Makinika na fedha zako: An insight into the Mlambeni Basket Weavers financial literacy training week

Field Report and Photos by Purity Milgo, Elephants and Bees Project Field Assistant 

You would think that, in today’s global economy, the majority of people residing in more economically developed countries such as Europe and North America would be financially literate. This is not the case. In fact, studies show that many of the residents in those countries would have preferred to start their finance education in primary or secondary school instead of ‘figuring things out on their own’ later on. If this is the case with more economically developed countries, imagine the level of financial literacy of people living in middle and low income developing countries! This is why it is important, now more than ever, to offer free financial literacy training to people who need it most. To people who do not have access to, or have never had any form of financial education, whose only goal is to improve their lives and the lives of people around them, these people will continue to be the most affected as the global economy continues evolving. We are particularly passionate about supporting underprivileged women living on the front line of human-elephant conflict in Kenya where they face dual challenges from both crop-raiding and the impact of a changing climate on agricultural outputs.An excellent example of such a group is the Mlambeni Basket Weavers Mwakoma Group here in Sagalla. This group is made up of 40 inspiring women whose vision is to improve their community’s standard of living. The Elephants and Bees Project (E&B) has been helping this group of women throughout the evolution of economic empowerment and several of the ladies already have installed our beehive fences to protect their farms from elephant invasions. Our support included constructing a Women’s Enterprise Centre (WEC) for the group in early 2020 with funding support from our friends at The Wild Lives Foundation. The fabulous WEC center serves as a dedicated safe space where the women can conduct all their income generating and entrepreneurial activities to spread their income generating options away from pure farming. The center also serves as a meeting place where these ambitious women can host workshops and training events that help improve their skills and access to health resources.

The Mlambeni Basket Weaver’s group in front of their new Women’s Enterprise Center.

The first major training event held at the WEC was a Financial Management training course that lasted a week. The training was conducted by SOKO Community Trust, a Kenyan-lead organization that strives to improve the social, environmental and economic skills of local communities, by providing people with the skills to improve the quality of their lives and lift them out of poverty. The key area the trust focused on was financially training the women in order ‘to enable them to start different eco-enterprises that would empower them and increase their household income’. The training aimed at achieving this by providing the women with the skill set needed to reduce financial pressure, sustain them through a variety of income generating activities and enable them to become self-reliant.The training was held from the 28th September to the 1st October 2020, a total of 5 days. The topics covered daily included earning (pato), spending (matumizi), borrowing (mkopo), saving (akiba) and investment (kuwekeza), spread across the five days respectively. Due to restrictions put in place by the government as a precautionary step to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the women were split into two groups despite not having any reported cases of Covid-19 within the Sagalla area. One group was taught at the Women Enterprise Centre and the other at the Elephants and Bees Research Center community hall. The two groups were both given the same teachings by five trainers (walimu) including Victoria, Dorcas and Evelyn at the E&B Research Center community hall and Patricia and Tipis at the WEC hall.

The first day began with a word of prayer from the week’s appointed pastor or kiongozi wa maombi who could decide to pray herself or appoint someone else to do so. After the opening prayer, Dr Lucy King launched the training week with a few words of encouragement, well-wishing and thanksgiving. The day proceeded to walimu teaching on income costs (gharama ya pato). The women were tasked with listing all their costs and subtracting them from their income in order to figure out how much would be left in their pockets. To achieve this, the women were each given homework. They had a budget sheet they had to fill and return with the following day.

Dr Lucy King (right) and Esther (left) giving an opening talk to mark the beginning of the training week.

Homework: A budget form to fill in.

The excitement of being asked to hold an imaginary one million Kenyan shillings check and then create a budget for it.

The Mwalimu (teacher) then asked the women to draw a bank note with the value of 1 million shillings. Thereafter, they were asked to budget the spending of that much money. You can imagine the excitement on their faces upon being told to do. For these women, such an amount of money was probably incomprehensible. They were extremely engaged and proceeded to create a budget including various items such as a variety of food, seeds to plant, building materials for a house, livestock for farming and domestic use, school fees, water tanks and food among others. The women were then shown that if not planned carefully, 1 million Kenya shillings is not a lot of money and can easily run out. This teaching aimed to teach the women how to set financial goals and to show the value of income in achieving those goals.

