Women and adolescent girls are the most vulnerable group in Kenya, where only six percent of women belonging to the poorest wealth quintile are considered empowered. Contributing factors include gender-based violence, harmful cultural attitudes, and beliefs around gender roles. Women are given restricted control over resources, limiting their ability to participate in the economy. Unpaid childcare and domestic work further limit women’s available time, energy, and mobility needed for economic participation.
Yet there is immense potential for Kenyan women to contribute to their own well-being as well as that of their families, communities, and country via empowerment.
Empowerment involves a transformative economic and psychological process of change due to one’s ability to make choices. This change is most significantly measured by a person’s ability to make choices and have opportunities, enabling them to stay out of poverty through income generation.
Meet Metrine Kuto.
Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation program powerfully provides a process of such transformation. Just one example of the radiating empowerment we build is the experience of Metrine Kuto, from Safina Village of Kenya. Metrine was targeted into the Village Enterprise program in March of 2019 and graduated in March of 2020.
Here is her story in her own words:
My name is Metrine Naliaka Kuto.
Before I started my business, I had a hopeless life, living in extreme poverty. I relied mainly on the little money my husband sent from his job as a security guard in Nairobi. I could barely afford enough food for my six children which meant that we were often hungry. With empty stomachs, my children would trek long distances without socks or shoes to attend school but were turned away because I could not afford their school fees. If my children were sick, I couldn’t even afford to seek medical attention.
In March 2019, I met Florence, a Village Enterprise business mentor, when she came to my home and introduced herself. She explained that she comes from a nonprofit and they have come to empower us to start our own businesses. This was the first time that an organization came to speak to the common man which I thought was very genuine. She asked me questions and after one week, I learned I was among the people who could join the program.
At the start of training, I had low self-esteem, sitting in the back of the room because I did not know how to talk in front of others. I didn’t think I could start a business because it is something I never thought I was worthy of. Florence encouraged me to sit in the front and called my name frequently until I gained more confidence. I learned to identify my strengths and weaknesses and became comfortable mobilizing other members of my group and encouraging those who wanted to drop out of the program not to give up.
After a few weeks of training, I was elected as the chairperson of Wekhoela Business Savings Group, which is still running to this day. We were taught how to save with a purpose, set aside money for emergencies, and how to keep regular savings Then three of us formed the Inuka business group, and because I had some experience selling secondhand clothes with my neighbor, I suggested secondhand clothing sales as our enterprise selection.
I enjoyed sharing my knowledge with my business partners who did not have experience selling clothes. When we had increased from one bale to three bales (secondhand clothes packed in different types, sizes, and weight), I took an individual loan from our business savings group, which helped me go from retail to wholesale of secondhand clothes.
With the profits from my business, I was able to build a house and fill it with furniture. I was also able to purchase some cows. I can give my family a balanced diet and we can access medication whenever we are sick. My children now have several pairs of shoes and socks. I put my children in private schools and even hired a motorbike to drive them to school and back home.
I am also seeing a change from my husband. He quit his job in Nairobi and now assists me in my business. We now sit together and make business decisions as equals. When I am away on business, he helps around the home with domestic chores. He is proud of me and tells everyone that his wife is a hard-working woman.
The village chief invites me to speak at meetings to inspire women in the community. I am on the management board for three schools and I was elected as a community health volunteer. If I have a problem, I can now take care of it myself. Village Enterprise built my belief that I could rise from zero to hero and helped me change my life from living in extreme poverty to where I am now.