Shibuye Community Health Workers (SCHW)

Violet Schivutse

This case is based on an interview with Violet Shivutse, founder and coordinator of the Shibuye Community Health Workers (SCHW), and Chair &Africa Regional Representative of the Governing Group of the Huairou Commission (HC) on February 28, 2021.

Shinyalu - Khayega Road, P.O. Box 56. Shinyalu 50107 Kakamega KENYA
+254 724 233930


Shinyalu, Kenya

The headquarters of Shibuye Community Health Workers (SCHW) is located in Shinyalu Township, a small town in Kakamega, the 2nd most populated county in Kenya after the capital region, Nairobi. Shinyalu is the administrative headquarter of the county and a commercial and trading center as well.

SCHW is active in the seven western counties of the Republic of Kenya -- Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia, Homabay County, Siaya and Kisumu Counties. Agriculture (tea, maize, beans, fresh produce) and animal husbandry are the main economic activities in the region. Kakamega rain forest and Lake Victoria are also natural resources that attract tourism. Agriculture and tourism are both sectors of the economy that are vulnerable to impacts of climate change.

The Organization

Shibuye Community Health Workers (SCHW)

SCHW is a community-based organization in Kenya that was founded in 1999. Its mission is to improve women’s health and promote their access to health services. It is now a network type of organization with “about 2040 members and 119 affiliated organizations that work with grassroots women and their families, and is engaged in issues of good governance, HIV/AIDS, land and housing, livelihood and resilience” ( (These grassroots groups are linked to similar groups across the country through a federation of grassroots organizations facilitated by GROOTS Kenya.)


We have a very small vision, which says, justice, fair, and caring for the community. Our big mission is to put grassroots women at the center of development within their communities.


SCBW is a membership organization of groups, not membership of individuals. There are now 119 groups. Each of these groups has 20- 25 members. These groups are in seven rural counties out of the 47 counties in Kenya. They are mostly from the western region, from along Lake Victoria to further west, to the border with Uganda.

Governance structure

SCBW has a Management Board composed of a representative from each of the member groups that make up the organization, from women living with HIV, from small-scale farmers, from community paralegals, from the caregivers, and from the youth. Then we have our religious leader and the key community target groups that we work with. We also have someone from the Ministry, who is like our technical expert, and one person from the gender department, which is our section, of the Ministry of Devolution. As the director of the organization, I also sit on the Management Committee to represent the organization as a whole, together with the Secretariat.


SCHW owns its space. It has a meeting hall, an office, and a room with six beds that provides overnight accommodation to members who come from far away. The room is also used as a rescue place or short-term shelter for women.

Main sources of funding

Main sources of funding are international. As a member of Huairou Commission (HC), an international coalition of grassroots women’s organizations, SCHW receives grants from HC. HC fundraises around specific initiatives and programs, and then distributes grants to its members working on that specific issue, such as resilience.  The German government and GIZ, a German international cooperation agency, provides funding for initiatives related to agriculture and soil protection and management.

Coalitions and partner organizations

SCHW is a member of the Huairou Commission, an international coalition of grassroots organizations. It is the Kenyan branch of Home-Based Care Alliance, and member of GROOTS Kenya, Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium National AIDS Control Council (NACC).  WILA, Women Land in Africa, an initiative of a wide coalition of grassroots women groups that work on land rights to share knowledge and strengthen advocacy.

SCHW also works in partnership with the Department of Gender and Social Development (DGSD), Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA).  It Co-founded the Good Governance Coalition in partnership with Transparency International.

The Leader


When, how and why did you join the organization?

This is where I was born, and where I married, like within four kilometers… At the age of 26, as a young woman who had just gotten married, I started working with a horticultural company. My role was to first register 100 farmers to be able to sign a contract to work with them. I had to train the farmers on things, like growing good quality French beans, cucumbers, vegetables, etc. Then the company would come to pick the produce . We issued the farmers a loan and the seeds, the training. I was paid to train them in how to manage the growth of crops, how to harvest, package, and bring the crops to where the office was. The office served as a training center and a buying center. When they bring an issue showing how many kilos of cucumber or vegetables they brought, then we record these kilos, and then they would be paid after the crop season. I was responsible for this. The company would come and pay the farmers, detract the loan of the farm inputs that the farmer received, and then issue the farmer money. As I did this I would go around and register the ones who had national IDs to show that they are the owners of the land. 80% would be men, and 20% would be women whose husbands were living in the city and some were widows. It wasn't so common because land belonged to men, and women were not supposed to sign a contract to do any activity on land. This came to my mind.

