Friday, November 6, 2009

“Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.” Eli Khamarov

Over the course of spending two days in the impoverished villages outside of Thika, Kenya, I had the chance to meet with individual women and a couple of women's groups who are all part of various micoloan/microcredit programs. After reading so much about these programs, it was so helpful to experience this firsthand and be able to specifically help using the money we raised.

This is Wanjiku. She lives in the remote village of Ngungugu in Kenya. She is a beneficiary of a microloan program AMF started aptly dubbed "The Cow Ladies."

The program is simple in concept and brilliant in potential. Basically, a woman is given a cow to have for income (she can sell the milk in the market) as well as provide for her own needs for her family. The only stipulation is that the first calf is "paid forward" and given away to another woman in the village. The program is one that is sustainable and self-perpetuating. And, hopefully over time transforms a village.

For Wanjiku, this cow brings in about $3 a day. (In a village where earning a $1 a day is the norm.) She has done quite well with the program. She was able to add this addition to her home which she uses as a living room. In the main structure, she lives with her mother and two children.

Her cow produced a bull. So, on the one hand, she does not need to give it away, bulls aren't desirable as they do not really provide income for the family. She will end up selling the bull (for about $100) and try again for a calf. It costs about $6 to inseminate a cow and they can do this about every 1-2 years.

So, while the program provides her with some sense of security, she suffers from painful health problems. She is seeking medical treatment for her "mangled" feet. I honestly don't know how she was able to walk. But she did. It looked incredibly painful and challenging.

But, then again, her entire life has been incredibly painful and challenging.

Wanjiku has never married. Her first child was a product of rape. As was her second child. Her prospects of marriage, given her handicap, are zero.

This is a woman who has suffered in every way imaginable (from living in extreme, desolate poverty to rape.) And, yet, she didn't once mention her health problems (or the lack of proper health care to treat it.) She didn't seek pity about her tragic backstory (which Patrick told me after our visit.) She was simply very proud to speak about her cow and the financial details and her independence.

Her only regret was that she had nothing to offer us for visiting. That truly broke my heart. She wanted to give to us! Incredible.

When we were leaving she walked us up the hill to the roadside. I was walking behind her and was so moved by what seemed to me, Wanjiku almost miraculously walking up the hill. Honestly, it looked like she was floating.

This "cow lady" program is incredible because it is providing hope and an ability to survive. Without it, I honestly can't imagine how she would.

I love this quote by Eli Khamarov. And, if anyone is the poster child for that sentiment it's Wanjiku. All of these women are just trying to survive against every possible odd. They didn't ask for this life. They don't somehow deserve this life. And, yet, they are serving time for a crime they did not commit.

1 comment:

  1. what a heartbreaking story - yet inspiring and chilling. thank you katie for sharing such words, and first hand experience.