Economic Empowerment

Doing Business While Blind: A story of Akinyi, from Rongai, Kenya

Being diagnosed with sight-loss is devastating. You first experience shock and denial. Then anger. Then fear and anxiety. You can be gripped with unending sadness and fall into depression-especially if you do not get the right professional to help you transition into the life you never imagined you could experience. Loss of sight changes your identity and severely affects even how you go by day-to-day life. We talked to Akinyi, a businesswoman from Kenya, who lost her sight in 2010 due to cataracts.

‘I lost my sight ten years ago. Before that, I would experience frequent migraines. Also, my eyes would turn red. The pain became unbearable. I was advised to seek medical attention. I went to the hospital for tests, and I was told I had cataracts in my eyes. I required an urgent surgery’.

Cataracts prevent the normal movement of light from the lens to the retina because of clump-forming proteins in the eye. They cause blurry vision. In severe cases, they lead to legal or total blindness. There are cases when the patient can regain vision through cataract surgery. However, for Akinyi, it was not only too expensive but also late because the problem had extended to the retina.

‘I underwent surgery. By that time, I could read. However, the doctors later discovered that I had a problem with my retina. So, they resorted to removing my natural lens and replacing them with implants. That is how I lost my sight’.

The loss of sight made Akinyi feel like she  had lost the opportunity to be productive. By that time, she had a shop where  she sold fish and ‘omena’, commonly referred to as dagaa. However, she could not efficiently manage it.  After reflecting deeper, she realised that the only thing she lost was the ability;not her role in the society. Therefore, she had to motivate herself into resuming doing business-even if it required doing it differently.

‘Regardless of my disability, I still ensure that I am financially independent. I sell fish and dagaa. I transport my products from Lake Victoria, Kisumu, to the city. Also, I sell ‘mali mali’ (second-hand items)’.

However, Akinyi has had her fair share of challenges. Managing people working for has been hard. Moving around to purchase products for sale is increasingly becoming costly.

‘I face a lot of problems. For example, every time I move, I have to dig deeper into my pockets. Also, some of the people I employ to help me sometimes neither take me nor the business seriously. They come late or even miss work without a valid reason. In such instances, I depend on good Samaritans. They help me sell and also look for the customer’s cash balance’.

Determined and hard-working women like Akinyi encouraged Hope Foundation for African Women, with support from the African Women Development Fund, to hold a three-day financial literacy and business management training. We wish to unlock the potential of women with special needs in business and support their financial independence through knowledge, skills, and financial support.

Akinyi ( in black coat, at the right side) participating in the leadership, business management, and financial literacy training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I have learned that even if I have a special need, I can do anything. I can even fly to Dubai to purchase products to sell in Kenya. I can get married, have children, and live with my husband, like any other woman. I have learned to manage my business. Thank you so much Hope Foundation for African Women’.

You can watch Akinyi speaking on how helpful and impactful the training was by clicking here

 

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Being A Woman, living with Disability, and Working in the Construction Industry: Hellen Kerina

Polio causes a range of physical disabilities.  It leads to muscle weaknesses which may leave a person disabled. Although it often affects legs, it may affect the diaphragm, head, and neck. In 2015, WHO reported that transmission of Polio, a viral infection that can be prevented through vaccination, had been interrupted in Kenya. Nevertheless, many adults live with various disabilities caused by the condition. This is the case of Hellen Kerina, a high-achieving woman with deformed limbs (legs) who attended the financial literacy training organized by Hope Foundation for African Women.  

‘I have a physical disability; deformed limbs. I developed polio six months after birth. So I have had to adapt with life with deformed limbs’, begins Kerina.

 Living with any form of disability is difficult. However, Kerina believes that a disability should not be a hindrance to achieving a dream and being successful.

‘I started my construction company, Richen Investment Limited Kenya, in 2015 August.  A friend and neighbour told me that there were no people living with disabilities applying for construction tenders, yet there was a special consideration for companies owned by PWDs. He asked me if I could consider pursuing this opportunity. At that time, I did not have plans-leave alone the money to start a business. However, I decided to take a leap of faith and started the Richen Investment Limited Company’, Kerina enthusiastically explains.

 

 

 

 

 

AGPO was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013. The goal of the initiative is to encourage the ownership and growth of enterprises by special groups like youths, women, and people living with disabilities.  AGPO implements a legal requirement that at least 30% of government opportunities should be given to groups like youths, women, and PWDs. The government reports that the program has supported the growth of enterprises owned by women living with disabilities by giving them access to doing business with the government.  Kerina is among its beneficiaries.

