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Learning new skills to keep poverty, dependence at bay

 A woman sews a tower garden at Kenya Connect, Machakos County. [Rose Mukonyo, Standard]

Life hit Elizabeth Mwikali so hard after the death of her husband many years ago, and for a while, she wallowed in self-pity and poverty, struggling to earn a living to feed and educate her four sons.

Challenge after challenge hit her, day in and day out, and she ended up with her boys in a rental house in Wamunyu Shopping Centre in Machakos County, where she began doing menial jobs to fend for her family.

“The money was never enough; I could not even save because we lived from hand to mouth, the little I got, would be spent on food and rent and, on some good days, I would get slightly more to pay for the never-ending school fees arrears,” Elizabeth, who describes herself as resilient and hardworking narrates. 

When someone introduced her to the Lit Moms Club hosted by Kenya Connect, a non-profit organization in the area, she immediately jumped in.

There, a group of 27 women from the ages of 26 to 60 years come together every Friday to get training on how to sew clothes, make mats,

weaving, beadwork and other handicrafts that are income-generating, with the organization being the first client.

Miriam Makove, a 39-year-old single mother of three, has been a member of the club since 2018. She has been sewing reusable sanitary

kits and selling them to Kenya Connect who, in turn, has been supplying them to girls in over 60 partner schools in the community for free.

“Other than the sanitary kits, I have been getting contracts from local dressmakers in our village to help them when they get many orders from groups of people during parties or weddings or making repairs, and that is how I have been earning my living,” she says.

In addition to this, she has been taught how to weave baskets and has also been making fancy handmade earrings that she has also been selling to support her children, adding that she has been self-reliant during the years that she has been a member of the club.

Sewing and basket weaving have not been the only thing this team has been taught.

According to Esther Muinde, an officer at Kenya Connect, the women have been empowered to keep bees in a common apiary that has 20

beehives, where they will be able to harvest the honey and sell it towards the end of March this year.

She says that Kenya Connect aimed at introducing a project that is not labour and resource-intensive, something that the women could easily replicate and that is why they launched the apiary with funds from Ford Motors.

“When I was growing up, we always thought that beekeeping could only be done by men alone but when I joined Lit Moms Club, I was amazed to realise that this is something even women could do,” says Elizabeth.

Mwende Willy, an elderly woman who joined the club last year in May says they have been taught how to clean the hives, remove any wasps that may infest them, enlarge the hives once the bees colonise them and also harvest the honey.

The cleaning and supervision duties are shared equally among the members with the assistance of the Kenya Connect team which occasionally visits the apiary to oversee the production.

“We cannot allow just a small group of  members to supervise and clean because if a member does not carry out their duties as expected, then we all fail as a team,” adds Mwende, explaining that regular check-ups of the empty hives are very necessary because if the bees find wasps, they cannot colonise the hive.

Mwende also says she has been educating her grandchildren on beekeeping and other handicrafts that she has been taught to help them be self-reliant.

Further, they have also been taught table banking where they can save and borrow loans that they can use to boost their businesses. They use the money to buy raw materials for their small businesses and also to cater for other household needs.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Inspire Inclusion, and according to Kenya Connect, this is something they have been doing by economically empowering women through recruiting, retaining and developing diverse talents and also supporting women in businesses and leadership.

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I celebrate our Lit Moms because they have been eager to learn, always appreciative of every project we have introduced, always working hard together to earn money,” says Muinde of Kenya Connect.

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