Today: Visited a First-Year Group

Today (Tuesday) we visited a first-year group (and experienced a tremendous hassle trying to exchange $20 for Kenyan shillings at a Barclay’s in town).  The group lives in a fairly dry and dusty area about 30 minutes from Maua.  The area is just beautiful, but it’s the terrible beauty of inhospitable land.  The soil is a dramatic red and VERY rocky with igneous rocks embedded in it.  The group didn’t get enough rain in the last growing season, and I think they were discouraged.  They certainly weren’t as vibrant as the others we met.  Their stories were sad, partly because they are still ongoing.

  • One young woman (Florence) has six siblings and one parent, and she is still unable to get enough money to feed them all.  (Usually, when we hear of orphans living with a parent, that parent is too disabled or ill to support their children.)  (Also, I should point out that the phrase “orphans and vulnerable children” (OVC) is commonly used.)
  • One young man (Stanley) also has a number of siblings, and told us that if ZOE hadn’t come along, his siblings would be thieves.
  • One young woman, before she joined the ZOE group, sold firewood in the local market.  That entailed cutting trees in the area I described above, and carrying 40 kilograms of wood 9 kilometers into town, for 200 shillings.  In units we are more likely to understand: 88 pounds, 5 and a half miles, 2 dollars.  She sold the wood on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were wood-cutting days.  Sunday is a day of rest.  So, that’s 6 dollars per week.
  • One young man, before ZOE, broke up the volcanic rock of the area into gravel.  He produced 120 kilos (270 lbs) of gravel a day and earned 60 shillings (cents) per day.
  • Several young women, before ZOE, were house maid (they called themselves “house girls”), earning a dollar a day.  One woman did that for 50 cents per day.
  • One woman had most of her parents’ lodge confiscated by an uncle, and was forced to live in only a small part of it.  She has not yet been able to reclaim it (although it is her right), but the group intends to take her case to the village chief (strength in numbers).  I believe that, if necessary, ZOE itself will give legal assistance.  They have threatened (and been prepared) to sue wrongdoers in the past, to good effect.
  • One of them, before ZOE, lived in a house whose walls were so full of holes that you could see him and his siblings sleeping in it from the road.  (One of the first things th group did for him was to repair his house.  And by “group”, I mean the working group of his orphan peers, not ZOE itself.)
  • Several of them still did not have latrines (which is a serious health concern).  The group had plans to make bricks and help those families build their toilets.  (I can tell you that that ground would have been impossible to dig a pit into.)

The group’s crop has not done very well due to a lack of rain in the area, similarly to our own Samaritan Liliaba 2nd-year group.

However, we heard from many of them about the Income-Generating Activities they had engaged in.  We heard from one girl who makes samosas and chapatis, to sell in the market.  Another boy makes “cakes”.  We bought some from him.  They were delicious.  Dry biscuits that were a little sweet and tasted of wood smoke and pork fat.  We heard one boy say he had one chicken and 11 chicks.  (Eggs are an income source.)  Another boy has three rabbits, one of whom has just given birth to six bunnies.  The group’s treasurer own her own hairdressing salon (frequently pronounced “saloon” in the videos, but they are not saloons in the wild west sense).

We heard of an innnovation in how their groups was structured: they had broken themselves up into three subgroups of eight which were responsible for each other.  I don’t know why, but one possibility is that they were so spread out (it’s a thinly-populated area) that it made it easier to work together that way.  When Reegan (pronounced “Reagan”) heard that, he said it was the first time he’d heard of it.

It’s worth pointing out that this is how these groups work: they are free to innovate, adopting whatever they need.  As I may have mentioned earlier, the role of “pastor” for a group was another innovation.  These innovations get shared around between groups and other groups adopt them, as needed.  In this way, the program evolves to meet the needs of the people.  (They do receive guidance from mentors and training from external resources (such as a government agricultural extension officer), and they are required to meet some very strict financial transparency requirements, so there’s a limit on how much they can innovate, but they do have pretty free reign, and that’s a good thing.  It’s an empowerment program.)

Then we heard of their revolving credit program, referred to by them as a “merry go round” or “table bank”.  Each week, every family is required to contribute 50 shillings, at the weekly meeting.  That week, several families are selected, in rotation, to receive a loan of 500 shillings, to be paid back in two weeks with 10% interest (50 shillings).  Part way through the year, they raised the dues to 80 shillings (and, I presume, the loan amount by the same ratio).

They also have a system of fines for being late or missing the weekly meetings: 20 shillings if you are late, 100 shillings if you miss a meeting and don’t apologize (I assume they mean “explain yourself”, as opposed to saying “I’m sorry”).  Those fines go into the group fund.

They have bought some beans, and are storing them in the chief’s storage area for resale in two months when prices will jump, because the supply will be lower.

(By the way, the “chief” of a village or town is appointed by the national government and is responsible for people of all tribes in his area, not just one tribe.  So, it’s an official, administrative role, not the head of a tribe in the sense we have.)

At the end of their presentation, Reegan asked us if we had anything to say that would encourage them, and we swung into action.  Everybody pulled out all the stops.  What some of us said was simply amazing.  One of us confessed that something bad had happened to her when she was a child and that she had felt dirty, unlovable and unloved by Jesus as a result.  But she came to learn that Jesus loves us all, no matter what, and he loves those children as much as he loves us.  I had tears in my eyes by the time she was done.  Another of us walked along front of the triple row of children, meeting each one’s eyes as she told us how strong and brave they were and how we were going to take their stories back to our congregations (here they, written at 90 mph and to be cleaned up later, I hope) and how the congregations would pray for these children and more money for more ZOE groups would be forthcoming as a result of us hearing their stories (that got a big round of applause from them, which is how they express appreciation).  One of read from a children’s bible (for very young children) about how Jesus loves us all.  One of us told of his management experience with 50 female employees (he was an engineer) and how he realized that he need to love his employees and then they all jelled as a group and were unstoppable after that because they worked so well together.  There were so many inspirational messages from us, and it reminds me to say: part of the joy of this trip has been our fellow missioneers.

Ok, supper time, must go.  A super-brief outline of other stuff I need to write about follows:


Yesterday, we visited a third-year group in Tharaka (that was quite a drive), along with a large number (four) of ZOE graduates in the same area.

Day before yesterday (Sunday), we went to church and had a day of rest, but we used it to walk from our guest house (Ikweta Country Inn) to the ZOE office with Carol, who works for ZOE and happens to be the wife of the preacher of the church we attended.