To be a billionaire is not an easy thing, but women and men in Kimilili District have found an alternative way to conquer this dilema through self-help initiatives or groups commonly referred to as Chama’s.
In the society that sees white collar jobs, as the only way to gain financial independence and bring home money today, the women and men have come together to form groups (Chama’s) to empower and cushion themselves against these tough times.
Bungoma Home Industries chairperson, Weyao Matimbayi, a retired college lecturer started this group to pursue his passion while still teaching. At first he did it as a hobby, making traditional African ornaments, furniture, utensils and music instruments, an art he took seriously after acquiring a scholarship to the UK, where he saw how people made a living out of art.
When Matimbayi came back from London, he set up a shop employing five people and formed the group for them so as to empower them financially. He says, “I am living my dream, though I realized it late, but I am satisfied with where I am now.”
Matimbayi and his group have expanded the range of their products to include wooden utensils, sofa set bead covers ,guitars, eshiriri, litungu, isukuti drums and sifwototo; which they sell to Khetia’s supermarket and the newly opened Yakomart, who also doubles up as their distributors.
Sharing the same sentiments is Juliet Netondo, secretary of Kimilili Ushindi Youth Group, who says that youths are just lazy and looking for scape goats for their misfortunes. She claims that before she joined the Chama, she was a full time house wife and life was extremely hard, given that she was the families’ sole bread winner and also had to pay school fees for her children.
But since then her life has improved greatly as her Chama offers loans to members and none members as part of the Chama’s investment scheme alongside other businesses owned by the group..
On this particular day, Netondo and other self-help groups are in Bungoma town at an exhibition organized by One Value One Product (OVOP) Programme Kenya, that’s sponsored by the Japanese government through Japanese International cooperation Agency (JICA) in conjunction with the Ministry of Industrializations-Kenya Industrial Estates where they were displaying their product and innovations to the public.
Netondo and her group hails from Kimilili town and deals in making energy saving jiko liners, food warmers and metal/ceramic jikos is in the process of expanding its products. “When we started out, we were not sure about what we wanted to do, but now we have no doubts that this is it and we are doing it right.” She says.
She however says that to organize and manage money and people is not that easy, but the group has managed to get over this.
Another inspiration is the Kamukuywa Juakiali, Khakalundi Furniture, a group of middle aged men from Kamukuywa market a few kilometers from Kimilili town. This group normally deals in house hold and office furniture and owns a great range of designs which they were exhibiting. When I visited the groups stand I met Remy Wanyonyi, the group’s chairman and a carpenter, who says the group is made up of older men and five youths as it is aiming at improving the thinking capacity and living standards of these young men through apprenticeship.
“We nurture talents and minds, from the perception of a future with no job opportunities, because the youths themselves are the jobs. It’s a matter of putting your priorities straight everything falls in lace.” says a satisfied Wanyonyi. Youths must stop complaining and do something about it.” He adds.
Kimilili district enjoys the highest number of self-help groups in Bungoma county, including Yetana Women’s group and Bismillah Hotel and Catering group, which comprises of young ladies only, thus bringing us back to the main issue; the youths.
Youths in Kenya have blamed the government for lack of jobs, but Kimilili residents have a different opinion. “Idle youths are no more in our town place, as the area politicians has come up with initiatives to keep them busy and reproductive,” says Mike Makhulo.
What worries Makhulo is the greedy middle men who pounce on youths who are out to better themselves by exploiting them and in the process discouraging them to relent.
He also cites inadequacy of funds to start out, lack of raw materials and market for their products and this is where organizations such OVOP comes in.
The government through the Ministry of Industrialization is working with donors to empower women, men and the youths in particular by organizing seminars, workshops and exhibitions, challenging them to do something about the issue of unemployment in the country encouraging them to invest in self-employment as it’s the only sure way to succeed during these hard times of recession in the world. The kind of business will give one the test and experience on the importance of being in charge and at the top when things are going downhill.
Through these self-help groups, Kenyan youths have the opportunity to better and improve themselves despite the odds.
As the great Malcolm X once said, “Youths today lets be a working nation and tomorrow we won’t be the complaining delinquents and to be a billionaire, you have to start with one coin.”
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