answer.