‘I registered with AGPO after starting the company. I started applying for tenders. Luckily, I was given one worth 400,000/-. It was really motivating. Since then, I have done many projects with government agencies like KERA (Kenya Rural Roads Authority), for developing rural roads. My company has constructed roads in rural areas in regions like Kisii, Nairobi, Nyamira, and Kitale’, adds Kerina.

Although Kerina admits to enjoying the fruits of accepting self as a person with special needs and going for opportunities provided by programs like AGPO, not all PWDs feel motivated to do that. In fact, she acknowledges that the reason she could get tenders quickly is probably because only a few PWDs applied.

‘Before, people living with disabilities were not bidding for tenders. It may be because of the stigma associated with disability. Also, when a person living with a disability does not accept self, it holds him/her from opportunities. However, things are different today. I am happy to see many people with special needs bidding and winning tenders,’ says Kerina.

The consideration for special groups in opportunities to do business with the government has a downside. Unfortunately, some non-disabled people sometimes lure people with special needs into creating companies and bidding on their behalf. The trick blocks many deserving enterprises owned by special groups from benefiting.

‘I know a man with special needs who started a company, won a government tender and did the project. However, issues started arising after the government paid. He did not get any compensation for his investment in the company’, she adds painfully.

Kerina’s resilience and focus provide three key learning points. Firstly, she has resisted the victim’s mentality.  It may be the factor that has contributed to her success in the construction industry. Despite her disability, there is no indication of self-pity from her presentation and expression. She vibrates positive energy and enthusiasm towards life. Secondly, Kerina teaches women to have a fierce determination for success. She admits to having instances where she felt like giving up. However, she held on to the belief that she was destined for success. Thirdly, Kerina gives back. She has provided employment opportunities to many including other people living with disabilities.

The resilience, determination, and focus of women, especially those living with disabilities compliments the efforts of various government agencies and Non-governmental in providing leadership, business management, and financial literacy training. Hope Foundation for African Women, with support from the African Women Development Fund, believes in the potential of Kerina and other women living with disabilities in Kenya. The skills, knowledge, and mentorship are meant to ensure, the women believe in themselves and work towards success-just like Kerina.

 

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Problems the Deaf Wish We Knew; Anne Mwenesi, A Sign Language Interpreter

Anne Mwenesi is a teacher by profession and sign language interpreter by passion. You can tell this by how graceful she is while interpreting during the financial literacy training of women living with disabilities. She describes herself as an intermediary between the hearing and the deaf world (hard-of-hearing, hearing-impaired, and deaf).

The Kenya National Special Needs Education survey commission reported in 2014 that 1 in every 10 people suffers from a hearing problem. This makes Kenya among the leading countries in cases of the deaf when compared to the global average of 5 out of 100 people (WHO). Also, it makes Mwenesi among the few bridging the gap for people with hearing problems in various settings-just like during the financial literacy training of PWDs.

Are the Deaf Heard?

 ‘The deaf have been side-lined in many aspects of society. It makes them believe that the world is not on their side. Also, it makes them feel taken for granted. This should not be the case because we are equal. If you think about it, all of us are limited in one way or another. Therefore, we need an inclusivity mindset in every person’, says Mwenesi

 ‘One of my clients once asked me to accompany her to a worship place; when I arrived, I took my seat to the front where she could see me interpreting. To my surprise, I was told that the only place I could sit was at the back. I was heartbroken. But, I learned, nowadays, I talk to the speaker to agree the best place to sit and interpret’, Mwenesi painfully adds.

Organizations in Kenya that support people with hearing problems

Mwenesi’s words direct to the challenges faced by people in their environment. Every person yearns for acceptance and compromise. How far are we willing to accommodate our brothers and sisters with hearing problems?

The mentioned gaps do not entirely imply that our country is not doing anything to ensure inclusivity for people with hearing problems. In fact, the work being done by the various associations for the deaf in Kenya is commendable. Through them, people with hearing disabilities have been trained on skills and impacted with knowledge hence improving their employability, success when in case they venture into entrepreneurship, and social skills.

Organizations like the Kenya National Association for the Deaf, Deaf Athletics Association, Deaf Ability Initiative and Deaf Artist Culture are doing wonderful work and it would be unfair not to mention what they do. They organize outreaches in the corporate worlds to create awareness on the inclusivity. They organize training workshops to train on business management, financial literacy, leadership, and advocacy. However, people the deaf do not exist in isolation. They exist within us, and this must be reflected in the effort we make to communicate.

Communicating with and Including PWDs need to Be Deliberate

‘Apart from the lows, I have some of the best moments in my life through interpreting. When people (with and without hearing problems) appreciate my role in connecting them, it is humbling and uplifting at the same time. We need more people who can communicate in sign language’.

