Kenya: Widow’s determination inspires others to improve their livelihoods (by Pius Sawa, for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

| October 10, 2011

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Phyllis Hakola Jimmy lost her husband in a road accident ten years ago. With six children to look after, life was not easy for the 57-year-old widow. Mrs. Hakola struggled to feed her children and pay their school fees.

Then in 2006, she decided to act. She met with three other widows. She says, “I … told them that we cannot just stay with the children without looking for ways to make ends meet.” She asked them to help her form a widows’ group. She wanted to find a way for widows to help themselves and improve their livelihoods.

In most parts of Kenya, women do not own land. Once a husband dies, his relatives deprive his widow of every asset.

Despite the challenges, Mrs. Hakola approached other widows and the group grew in size. Now the widows’ group has 34 members and is registered under the name of Wajane Women’s Group. Wajane is the Kiswahili word for “widows.” The group operates in Khwisero, in the Western Province of Kenya. Some of the women are young and have small children to bring up; others, like Mrs. Hakola, are older.

For three years, the widows’ group has been able to access bank loans. The organization which registered their group helps them out. An official visits the women to assess their activities. The bank provides funds based on the official’s assessment. The group’s first loan was 100,000 Kenyan shillings (around 1,000 dollars) from Kenya Commercial Bank.

Each widow manages her own income-generating activities. But the women also farm collectively. Every member repays a specified amount on pre-determined dates. In this way, each of them contributes to repaying the loan. It is a challenge to earn enough to repay the loan. But they always have repaid their loans on time, so they have been able to get further bank loans. The amounts are small (around 500 dollars), to make it easier for the women to repay.

Mrs. Hakola has helped the group design two big projects that will earn the widows good money. One is a milk project and the second a maize mill. She explains, “We have acquired high breed dairy cows that will bring us milk which we shall sell to the locals.” The money will help pay school fees and cover household needs.

Mrs. Hakola explains why she suggested these projects to the group. “I told the group not to opt for a retail shop, because members will want to get goods on credit, assuming it is their shop. This will bring misunderstanding among the members.” She believes the maize mill project will bring the group daily income. In rural areas, grains must be milled to produce flour before women can prepare millet bread or maize meal.

All of Mrs. Hakola’s six children have completed school. They are now married with children. Her success has inspired other women. She advises young widows to be patient and look for good men who are not sick. She urges them to encourage the men to be tested for HIV and AIDS. In this way, they will be sure to marry men who are able to help bring up the children.

Her main message to women is to stay active: “I tell them that the world today is quite challenging. If you are left as a widow with children to look after, look for a genuine means of survival.”