A glass half full

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By David Henning, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

Dorine’s story is one of the most remarkable I have heard so far. It is not necessarily the story itself that is so intriguing, but the way Dorine told it created a lasting impression on me.

We met at the main bus station in Busia, a town on the border to Uganda. After visiting her workplace we took a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) to her home. When we arrived it was already getting dark, but I could still see the sewage on the side of the road as we entered a small space, surrounded by elongated houses divided so that there is space for several families in each home. Throughout the evening Dorine told me her story in bits and pieces.

Out of the blue Dorine’s father decided to leave his wife and five kids approximately four years ago, leaving them with absolutely nothing. “You cannot even imagine how it is to have nothing, can you?” she asks me with a smile. “No,” I had to admit. They had absolutely, absolutely nothing, just the cloth they were wearing and a little bit of food – can you imagine that? Luckily, her uncle decided to step in and gave them enough money for a small rented room, and a bit of food. At the time both Dorine and her mom were unemployed and the future did not look bright.

Soon after, Dorine managed to acquire a job at a cybercafe in town, and thus managed to bring a little income, US $45, to the family every month.  Her mom however, still had no job. Through a dear friend Dorine heard about Zidisha, and started to look into the idea. Her mom was principally against taking up a loan, but Dorine saw Zidisha as a potential help for their dire situation, and figured they had nothing to lose. After a lot of thinking and weighing up the cost and benefits she decided to take a loan without telling her mom.  When Dorine received her first loan she gave part of it to her mother, who of course immediately became suspicious, and required to know where the money came from. Dorine confessed, and after a heavy discussion the mother agreed to try it out.

With the money received through Zidisha they bought a small stall in Busia and started selling clothes. They bought the clothes cheaply in bulk and sold them individually at their stall, which gave them a profit of a few Kenyan shillings. With each consecutive loan they stocked up their supply and widened their range of different clothes, steadily increasing their profits to around US $90 a month today. Together with Dorine’s income from the cybercafe, they now have approximately US $135 USD to live off each month, not a lot for a family of six, but an incredible improvement from the $45 per month they were earning before joining Zidisha. In addition, with their second loan they bought a plot of land and some corn (maize), which they have just harvested, further improving their situation.

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Dorine and her mother with a pile of corn they have harvested

I spent most of my visit with Dorine, who is only a few years older than me. At one point I asked her what she does in her free time. “Free time? We don’t really have free-time here. I work [at the cybercafe] from eight in the morning to six every day from Monday till Saturday.  In addition, I usually wake up at five every morning to get water (like most homes in Kenya, Dorine’s house does not have indoor plumbing), do the dishes and clean the house before I go to work.  Afterwards I have to go home and help my mom with the household and take care of my siblings, else it would be too much to do for her. Sunday is usually my day off, but I still have to do the washing for my entire family, and after that I’m so exhausted that I usually sleep the rest of the day.”

I was stunned. It must have shown on my face, as Dorine burst out laughing. “Do you ever complain?” I ask her. “No no no, we don’t complain here, this is completely normal, this is just how life is!” she tells me. “I think you people up there just complain a bit too much!” she adds. “Yes,” I think to myself, “we really do complain way too much.”

Dorine’s story itself is impressive enough. However, the fact that she is still enthusiastic, incredibly positive, never complains and sees the beauty of life in all the small successes she and her family achieve every day is what really caught me. It made a lasting impression on my perspective of life.

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Dorine and her family drying corn outside their home

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