And every time I went to the field, I would see 80% of women are the ones working. They're the ones attending the training. They're the ones blocking the crops, harvesting, and bringing it to the center. Some would even be very pregnant, but still working. Some would carry babies on their backs, as they walked in the farm. And this truly touched me so much, because now, when the time comes to pay the farmers, the owner of the land is the one who got the money. The women are working. The men are coming to pick the money. It was something that I was really watching and thinking about. I think I had the feminist mind in me then but I didn't know. I was too young.

The men would pick this money, and all the men would go to the bar. They would buy commercial sex, because we used to pay them good amount of money. They would sit on the road and really be happy and enjoy the money. We used to pay for the crops almost in November, close to Christmas. And for us, Christmas is very important here. People want to eat well during Christmas. So when the women got money, they would buy Christmas food, they would buy some other food for the house, they would buy clothes for their children. The women also bought water cans, containers. Some of them would even improve and prepare the land for next season. But the men, they would drink away their money, and at the beginning of next season they'd be starting from scratch. But the women's money would really build the land.

Then another thing happened. Whenever I went to the field, I would hear a story like a woman farmer who was almost going to deliver couldn't reach the hospital. So she either delivered on the road and the baby died or she reached the hospital late. Some of the women died, or some traditional bed attendance in the village was called to support her to push. There was no health facility, and many women would actually die. Three of my female farmers died. And I met another one being pushed on a wheelbarrow. They were rushing her to the hospital. It was a very rural area, and there were no cars. This really made me feel sick.

My father in law was a retired doctor and also a church leader. He liked what I was doing in the community by training women farmers, so we'd in the evening and I’d tell him things that really pissed me off at work.

One time, after the death of one of the women, the government wanted to arrest the women we call traditional bed attendants. They were being blamed for helping these women to deliver at home and killing them. It was a big campaign and some of the famous ones were running away to hide. Because my horticultural buying center was in such a central place, once, when the police and the hospital superintendent came to the community to verify a case of a woman that had died, I told them I could show them the place because she was a trained field worker in this area.  As we went, they were asking things about these “bad, bad women”. I told them that these women are not killers. They come in to help because there are no hospitals. But since they don't have the knowledge, women die in their hands. Instead of arresting them, because then they will continue doing it in hiding, or even more havoc will be done. We better use them as a resource.  They're the first ones to know who is pregnant in the community and pregnant women who are sick.  They can identify those who need to go to a health facility. And the health facility that is 15 kilometers away should figure out how they can reach pregnant women.

They were really listening to me, and agreed not to arrest but to sensitize the community. They wanted that traditional birth attendant who had met the woman who had died to tell the story. But the women were so worried. So I said let’s not have one woman come to tell a case but bring all the traditional birth attendants together and listen to many cases.  What time are they called (because most of them are called at night)? What do they do? What has been going wrong?

They asked me to organize the first meeting since the women were my farmers. Only six turned up because they were afraid that they would be arrested. I asked not to have the police and just have the nurses speak to the women. As they listened to the stories, they indeed realized that these were really stories of sadness. These women were helping. We agreed at this meeting to form a group of traditional birth attendants who will work together with this hospital. My father in law offered to give us the church so that pregnant women could come here for antenatal and postnatal care, and make privacy rooms in the church once a week. I did not know that I had started running a mobile clinic. It was mobile, and we agreed, whenever the women came to the clinic, they could save the money that’s supposed to go towards travel. Then on the day when they are going to deliver, they could just go to the hospital without getting rid of the bills. When the women came to the clinic, they saved a lot more than they wanted until the time they delivered. The women work so hard to raise money for their labor if they went to the hospital to deliver.

We called it safe maternal motherhood books. It was a savings for women, and with the   remaining balance, they could buy clothes for the children. They came with very clean children and they had money. Most of the women who joined this movement were in college and most traditional birth attendants joined. We said we will give a levy of $3 to any traditional birth attendant that registers a woman who is pregnant. Everyone wanted to get this kind of money, and they registered six women and made sure they attended the clinics. Because of this we got support from an organization in America called Pathfinder International. They bought an ambulance for the community.

