My stay started with a trip to Utange Primary School. This is a state school in a bush village. It has around 1000 pupils, coming from mainly disadvantaged homes.
18 months ago I began to fund mothers of children at the school to set up small businesses, funded by half of the proceeds from my sales of items made from recycled denim. The other half of the proceeds goes towards the building of a new school for disabled children. The process of setting up the small businesses has been facilitated by a number of the staff, but Susan (the computing teacher) spearheads the initiative.
Susan is an amazing lady. She is married, with a husband who works in a bank. He has been posted in Voi (a journey of over two hours away) for the past five years. The couple have four children - a son who is studying to become a doctor, a daughter boarding at secondary school and twin daughters who are three. As well as coping with this and her teaching job, Susan is also the volunteer coordinator at the Kenya Girl Guides Shanzu Trasitional Workshop, where disabled girls are taught sewing skills and prepared to earn their own incomes.
Susan has established a process by which the school is able to nominate women for business funding from Make A Difference. First, teachers carry out a series of home visits to those homes which they identify as in extreme need. Susan explained that these home visits form part of normal school routine. They enable the staff, she says, to get a true picture of the home situation. They also allow for assessment of the ability of a mother to sustain a business and to use its income appropriately to support her family.
Once the teachers are satisfied that this family would benefit from support to set up a business, they talk to the woman about the type of business they feel will work for them. A challenge is to encourage them to think big and to think beyond setting up a shop. Susan then helps the mother to draw up a budget, with all costs itemised (and prices checked by Susan and other teachers). This is then submitted to the charity along with photos of the woman and her family and information about them. Once we have sufficient money, this is then sent out to Susan. She purchases the equipment, photographs its presentation to the family and sends me the photos and copies of the receipts.
The process does not end there. While Susan helps the women to set up and begin to use their own bank accounts, other staff support her with budgeting and practical issues such as safe storage of resources. The head teacher, Jane, and these other staff, regularly check on the progress of the business. If income is down, Jane is likely to ask why, and what is going to be done to improve the situation.
These dedicated teachers have my utmost respect and admiration.