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One of the most interesting and rewarding experiences I have had in Kenya thus far has been participating in a microfinance internship. I volunteer with a Christian organization called Kipepeo, meaning “butterfly” in Swahili, which teaches women from the Kibera slum how to make handmade cards from recycled materials for an income that are sold around the world through fair trade distributors. The members stay with Kipepeo for five years while learning important personal finance principles and Christian discipleship.
In addition to card-making and training, the women participate in a savings group. Each woman contributes 1,000 Kenyan Shillings per month (about $12) that goes into their personal savings accounts. From the collective savings, the group then provides loans to members to start or expand their own small businesses. The group is completely self-governed, establishing their own rules and regulations, and voting on who should be granted loans. Leadership roles of treasurer, secretary and chairwoman have been established which provide members with newfound empowerment.
Currently, Kibera’s unemployment rate hovers around 50% and those who have work primarily participate in the informal sector or have unstable jobs. Parents often find it challenging to provide for their families and when emergencies arise they fall into extreme debt or cannot covers costs to care for their loved ones. Kipepeo provides women from Kibera with a steady income and a means to save money for the future as well as start their own businesses. I spent many days making cards alongside the women and visiting their homes and churches, asking them about how Kipepeo had impacted their lives. Many of the women told me that as a result, they could afford to put food on their table every day and pay for their children’s school fees. One woman said the following about her experience:
“I have known the significance of love, thanks to Kipepeo. Some of us are orphans. Some are widows. Some are married. Some are separated. Some have been abused. But here we have each other and we can discuss freely and we support each other. We are a family. Kipepeo has changed my life – physically, spiritually, and economically.”
Kipepeo is just one of the many savings, microfinance and employment models changing the lives of people in poverty in Kenya and around the world. To order cards for yourself, donate to the cause, or read the stories of the women who are a part of Kipepeo, visit: http://www.kipepeodesigns.co.uk/. Kipepeo is currently looking for a fair trade card distributor in the United States – if you would like more information, contact Harriet at: firstname.lastname@example.org