Tahoe organization thinks big (and small) to help Kenyan women
February 9, 2012
TAHOE andamp;#8212; Bareyandamp;#8217;s eyes widened with wonder as she held the piece of paper in her hand. She struggled to decipher the words on the document but understood its significance andamp;#8212; the number, 5,000 Kenyan shillings, would be paid to her to start her own small business baking and selling chapati to support her family. As a child, Barey never had a chance to learn to read or write, or learn anything else for that matter other than street smarts and the necessity of hard work. But now, as a 41-year-old widow, she has earned an opportunity to break free of the vicious cycle of living hand-to-mouth, day after day after day. The loan to Barey, the equivalent of $59, was one of nine loans provided to aspiring Kenyan women entrepreneurs this past December by the Zawadisha Fund, a Lake Tahoe-based organization founded by Jennifer Gurecki and Julie Lowe in 2010. The idea germinated when Gurecki wrote her masterandamp;#8217;s thesis on how social norms impact womenandamp;#8217;s ability to participate fully and freely in society. When surveyed, women in Eldoret, Kenya, repeatedly told Gurecki the greatest barrier to prosperity, and thus empowerment, is access to capital and participation in the economy. Armed with this knowledge and inspired by the success of the Grameen Bank andamp;#8212; which along with its founder Mohammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for providing small low-interest loans to Bangladeshi women andamp;#8212; Gurecki and Lowe have sought to develop an effective microfinance program to improve the lives of Kenyan women and their families. Gurecki and Lowe have applied their years of experience and continuing employment in education and nonprofit organizations around Lake Tahoe to meet head-on this complex and daunting challenge. The results so far are encouraging. Aptly named the Tuinuane Project by the loan recipients, which means andamp;#8220;to lift upandamp;#8221; in Swahili, after just one year the women have reported they have been able to contribute financially to their families for the first time in their lives. And of the eight women granted loans for 2011, six paid back their loans enabling Zawadisha to lend additional funds to the successful six and provide loans to Barey and two other women in December. Though the sustainability of the program is promising, Gurecki and Lowe continue to innovate to increase Zawadishaandamp;#8217;s effectiveness. During her November visit to Eldoret, Gurecki implemented a new savings program in which Zawadisha will match any savings deposited by the women upon full repayment of their loans.Promoting savings is especially vital in Kenya where life is precarious and one bad turn andamp;#8212; an illness, an accident, a marginal decrease in earnings andamp;#8212; can prove disastrous to families without savings. Zawadisha has also joined the fight for the well being of women on another front: confronting an epidemic of rape and violence against women in Kenyan society. In a survey conducted by the United Nations AIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Gender andamp; HIV, nearly half of Kenyan women reported experiencing violence in their lifetimes and one-quarter reported such violence had occurred within the preceding 12 months. Of these women, an overwhelming 83 percent experienced violence during their childhood, and 46 percent of those incidents were sexual abuse. Additionally, the UN Task Team found in more than 60 percent of these cases, the abused women and children did not report the crime to anyone. Among its findings, the Task Team concluded education is a social vaccine that can prevent the spread of violence and HIV. To promote this andamp;#8220;social vaccine,andamp;#8221; Zawadisha has partnered with a Kenyan couple, Winnie and Duncan Bomba, who founded and run the Dolphin Anti-Rape andamp; AIDS Control Outreach program. The Bombas had lived a andamp;#8220;normalandamp;#8221; life in Kenya until social activism was abruptly thrust upon them. While staying at her familyandamp;#8217;s home in Eldoret, Winnie woke the one morning to discover a girl had been beaten, raped, brutalized and left to die on her familyandamp;#8217;s doorstep. Regret and concern permeated the neighborhood but for only so long. Each and every day is a new chapter of survival and struggle, and after several chapters, reflection fades. In Kenya, confronting the past and changing the future seem like fruitless endeavors when faced with the ever-pervading tide of the present.But Winnie refused to let it be. She resolved to rage against complacency because she suddenly felt complicit otherwise. Her husband, Duncan, had martial arts training and magnetism to match Winnieandamp;#8217;s determination and energy. Together, they founded the Dolphin program that propelled them to visit schools throughout their andamp;#8220;neighborhoodandamp;#8221; andamp;#8212; Greater Nairobi andamp;#8212; to teach girls how to avoid confrontations, but defend themselves if necessary, and stem this seemingly endemic cancer on their society. To date, Dolphin has instructed more than 250,000 women and girls in anti-violence and self-defense workshops. Zawadisha has bolstered the Bombasandamp;#8217; program by providing organizational, technological, fundraising and material support. Zawadisha has been greatly aided in its efforts through the generous support of South Tahoe CrossFit, Elevate Wellness, GWOF, Indigo Photography, IRIE Rafting Company, Soroptimist International of Tahoe Sierra and many other local donors who believe global issues are relevant locally and Lake Tahoe residents have a great deal to offer in both human and material resources. If you would like to learn more or donate to the Zawadisha Fund, visit http://www.zawadisha.org.