And during that time I was torn in between. I became the secretary, I was not a birth attendant but because most of these women could not write, I was the one who summarized their notes and took them to the health facility every month.

The company that I was working for was annoyed with me because I was dividing my time between the work of this organization and serving the women at the health facility, without pay. We negotiated with my father in law and he told me, “I don't see why you should continue working for the agricultural company when you are saving all these women from dying and you are in your reproductive age. You also need the same service. So you can decide not to leave, and see what God, because he really believed in God, will tell you to do.”

I started looking for all the women that I trained in birth attendance and environmental hygiene, and brought them together and started this organization. Our work began in 1996. But then we brought the women in the first self help group of 21 women in 1999. Then in 2003, we were so big and registered as a community based organization. That's the story of my foundation.

Later, I had to go to school also because of my responsibility as the leader of the organization. I studied community based development and project management. Those kinds of things were important to be able to get funding to organizations that do not have the technical knowledge. We know we could still do the work but then you can't convince funding partners that you’ll be able to deliver.


Grassroots Organization

For me, a grassroots organization is an organization of women from the local community who have come together because they are addressing the same struggles that they are going through. Grassroots women are the women that are affected with land, the women that are affected with HIV, the women that are affected with the real issues that they're addressing. 

A grassroots organization is a bit different from NGOs because NGOs can just be professionals, or other leaders who feel this issue concerns them, and they need support. But for us this issue is affecting us, so we need to come together so that we work together as a collective to address it. It's a collective of people dealing with their own problems addressing it, and they're making decisions on what to work on. Organizing, not making decisions, organizing on how to address those issues.

We are a grassroots women’s organization because of the work we do, especially around women’s health and community paralegals that addresses land rights issues and violence against women. Our organization began as a service provision organization made up of women who came together to provide support for maternal health care and in the times of HIV. We now also have 36 men, joining the organization.

Structure, Activities and Evolution of SCHW

As explained above, I brought together all the women that I trained in birth attendance and environmental hygiene, and started this organization. Our work began in 1996, but the first self help group of 21 women was formed in 1999. By 2003, we were so big that we registered as a community based organization.

Our main mandate, when we began, was to ensure women who are pregnant deliver safely. It was around their health right from antenatal to postnatal care.  We now have 26 caregivers groups. We also have the community paralegals founded mainly through the initiative of community watchdog groups. These are community members, including men like the village elders, who came together to address issues of violence against women. Women caregivers supporting communities in village level or sub location championed the formation of community watchdog groups. Right now we have 17 community watchdog groups.

We trained men to be paralegals because we could not manage to advance the rights of women without support from men. We needed them on that front. We trained many, but not all chose to become our members. Those who chose to become members of Shibuye got trained on other things like women’s leadership, monitoring women leadership and advancement of the two gender roles.

When we started working as caregivers,  we had a big challenge. Most of the women that had lost their spouses or fathers from HIV were being thrown out of their homes. Their property was grabbed by their in-laws or relatives. It happened mostly with widows and single women. Their families would chase them [out] because there was a trend that indicated that land did not belong to women.

This was in 2006, when we did a survey. During the community feedback meetings women that had been denied property gave testimonies on how they did not get support from the chiefs. Some chiefs were among those that he incited the families to chase women away. In other incidents, some women felt they got some support from the chief. But when the chief referred them to other institutions, like the land dispute tribunal, which are community courts that listen on land cases, they were not supported. One of the reasons was that the chief only told them by mouth, “Go to the chairman of the land dispute tribunal.” Or just wrote a letter and said, “support this widow, but the letter did not have ownership of saying, this woman comes from village A, she was the wife of so and so, or she was living with so and so. And she has a complaint that the family is chasing her. We know this woman, and kindly support her.” The referral was very poor.

The conclusion was that there was not a clear system, there was a lack of transparency in systems, and they worked in silos. So we said, we have community opinion leaders, religious leaders, women’s groups, people that are usually the first ones to hear such cases, and we need to come up with a plan of action at the community level on how to ensure these institutions work together. That's how we came up with the idea and founded the “community watchdog groups” to keep people from disinheriting widows and monitor how the institutions are working. After some time and discussion, we changed the name to community land watchdog groups. This worked very well. After some time, the groups started watching, not only disinheritance, but also people that were grabbing forestland, market land or school land.

