By Caroline SANG
Amidst the poverty and despair, women in some remote villages of Mandera County in Kenya have been empowered into carving healthier, wealthier futures for them and their children through a unique microfinance programme dubbed Orphan Microcredit Enterprise Programme (OMEP) implemented by Islamic Relief. The biggest beneficiaries of the project are orphans who have lost their fathers and are languishing in abject poverty for deprivation of the bread winner in the family. The orphaned families starring at a bleak future without sufficient education, relevant life skills, stress coping mechanisms, and lack of healthy attitude to withstand the shocks brought about by the cares of the world, have found solace in the project that has turned their lives around by giving them a new lease of life through education, food and small scale business ventures.
Microfinance is seen as a means to help in attaining some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly the goal on eradicating extreme poverty. The widows are capacitated with skills and equipment to provide the day to day needs of their dependants. With such an opportunity to earn income on their own, these women have been able to steadily gain some level of independence and are well on the way to increasing the financial sustainability of their families. When women received the profits from these businesses, they spent it back on their families – sending their children to school, seeking medical attention as well as improving their home. The goal is not just to help create businesses, but to improve the welfare of the family as a whole.
The OMEP project proved popular among the locals and scored high being interest free and Sharia compliant. With the often conscripting taxes scrapped, it recorded incredible success when the locals upon identifying viable ventures, came in their hundreds to register and sought vital knowledge on how to invest the funds.
Since the project’s inception back in 2009, 828 families have benefitted from this initiative. Islamic Relief has empowered these women-headed households to engage in different income generating activities through a grant of free interest loans of ksh.35, 000 as start-up capital. Forty two year old Haretha Abdi is now a kiosk owner and one of the many beneficiaries who have had their lives changed for the better through the microcredit loans. She says,
“The loans we have received from Islamic Relief are interest free loans. I initially borrowed ksh.35, 000 and repaid the same amount of ksh.35, 000.The microcredit has really changed our lives. I took my first loan back in 2009 and they have really boosted my business venture. I have seen my business growing steadily. I am able to re-stock my kiosk before selling out everything therefore keeping my business growing day by day. My children have been able to go school and further their education; I have 2 children in university and one in secondary school, this makes me very proud; and I have this business to thank.”
Determined, resourceful and backed by the knowledge she acquired in her 10 weeks of training, Haretha Abdi now understands that she can buy her stock direct from the warehouse and benefit from the economies of scale.
“I believe that this microcredit project has changed the lives of many people enormously. People here were living in extreme poverty, and were solely dependent on humanitarian aid. Now, there is already a huge difference – how much of that difference we can claim to be our responsibility, I don’t know, but we have played a role for sure,” she said.
The biggest ground is yet to be covered, and the biggest room is for improvement. In the next phase, it is envisioned that the funds will be cascaded down to the far flung areas and remotest villages to empower communities there. So far thousands of funds that have been disbursed have sustained and cushioned the locals from the harsh realities of the high cost of living and poverty.
With brimming ideas, drive and ambition displayed by the beneficiaries, it is possible to touch more lives and reach more needy population through