Written by Maryknoll Lay Missioner John O’Donoghue
The Kapenguria Women’s Co-operative Group, one of the income-generating projects I help counsel, is now four years old. Presently, they are 17 members in their group; they would like the group not to exceed a membership of 20. Recent conversations with this group caused me to recognize that there is no such thing as straightforward progression from point A to point B, instead, a group might take big steps forward, and small ones back.
The coordinator of the Gender Department within the Catholic Diocese of Kitale where I work is a local woman named Rose Obonyo. Rose and I consider the Kapenguria Women’s Co-operative to be our best group among the eight that we work with. In fact, they have received a lot of business training from our group seminars and we want this group to now form and teach other groups in this area. A while ago, this particular group taught a men’s group how to make liquid soap; this group of men were very impressed with the training they received from the Kapenguria women’s group.
The group has progressed gradually over the past four years. They still meet monthly to engage in Table Banking, a form of micro-financing, whereby members contribute money to the Table Banking system and also pay back any loans borrowed the previous month. Once a loan is paid back in full, a member can borrow again. The interest rate for borrowing is 10%, but the interest gained is kept within the group and benefits the group. Presently the group has 112,000 Kenyan shillings in savings ($1,180). They also have other assets such as a tent and 100 chairs, all bought from accumulated savings. They rent out the tent and the chairs when there is a community function, such as a wedding or a graduation party. They rent the tent for 3,000 Kenyan shillings a day ($32 ) and the chairs for 1,000 Kenyan shillings a day ($11). A few years ago they set themselves the goal of being able to buy a tent and chairs from their savings, so they are very happy to have reached their goal. They also have a soap making project and make a small profit from this.
During my last visit with the group a few weeks ago, I congratulated them on their success so far and asked them if they had any problems that they would like to discuss. To my surprise some of the group members, mentioned in perfect English the word “transparency,” that the group needed to be more open in its dealings, especially concerning finance, and that certain procedures were not being followed when people showed up late for a meeting or didn’t come at all. I soon discovered in talking with them that in many cases they were ignoring all the rules and regulations outlined in their group’s constitution, which they helped draft and subsequently signed. The constitution clearly stated that in the case of people coming late to a meeting, or not coming at all, it clearly spelled out what to do. A fine is to be imposed for tardiness on a regular basis, and expulsion from the group if members are consistently late, etc. I emphasized always referring to their group’s constitution when there was a problem, otherwise people would take things very personally and there would be a lot of dissension within the group. It was agreed that we would follow up on these issues at our next meeting.
We have found that helping to form women’s and men’s group is a way to empower people, and help them to become self-reliant, this is turn gives them some hope to escaping the poverty they find themselves in. The income they make from these endeavors help the individuals in the group to improve their lives and the lives of their family members. While the savings may at times seem small to us, these mean much to a poor person who has little.