We also have groups of farmers that work on food security activities in the community. We also have groups of women living along the forest. Their role is conservation of the indigenous knowledge around the forest and indigenous hubs. Our indigenous people have many indigenous trees that have herbal medicine, things like that. So they are protecting both the trees and nature and sacred places where people pray.

We also have support groups that work in communities that were affected with HIV. Most of them are women living with HIV who also double as caregivers. They have benefited from care, and now they're strong and are caring for other people who are going through the same in their community. They have activities on the side to support themselves.

 Those are the groups. [And in terms of governance] you can't separate our Secretariat from the key grassroots women leaders. We had a process of selecting leaders that have worked over a period of time on specific issues and who have received the training from various partners. We came up with this kind of structure to make our Secretariat; unlike an NGO, we were not supposed to hire staff. But we had to as we grew and started working on projects that required technical support from someone with a degree or diploma in agriculture. So now, we also have a technical staff member on women leadership, who studied sociology, and an accountant who has a certificate or diploma in accounting, and she's still studying more. I also had to go to school because of my responsibility as the leader of the organization, and studied Community Development and Project Management. If you don't do those kinds of things, then you limit your funding because people won't give funding to organizations that do not have the technical knowledge. We know we could still do the work but then you can't convince partners that you’ll be able to deliver.

After the Secretariat we have the groups. Each group also has a team of three to five people that work directly with the Secretariat.  These are the core grassroots women leaders that help in doing work plans, the technical portion of the project, and that help to oversee the project and track the monitoring. Based on experience, our worry has always been that sometimes you may bring in a technical person because you have donor money, but long-term funding is usually not assured and the moment money is gone, these people leave.

To be able to continue functioning in each of the thematic areas, like our agricultural initiative, we have five leaders. Some of these leaders are trainers on technical issues, and have taken training on irrigation and agriculture. Some do training on soil protection and management, and some on drought resistant farming. They're really techno-savvy. These kinds of leaders form a team that works together with a technical manager.

As mentioned above, since we work in a very big region, we also have local or Ward leaders to function in those government jurisdictions. And sometimes we also help groups raise funding, or with technical support. This helps to avoid complications when seeking an agriculture or livestock extension officer to work with the women at the ward level. It also makes it easy to hold meetings with the group for their activities with the ward leaders, the watch leaders, and the Secretariat, and engage in our planning. Then these people will disseminate information at that level.

Land and Agriculture

Because we live in a rural community, farming is one of the strongest livelihoods. So we advance agriculture, and don't want to leave women behind because they don't own land. We have been looking at alternatives for accessing land. One is land leasing, but our governments have never streamlined land leasing for small-scale farmers. The policies are for long-term leases, like for a hundred years, but there is nothing for the small farmers who want to lease land for one year. This is what women mostly do. So we came up with a land lease for small scale farmers, and it will be institutionalized very soon by one of the counties as policy of the county.

With another fund from Germany, GIZ, we created a community-driven land release process. They are supporting us to expand these processes to ensure that women who do not have land can access it for leasing in a more streamlined way. It's a very exciting project that has been on our top of the agenda. GIZ came to support this process and ensure the county is going to legalize this policy. They are funding agricultural activities in the western region, and want to see land leasing as an opportunity for women and youth to engage in agriculture.

Land titling is an individual thing. If I have more land than I can manage for a reason - maybe I can't walk or I may not have capital, or have school fees to pay – then   instead of selling this land and losing it forever, I would rather lease it for four years to get some money. So it's an activity that goes on in rural communities, but because it has never been streamlined, it has had so many conflicts that people don't respect the leasing. There's no way to document it. Government didn't care about it. So we met the government and asked to look at this as an alternative, because it was going on. As an organization that does a lot of agricultural activities with the women who want land, as lessors or lessees, we got into this activity as part of our women’s land rights project.

In urban centers, especially the informal settlements, like Mathare Valley [1] Most women who did not have land came up with a process of doing a land trust process. They would put money together and link with the government to permanently acquire the land where they're staying. But, you know, urbanization is rapidly growing and the government wanted this land and would not encourage women to keep putting money together to get land in urban areas. So it was abolished. It was very small; it didn’t have the guarantee that you would own this land forever.