Mwenesi interpreting to some participants during the financial literacy training held by HFAW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the argument put forward in favor of the limited opportunities for the deaf and unwillingness to interact with them is that their form of communication is complicated. It may be-when we look at it as a skill we must master. However, sign language is a language and can be learned and used just like we do with other foreign languages we learn in schools. It is not too difficult; we find it difficult because it requires deliberate effort.

The financial literacy training supported by the African Women Development Fund, is among the deliberate effort being made by Hope Foundation for African Women to support the inclusion of Women Living with disabilities through leadership, business management, and financial literacy skills. The program is a learning platform for all of us, people living with and without disabilities, on how to be fair and empowering to each other.

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I Regret Pushing My Daughters to Undergo FGM; I Vow to Protect My Grand-daughters

Nyamira and Kisii, regions predominantly occupied by the Abagusii, record relatively extreme persistence of FGM prevalence-if the report by the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey is anything to go by. One of the factors contributing to persistence is that the community is highly conservative and patriarchal. The value and belief systems have been this way from the pre-colonial to post-colonial, and remains in the contemporary society.

 “I pushed my wife to take my daughters for the cut. After we were informed that the activity was complete, we celebrated through eating and drinking. May God forgive me. FGM is our culture. There was no room for questioning culture. If I did not allow it, it would be extremely difficult for them to get married in our community.”

The words of Manae, a retired teacher based in Kebirigo, Nyamira. He has two daughters who recently  completed college and still waiting to be absorbed into the job market. He is among the 50 men living with FGM survivors who benefitted from the HFAW Men End FGM training held in December 2019, Nyamira, Kenya.

Manae’s sentiments resonate with the majority members of the community who continue to uphold FGM and conduct it in secrecy because there is a crackdown by the local chiefs following the orders of the president, Uhuru Kenyatta. 

Practising communities believe that FGM a source of self-esteem, value, and prestige for girls and women. Also, it is the only way a girl can become a wife, then access resources like land for cultivating and selling the produce for income. Without FGM, there is no way of learning about the social value-an assumption that creates a further social burden for girls and parents who resist the practice.

“I regret I pushed for my daughters to undergo FGM. I am sad that we, as the leaders of the community, have allowed this to happen for so long. Now I know that FGM is horrible and a violation of human rights.”

He plans to discuss the health effects of FGM with his immediate family (parents, neighbours, and initiates who are all involved in mentally, socially, and physically preparing girls for the cutting ceremonies-at least before the government outlawed FGM). Also, he would like to volunteer to programs that fight FGM at the grass-root level like HFAW.

“If I could turn back the clock, I would not push my wife to take my daughters for FGM. I regret  I allowing them to undergo the practice”.

Cultural practices can change without affecting cultural values. The rite of passage from a girl to womanhood can be marked and celebrated in alternative methods that neither harm nor degrade the value of the subject through platforms like seminars where girls learn the physical, emotional, and mental changes during the adolescent stage. Also, they learn what is expected of them as young and responsible members of society. The priority is to empower them to pursue life goals and achieve their dreams confidently.

“Every man who has benefitted from this program should take responsibility for ending FGM. It would be a shame, a big shame, to go back to our homes and do nothing about FGM. It is time to stop promising to end FGM. We are organizing and implementing end-FGM community programs right from this forum”.

(From right) Dr. Grace, former chief in Kebirigo, and Manae (receiving certificate showing he has completed the training)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The government, with the support of non-governmental organizations and international human rights bodies, supports formal education and health risks approaches in explaining how FGM is harmful. However, the measures require patience since locals still perceive them in the context of globalization and as lacking priority for communal values.

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I saved a Girl from FGM, years later she surprised me with a flat screen TV

Edward Otinga’s campaign against harmful practices that affect health like FGM started when he began field visits to the community in Nyamira, Kenya. He is a community health worker linked to the Nyamira Level 1 hospital.

It was a typical workday for Edward. He was conducting a field visit to follow-up on health cases to refer to Nyamira level 1 hospital. As he approached another home, he met a young girl. He says that the girl knew him since he was a regular visitor to the village. She expressed that she was worried because her family was planning an FGM ceremony for her. She was still in primary school then.

Female Genital Mutilation involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of a girl. The government of Kenya banned the practice in 2011. However, some communities still practice FGM because of the cultural beliefs attached to the cut. Nyamira is occupied mainly by the Abagusii. In 2014, the Kenya Health Demographic Survey revealed that the prevalence of FGM in Nyamira is 84%. More alarming was the findings that other hot-spots for FGM had recorded a significant decline in FGM prevalence since 2008, except Nyamira and Kisii counties.

‘I told her not to accept such a thing. I promised to talk to her parents to abandon their plans. If they had not listened, I would have reported them to the authorities. I assured the girl that she would not undergo the practice under my watch.’