The following days, the women were taught on spending. In groups, the women created a budget based on income within their range and as a way of lightening up the room, walimu set up a fun activity to show the ladies the effect lack of budgeting has on spending. The women were split into two groups (because who does not love a good competition) and using their bare hands they were to fetch water from a basin and try to fill an empty basin about ten meters away. The sounds of cheers and laughter could be heard across in the other hall. This was probably the first time in years that these women had done anything that exciting. It was clear that other than learning an important lesson, the women had a wonderful time. Below are some of the pictures from the activity.
The women also explored debts, loans and other forms of borrowing money. They were advised on the different types of debts and then they learnt how to borrow wisely in order to reduce debt. They were advised to not utilize their savings to pay off bills, not to ask for a loan to pay off a previous loan or not to avoid paying off debts at all. Instead they were encouraged to create a payment plan that individually works for them according to their earnings. Amongst other lessons, they were advised to save in order to buy an item rather than buying it on a loan or in debt.
On the following days, the women learnt the importance of saving up and the role of savings in helping achieve life goals. The women were then urged to develop individual saving plans from their income. They learnt that savings should be the first deduction immediately after receiving their income. This accounted for 20% of the income where 5% was dedicated to emergencies and the other 5% to short term goals. The remaining 10% is dedicated to long term goals such as future business startups and the remaining 80% from the total income would be used for daily costs and expenditure.

The training ended with the women learning the importance of investments. They discussed, in detail, the potential risks involved before settling on an investment and the advantages and disadvantages of various investment avenues putting into account the demand and supply. They were then able to work out a potential investment’s lucrativeness. They were also taught on the importance of writing a Will in order to minimize the risk of property loss or grave kinship conflicts. In the end the women gave some individual reflective feedback on the week and the results were more than positive. They were inspired and vowed to improve their lives using the skills they learned throughout the week. Some women set both short and long term goals including but not limited to setting up businesses to add to their income, keeping a detailed record of budgets, being strict with their savings and immediately paying off all debts. They vowed to apply the ideas they have to generate more income. In fact, many of the women asked the trainers to inquire on their progress within the next year as they promised that their lives would be completely transformed. They then performed a beautiful Taita dance in gratitude and celebration of walimu and of what they had learned from them.

Each training day began with classes from 9:30am to 11:30am where there was a tea and mandazi break. One could tell this was one of the favourite time of day for the women (it is a well-known fact that Sagalla people and tea are like wisdom and experience. You cannot have one without the other. It is a way of life, a lifestyle even).

Tea time break consisting of chai and mandazi. Very serious business.

    After tea, it was back to class then lunchtime was at 1:30pm where everyone had a lovely meal prepared by the week’s two chefs; Maggie and Gladys. The classes were well organized where the women elected a few members to carry out different roles. There were appointed pastors, energizers to keep them active, time keepers and even discipline masters who were in charge of any late comers -dancing and singing in front of everyone was their collective preferred method of punishment. This ‘punishment’ was apparently so terrifying for the women that many of them came in as early as 8:00am! Needless to say, there were a few good unwilling entertainers throughout the week. It was a lovely time.

Maggie and Gladys hard at work, pictures of their delicious food and a few of their happy customers.

Looking back, each day was extremely beneficial to these women. It was clear that this was the first time, if ever, that they were taught on the importance of managing their finances. They were extremely attentive and engaged throughout the week. They had questions every now and then and they really seemed to enjoy the week so much they even requested for further training in other aspects of their lives. You could tell how much it meant to them -how much new found hope they had. They are really determined to changing their lives for the better and to improving their community’s standard of living. It was truly an enlightening experience. One, anyone would be extremely proud to be part of.

Thank you so much to our amazing supporters from The Wild Lives Foundation, EKCT Trust and Disney for funding the WEC and each element of the training costs and logistics.Photo credits: Purity Milgo

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