Good Governance Coalition

When we were struggling with issues of disinheritance, the big issue was how the judiciary was functioning very badly. There was a lot of corruption. We worked with Transparency International to look at the corruption that was happening in the judiciary in our own county. We decided to form a good governance coalition to bring together NGOs, community based organizations, and other organizations, including religious groups to be able to keep caucusing and give feedback to the judiciary on issues of cases they were delaying in court. We had cases that had stayed in court for 20 years of women who had been denied land, and nothing was happening.

So Shibuye was one of the conveners of the Good Governance Coalition, which we set up with Transparency International. Transparency International opened a legal office in our community and gives technical support for lawyers when we want lawyers.

A holistic response to HIV Epidemic

During our work on maternal health, HIV struck. We had established a relationship we had established with the health facility on maternal health care, and collaborated with them to mobilize measles vaccination and polio vaccination. We really became part of the community health system, and so when HIV came, we actually were the first ones that reported it.

People who were positive were coming from urban areas, very sick. We were the ones who reported to the health facility about them.  When the health facility came to verify, they would take some to the health facility. Then there was no awareness of HIV. We were among the first people to be trained on HIV since we were already doing such care work. We become ambassadors to start showing the community that HIV is real, not witchcraft, and advocate for testing. We put together a manual showing what HIV support looks like drawn from our experience in care.

Then eventually, again, we were the ones that realized a lot of children were being left by parents who died from HIV. No one was talking about it. When the sick person dies, children remain. It was so pathetic. We said can we start writing the names of these children, and see what will happen. So when Kenya founded the National AIDS Coordinating Council, they would hold meetings at the community level, and we would report not only HIV, but we would also report about the orphans.

Some of these orphans actually looked like they had HIV. We started bringing in the issues of children and they said, test the children so that they can be supported. But it was so hard to take a child that was not yours for testing because the government banned testing children if you are not their mother or their father. But most of these children, their parents had died. We did advocacy around this. We said we have to test these children, and we have worked with their parents. We are the only people in the community that can be trusted with the welfare of these children. We can support them to get tested. We were supporting them with nutrition, counseling, things like that. Eventually, we were allowed to sign a form to say we will keep the information confidential. We signed all these forms, we went to the Chiefs to prove that we were the ones that knew these children. We never gave up.

And we thank God that ARVs (antiretroviral drugs treatment) came and we were able to enroll people for ARV monitoring. And we started now seeing the real things the orphans deal with in their household. The orphans were being thrown out when their mothers were sick, and they were losing their land. We integrated all these things. In 2008, at a meeting reported on widows living with HIV, being thrown out of homes. When someone said, “Oh please, we came for a land meeting,” we explained: “ These widows are being thrown out. They go to stay in the markets and do not have anything to eat. They engage in commercial sex and that's spreading HIV. HIV is coming back to the community because of chasing. This is a land issue. This is an HIV issue.”

If you follow the Kenyan funding in 2009, the call for a proposal on HIV/AIDS included a response on women’s land rights. We won that proposal and got that money. That is when we formed the Home Based Care Alliance.  We had big meetings and were again selected to support the development of the national HIV AIDS strategic plan in Nairobi.

Consultants had developed four pillars: They said one pillar is called clinical. Another is prevention of new infections. And another is home base care. Then they mentioned another pillar, gender-based violence. We said you need another pillar. A community pillar. This pillar is free…  We want a pillar called Community pillar and want flexibility in its funding because communities have different cultures. What perpetuates HIV in my community is not the same thing that perpetuates HIV in other communities. In some communities it was male circumcision; in others, the vulnerability of long distance drivers due to commercial sex.

This was the climax of responding to HIV in a holistic manner. This was not our organization alone because the Home Based Care Alliance was now working all over Kenya with organizations led by grassroots women. That was the climax.

Then we got orphan support from USAID in 2013, the first grant to support us to take children to schools. We had this money for almost 6-7 years. Some have completed school, and some gone to universities. Some are in police forces. Some don't have jobs because jobs are also a problem, but at least, we were able to secure education support for so many children through our organization.

But it was a horrible time when the donor pulled out of this educational support due to organizational restructuring and the next partner did not come in to improve what communities were doing.  They had given us computers and helped us to strengthen offices. We were invested in our capacity building, training our accountants and training others to become project managers. And when the funder didn't adopt that system in the next funding cycle, because of system change that had happened in the US, we lost with this the support for school fees for many, many orphans. But we thank God we have survived.