When a girl undergoes FGM, it is a sign that she is ready for marriage and children-bearing. It is because of the guidelines imposed on the girl after undergoing the cut. She is taught on the responsibilities of a wife and the general expectations of the community on her now that she is an adult. Such teachings justify the various previous researches that have connected FGM to other social problems in the region like early marriage and teenage pregnancy. Additionally, in 2014, Nyamira county was ranked 5th in Kenya based on the number of cases of reported teenage pregnancies.

‘I told the mother that I knew the plans of taking her daughter to be cut. I explained how this was a mistake that would destroy the health and future of her hard-working daughter. Next, I went to the father and explained the same. Initially, he was hesitant. However, after explaining the health complications experienced by girls who had undergone FGM that I had witnessed as a health professional, he listened and promised not to carry on with the plans. One week later, I went back home. I was happy to be informed that the girl was not cut.’

Nearly seven years later, Edward received a call at the hospital asking him to go to the reception because a lady had asked for him.

Edward during the HFAW training session in Nyamira Township

 

“She looked familiar, but I could not connect her face to the young and terrified girl who approached me during one of my community visits mission many years ago. She asked if I remembered the girl who asked him for help in convincing her parents not to take for FGM. That is when I remembered. She had grown into a jovial and confident lady. I felt happy that she was safe.”

She asked me to wait for her as she picks something she had left outside. She came back with a box wrapped as a gift and handed it to me. When I opened the box, it was a 21-inch TV”.

Edward says that he could not believe what was happening. For a long time, he had heard people say that good done always comes back to the individual in significant ways. He says that the saying came true when he saw how the lady he saved from FGM showed appreciation.

 “After appreciating her for the kind gesture, I asked her to carry on with urging other members from the community to shun FGM.”

Edward’s determination to promote the health of his community members paid off when a girl he protected from FGM completed her studies and even came back to reward him for his kindness. He is among the 50 participants who benefited from HFAW’s men’s training held in December, 2019. If each of us had Edward’s determination and sense of goodwill, FGM would end. For now, we can only hope that more of the likes of Edward will come out to defend girls who are at risk of FGM.

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3 Key Issues Highlighted during the ICPD25, Nairobi Summit

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) ended on 14th, November 2019. The event was a result of the revolutionary Programme of Action towards accessible and comprehensive reproductive healthcare, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. One hundred and seventy-nine governments committed to implementing the action plan in 1994. Twenty-five years later, the Nairobi summit was held to accelerate the promises made twenty-five years ago.

The highlight of the summit, attended by over 7000 delegates  from all over the world, was when multinational organizations, private sector players, and donor agencies pledged to raise $8 billion to support reproductive health programmes for women and girls in developing countries for the next 10 years.  This followed a research finding by the UNFPA, University of Washington, Victoria University, and Avenir Health Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Intervention, which showed that efficient, accessible, and quality sexual and reproductive health are barriers to achieving sustainable development Growth.

Ending Harmful Practises like FGM is Possible, Imperative, and Urgent

The annual reviews of the ICPD action plan shows that ending harmful cultural practises like FGM, and child marriage, is ensuring peace and creating an environment for viable developments for women and girls. Therefore, there is a need for increased interventions related to changing the social norms and education. According to the UNFPA, the cost of the intervention will $37.4 billion. Additionally, it will cost $68.5 and $42 billion to provide quality family–planning options and end gender-based violence respectively.

Making Girls & Women’s health a priority

The summit highlighted the importance of investing in girls and women’s rights capabilities as a way of achieving sustainable development. Women and girls face challenges in accessing quality reproductive health services because of the embarrassment and stigma involved in discussing reproductive health matters. The challenges are limiting their ability to live freely.

Participants of ICPD25 marching in preparation of the summit

Achieving the 2030 Agenda

The 2030 agenda can be met if governments, donor agencies, and multinationals focus on achieving zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family-planning, and zero gender-based violence. The UNFAP, and the Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with Avenir Health, Victoria University, and University of Washington estimate that this will cost $264 billion.

Generally, the summit, organized in collaboration by the UNFPA, Kenya, and the government of Denmark, has provided the best platform to review progress made in quality and equitable access to reproductive healthcare services and prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases. It has ended by notably re-energized and renewed commitment to achieving sustainable development goals.  

 

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HFAW Annual Report 2018

Students From Pisgan School, Nyamira, Kenya

Download The HFAW Annual Report by Clicking Here   HFAW ANNUAL REPORT (2018)

 

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Finance and literacy trainings and mentorship

Since 2014 HFAW has promoted individual entrepreneurship primarily for women and a few men

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Hope Foundation Women’s Fund

The idea of coming up with a women’s fund came up after meeting and discussing with women in Kisii on the way forward

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