Mukuru Kayaba women unite to conquer poverty

 Kayaba Young Mothers
The Kayaba Young Mothers group, making baskets from waste paper at the nearby St Catherine Primary School in Mukuru Kayaba slums. PHOTO | MILLICENT MWOLOLO | NMG  

A group of 10 young mothers in Mukuru Kayaba slums in Nairobi have teamed up together to overcome hard financial times.

The Kayaba Young Mothers group in Mukuru Kayaba slums south east of Nairobi makes knitted door mats, woven baskets from waste paper, beaded serviette holders, beaded key-holders, beaded table mats and beaded jewelry such as necklaces, earrings and bangles.

The group started in 2016 when the 10 members came together and contributed Sh100 each totalling Sh1000 capital, which they used to purchase beads and fishing line for sewing. “We bought one packet of table mat beads for Sh300, a quarter packet of key-holder beads for Sh250 a sewing fishing line for Sh100 and some beads for necklaces at Sh300,” explains 23-year-old Susan Mbeke, one of the members. ChildFund Kenya had just trained the group on beadwork, soap making, mat sewing and tie making and dying for four days.

The women also conduct a voluntary savings and loans (VSL) club (popularly known as chama) every Thursday afternoon where they each contribute Sh100. The total Sh1000 is loaned to a member who has a pressing need. “We assess the intention of borrowing. Food, education and medicine take top priority,” says Pauline Njeri, 29, the group chair.

The money attracts 10 per cent interest and is payable within 30 days. “The money rotates and by mid-year we deposit the accumulated funds in the bank. At the end of the year, we buy materials and share the proceeds. Then we start again on a clean slate for the following year,” Ms Njeri explains.


By the end of 2018, the group had raised a total of Sh63,000 from their savings and interests on small loans. “We subdivided the money to each member. I took home Sh12,200,” says Lilian Katunge who is aged 29 and a mother of two.

Through the VSL, the women have been able to start and grow their small businesses. In February 2018, Ms Katunge got a loan of Sh5,000 and used it to start a small ‘malimali’ (household wares) business. “I have since taken another Sh5,000 loan to top up the stock and expand the business,” she adds.

Other members who have taken loans from VSL in order to start and grow their small businesses include Susan Mbeke who operates the salon from where the group meets every Thursday afternoon. Susan is also an Mpesa agent. “VSL has given me stability. I am able to pay rent on time, pay school fees and my children can now eat quality meals,” she pointed out.

Ann Nzisa, who retails fresh water, took a loan to pay for the water connection fee to the Nairobi City County Government. Ms Njeri took a Sh1,500 loan to start her smokies and eggs business which earns her at least Sh350 in profit every day.

From the group, ChildFund Kenya has sponsored 13 children who access learning and playing materials. “We provide them with school shoes, bags, uniforms and regular medical check-ups,” says Maureen Siele, a communications officer with ChildFund Kenya.

The women meet outside Ms Mbeke’s salon every Thursday afternoon to do their weaving. Passersby stop to admire their craft and make orders. “That is how we make random sales. Peak hours are between 5pm and 7pm when people are leaving their work places,” says Ms Njeri who chairs the group. After making a sale, they plough back the profits to make more products and earn more.

Their pricing is affordable. A big beaded handbag goes for Sh1200, while a medium-sized beaded handbag fetches Sh600. A small beaded handbag and serviette holder goes for Sh500 each. A beaded purse and a table mat each retails at Sh300 while necklaces go at between Sh300 and Sh100 depending on the design. A medium-sized waste-paper handbag goes for Sh600, a beaded scarf fetches Sh400 and a key holder goes at Sh100. Beaded belts and beaded earrings go at Sh200 and Sh100 each.

However, business has been low since beginning of the year, says Ms Katunge, a member of the group. Ms Katunge adds that the group is exploring other ways of marketing their wares, including having an online shop on social media. “We make quality products but the market is not there. We require any assistance to market our wares,” says Ms Njeri.

Through ChildFund Kenya, we have been getting referral clients, mainly visitors from abroad who periodically come as a group and they make bulk orders. This has seen us earn more and also grow in our quality of production as we always aim to deliver the best. “Last year, we made sales worth Sh54,000 when visitors from Korea had toured the nearby St Catherine Primary School. We sold for three days and they really liked our jewelry and artifacts,” says Leticia Kwamboka, a member of the group.

The young mothers are part of the VSL project by ChildFund Kenya, which seeks to empower households in the slums through women investment groups. “We have assisted them to organise themselves so that they can start and run business. We have also advised them on how to save money and borrow through the VSL methodology,” says Wallace Amayo, a technical advisor with ChildFund Kenya. Currently, over 211 VSL groups are thriving, spurring entrepreneurship in the slum.