We also decided to go into agriculture to make sure those households have food security. Then the issue of climate change came in. We were able with the support of the Huairou Commission to get funding for resilience in agriculture. We used it to become innovative, to support grassroots women from those households to do agricultural business, start raising money, and even save some for school fees for their children. That's how we have survived that.

We don't say things because of reading from a book, but because it's based on our experience. We said, you cannot talk about health care, without addressing issues of food security and nutrition at the family level. You can’t talk about food security and nutrition without talking about land, because these things work together. When you are talking about land, you must talk about how the women will be able to utilize this land, to be able to build their economic base from the land. In rural communities, we do not have factories for one to work in. Land is the source of livelihood. When you are talking about women’s economic empowerment, you must again look at how this land will be able to help the women to develop themselves. And when you look at land you cannot stop looking at climate change.

We have developed many manuals on sustainable land use, or soil protection, or climate change. that are brought by different professionals. Right now, we are preparing a manual that we call community-driven sustainable land use management. If you want to do a community driven sustainable land use management, what are the clear steps to follow? We don't call them principles; we say steps. It integrates all the issues that people don't usually look at when they are doing an agricultural manual. They usually only look at agricultural activities. They don't even consider land. Another looking at land, just looks at land advocacy, not at agriculture. We had to come up with a manual, because agriculture is really critical for Africa. Africa is developing so many policies around land and agriculture, but not in a holistic manner that says, how do you do women’s and community empowerment, and make agriculture an entity for comprehensive development of the society?

Biggest Achievements and Challenges

One of the major achievements for us is being able to bring grassroots women that have lived the experience of challenges of development to become the change agents in their community. From crying as a widow, from crying as a woman living with HIV, now they are using the lessons they learned from being thrown out of land. Now they are able to address issues of land and guide other women and even be trained as a paralegal to go and support another woman with a land case. I think that is a very big success. From being a woman who is struggling with food security in the household, they become a very strong farmer, then a trainer who can train other women on food.

Our biggest achievement has been to surface the potential that exists in grassroots women, that is usually not seen by many people. People have their development programs or projects that are looking at women living in poverty as beneficiaries. But now it's really changing from putting grassroots women in the beneficiary list, to bringing them in as change agents and calling them trainers, calling them paralegals, calling them caregivers, calling them names that actually show an action of transformation. Not just someone sitting there and crying waiting for support.

Another big achievement is we have our own office that has a training hall. We can conduct our own training. We have demonstration landing sites, nine demonstration land sites right now in different communities where people can learn about resilience and sustainable farming. If you want to learn about irrigating farming, or if you want to learn about soil conservation, there are places where you could go and learn about that.

All these programs and the manuals that we have developed are not just being beneficiaries. Women can actually train. We put a manual together for development partners to work with universities and local colleges to be able to design something for the community, to train and collect data, and share it with the government.

The challenge is the lack of consistency in funding community projects. The first to fall out of funding are always the grassroots organizations because grassroots organizations cannot compete for funding with big NGOs, international NGOs. When partners are calling for a project, they will always say, NGOs work in communities. The same for international NGOs and faith based organizations.

These are people that will have a very big proposal with everything there, and they will show how many cars they have, how many whatever... Our resources are mainly the innovations that we have that we bring on board, and the human resources, that is that is grassroots women’s contribution. But they are never counted; there is a lack of visibility of the human resources. So competing in the same field for money is not easy.

And when all these big organizations get the money, they come to work with us. But they do not give us money for office running costs. They keep money for their offices, their new cars. They just use us to mobilize farmers, to do the training, and pay us as a participant. Each participant gets so many dollars for a week. It doesn't grow the grassroots organization, unless you are part of a movement like Huairou Commission that deliberately focuses on supporting the grassroots women. When the Huairou Commission gets money we can be part of that. We can't compete for this funding with the Red Cross, Care International.

Before the Global Fund for Women, no one would think of giving us money because we couldn’t show a budget. We were getting money through Pathfinder International or a hospital, but they were not giving it to us directly. When the Global Fund for Women came and saw what we were doing on the ground, they gave us our first grant, which was $10,000 US. This was a magic fund, because then, we received money from the USAID, followed by others. These are very big challenges because some women’s organizations who are not members of our affiliated organizations like the Huairou Commission, may never get that kind of opportunity. The Huairou Commission introduced us to the Global Fund for Women.

