CourageWritten by admin on December 25, 2011
by Nikole Lim
The Global Health Council reports that the Kibera Slum has more than one million inhabitants, half under age 15, squeezed like sardines into one square mile. Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya and one of the largest in Africa. About a fourth of Nairobi’s population lives in this slum without access to clean water, food, electricity or a sewage system. Poverty, AIDS/HIV, crime and rape are rampant.
I met Margaret in 2009 in Kibera. As a widow living with HIV/AIDS, she’s struggled for years trying to find her place in Kibera by washing clothes, selling vegetables, and doing housework here and there for anyone offering a few shillings. When her house was burned down in 2010, she thought all hope was lost along with everything she owned. She scrambled to look for a new place to live and eventually found a closet-sized kiosk where her and her two boys, Graham and Sergio, would sleep for the night. She pays 500 shillings ($6) per month to convert the tiny space into a bedroom by night, while during the day they would have to leave for the owners to use it as a barber shop.
After talking with her and researching what would be most viable in slum life, Freely in Hope stepped in to train her in micro-business. She was so grateful and excited for this opportunity. Through a nonprofit collaboration with Empowering Lives International’s Dynamic Business Start-Up Project, we trained 20 women in the Kibera slum at The Salvation Army church. I hoped that this training would be the fuel to sustain Margaret so that she would stop asking for handouts from pastors, wazungu (foreigners), and other well-wishers.
Back home, I heard reports on Margaret’s progress. Out of the 20 women in the micro-business program, Margaret was the only one who did not make a profit. She would occasionally ask her pastor for shillings here and there to pay school fees, pay her rent, or eat for the day. Out of desperation, she would send her boys to the pastor’s house, and instruct them to stay there at the door until they ate dinner. I published an article in Priority! Magazine with her story, and a surprising email came in. The writer said that she met Margaret back in 2006, and she gave her a few dollars to help pay for her boy’s school fees. I was saddened to learn that back in 2006, Margaret was still in the same predicament: stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty.
Margaret is one of the most dedicated mothers I’ve met. She would do anything for her two boys to ensure that they stayed in school, ate at least one meal a day, and had a roof over their heads. But she lacked the courage essential to transforming her dependent lifestyle into a sustainable mindset.
Last week, I went to Kibera again to discuss Margaret’s issues with her pastor and my colleague. We visited her place and stood in that tiny closet in a circle to problem-solve. She kept saying, “It’s too hard. Saving is too hard because I have to pay school fees or my boys won’t go to school!” She had the knowledge from the micro-business course, but wasn’t applying it.
Back at the pastor’s house, we talked about best solutions for Margaret. We decided to give her a final ultimatum: we would give her 500 shillings as capital and within 5 days, she should have doubled that amount through her vegetable-selling business. To Margaret, it was a daunting task, but we assured that it was possible. We told her that we invested in her because we believed in her potential to succeed. We truly believed that she could break out of the cycle of poverty by utilizing her skills, knowledge, and resources to become independent and better provide for her family. We encouraged her to think of the future by planning ahead for her boy’s Secondary School fees, expanding her sukuma wiki (kale) business by also selling tomatoes and onions, and eventually moving out of the tiny closet into a house outside of the slum. I think that during our conversation, something sparked. The lightbulb overhead in the closet became brighter. Margaret was determined.
I’m realizing that when working with the poor, raising funds to run programs is not as important as encouraging, strengthening, and fostering a courageous mindset. Women living in dire poverty who have experienced trauma, neglect, and oppression need someone to tell them, “You can.”
Five days later, I went back to her house and asked her, “How’d you do?”
She pulled out her record book and exclaimed, “I did so well!”
She showed me her income statements which showed an increasing amount of profit each day.
Margaret took 500 shillings and made 1,245 shillings.