By Mike Calvert who has been working with the Sujali women from the start almost five years ago
Readers of this blog will be used to following the stories of ‘Chicken Alice’, as Mary calls her who has built new accommodation for the chickens and continues to thrive, of Jacinta with a ‘hotel’, Daisy the cow (the pregnant again) and a new calf who took the name of the deceased Buttercup, of Linet and her cakes who now has a food outlet elsewhere, of Susan, Eunice and Elizabeth and their retail, tailoring and hairdressing businesses respectively.
Our attention turns to two relatively new members of the group who I had not met before. Both are formidable and a joy to support. Grace came one year ago and left her previous home to look after the business. Her sister-in-law had died leaving two little grandsons who were abandoned as toddlers. She rents a small plot on which she has doubled the size of the ‘hotel’ (cafe), sells charcoal and paraffin, rents out a small room to a church which doubles as a meeting room when not used for services. She has even bigger plans for the business and, after taking out a KES50,000 loan (about £400), she has now borrowed double that having paid off the original loan in 5 months. She wants to have a shop as well and expand the hotel. This is exceptionally good going. Her business seems to be thriving and she has a clear vision.
Jane is a preacher who, along with her fellow preacher husband Livingstone, have taken to cultivating bananas. Livingstone had spent many years in the US and Jane had built their house while he was away with money that he had sent her. Jane needed the loan to extend her plot and widen her cultivation. Recently, her crop has been blighted by a drought and she needs to plan for much better harvesting of water – a particular weakness amongst many Kenyans – a criticism they will freely accept. Bananas grow so quickly in the heat and can yield a good return but many of the ones I saw were withered due to lack of water. Jane has planted out 25 new trees and is hoping that they will take and be fully grown in a year.
As for the finances, Sujali is thriving. The group together continue to save and now have over KES109,000 (about £800) in savings. They have adjusted down the interest rate they pay to 8% (following a drop in the bank rate from 18% up to as high as 24% down to 14%).
Several are behind with their payments and have been given a temporary reprieve by Mary but we are confident that they will honour their debts (especially since some of them have the money (or part of it) in savings). Demand for money constantly increases and Mary has been able to rustle up extra funds to cover any loans that exceeded what there was in the pot. The current balance of funds is KES562,920 which if you take away the initial investment means that they have generated over KES200,000 through savings and interest payments mainly.
In June, we celebrate 5 years of Sujali. Quite an achievement for Mary Kiguru who has run the scheme from the start.