It’s so hard for the funders to take seriously the work we’re doing in the community. We would never get money before I got this diploma in community-based development. For this two-year degree, all I did was to repeat the things I was already doing. There was nothing new, and even I was better than the lecturer in explaining the Millennium Development Goals, and how each of the goals applied to the community in the Kenyan context. I’d explain why Kenya will not achieve Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015. People would look at me and say, how do you know all of this? Did you go to any college? No, I didn't go to any. I only went for a horticulture course for three months, and they'll say, how come you know these things, I would just laugh.

These partners are not giving us money because we don't have certificates, but the truth is we have the knowledge. We can articulate development policies from all kinds of spheres, on health issues, environmental issues, even at the global policy level, and we understand what this woman is going through. Recently I did a paper for UN women, and it is on caregiving in the context of HIV AIDS and social protection. That’s something I've done a lot of my study around.

We hired agricultural extension agricultural officers with a degree from university. I'm telling you, sometimes I tell myself, God will pay me for training these students because I wasn't ready to hire all of them, but the donor wanted me to hire them so that we would be given the funding. But they don't know how to do work in the community. They use funny names like field officers instead of community resource people or trainers…

Plans for the future and sustainability of the organization

For years we worked from an office given to us by the district Commissioner. We were not paying rent up until 2015. In 2015 we made an effort and constructed our own office. It has a meeting hall, an office, and a room that has six beds. When some women cannot travel back home after our meetings, they usually sleep there.  And sometimes we will use it as a rescue place. When a woman who has been abused doesn't have a place to sleep, we keep her there. But it's a temporary shelter for no more than a week. Within that one week, we should know if the problem is resolved for her to go back, or if she's going to have her own maternal home, residence of in-laws. We stopped doing that for children because it requires a long government bureaucracy.

One thing that we are now doing more in our organization is to have intergenerational leadership. I'm not the oldest. We have older women that were part of the founding of this organization, and I've learned so much from them in the same spirit of mentorship. I am in the second generation with other leaders, and we have brought in the next generation. We have two more generations that we are trying to nurture in leadership. These are the orphans that have benefited from our organization, especially the girls, because we are more of a girls ‘organization.

When they were choosing colleges, we assisted them to understand the need to also pick colleges that would make them come back and work in their communities. We have some students in sociology. Others have done community-based work. During school holidays you will find our office full with five girls who are helping out and working to learn from us. Now they're training their fellow women.

For us to be able to continue we cannot be renting an office. Having our own physical place for organizing is a part of the bigger vision. We want to have demonstration learning centers in communities. We can use the land for three years for training. A woman, who has, say an acre, can volunteer to let us use half of it. So half the produce from the field becomes our own, but the site is a learning center for us. We look at it like having a real training center, where women come to learn, and also a place where they can assemble some things for selling.

We’re getting help from the Dutch to support grassroots women to access the market. Now we have enough trainers and supporting women in getting land, but access to the market is a problem. Our next plan is really to do that and take our women’s productivity to the next level.

We are in discussion with the Global Fund for Women about developing a COVID emergency fund. We want to use this money to start discussions with our community around COVID recovery. In January we had a meeting for the year that showed that most of the women, whose livelihoods and income generating activities were growing, ended up being very affected with COVID. After that, I started thinking of a business model that has a safety net, where women can also have a strong place to put money in, like banking or self-insurance, for whenever their business is collapsing. We want to look at real insurance plans that exist in Kenya, to see how they can also reorganize to insure small scale producers.

We’re thinking about women making their livelihoods as small market vendors so that in case an emergency like COVID-19 happens, these women can be compensated for the things they lose, and paid to recover their businesses. This is a discussion we really want to engage in because the businesses want to be assured that in case of emergency, you can still go somewhere and get some funding, even if not the full money that you lost. You can at least get a startup kit for you to start up again. If this grant goes well, we will be giving some women some small grants through groups. The money will be revolving among them for them to recover their business.

We are thinking of something like a cooperative. Farmers unions are for big farmers;  not small scale farmers because the membership fee is huge for them. The reason we don't want to call and register the women’s groups in cooperatives is because registration of cooperatives is very expensive.  So we just formalize our small groups to become like women societies that they can enter. The moment you jump to another registration status, it will be very expensive.