We’re giving away Zidisha gift cards to the first 500 people to join our birthday campaign!

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So many of us have too much stuff – much of it gifts for birthdays and other occasions.  And the more we accumulate, the harder it is for our family and friends to come up with really meaningful new gifts.

If we could somehow transfer all this surplus to people who really need it, we could simplify our lives and create something that will go on improving the world long after the gifting occasion has passed.

These are thoughts I’ve heard a lot lately, and it’s why I’m so excited to introduce our new Donate Your Birthday feature.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Add your email here so we can send you a reminder when your birthday is near. (You won’t receive any other emails besides the birthday reminder.)
  2. If you’re one of the first 500 to add your email (and you have not already lent with us), we’ll send you a $10 Zidisha donation gift card as a token of thanks.
  3. At your next birthday, you can start a birthday page with our easy template, and ask your family and friends to donate there in lieu of gifts.  100% of the donations from your birthday page will go to Zidisha entrepreneurs, and once repaid will be continuously recycled into new loan projects.

Make this year your best birthday ever.  Sign up for a birthday campaign reminder here.

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“What possibilities are out there”

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By Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador

This week I visited the beautiful coastal town of Mombasa, and that is where I met Esther Wanjiru, a school teacher who owns a small “everything” store.

Esther is a celebrity in Zidisha, because it’s a photo of her and her daughter that is the photo on Zidisha’s homepage. She told me when I arrived to her shop just outside the town of Mombasa, “See, I do exist!”

Esther has had the shop for the last year while continuing to work as a school teacher, which she has been doing for the last fifteen years. Esther teaches high school students English language and literature, and was able to meet with me because she is currently on half term. She gets three one-month breaks a year. This contributed to why she started the “3 in 1” store that is part M-PESA (a mobile phone-based payment transfer service), sells gas, phone credit, and other household items like cooking oil and grains. She said that during these breaks she would even get bored since she is the type of person that enjoys being busy.

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With the help of Zidisha lenders, the business is doing well and has grown. She has used the loans to purchase gas cylinders, cereals, and other items that have added to her stock. In the beginning she just sold gas.

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Esther is originally from up country and came to Mombasa fifteen years ago once she had graduated university. She had secured a government teaching job, but later found out it meant relocating to the coast. She said she cried, but her mother told her to just go and she would make friends. Well, not only did she make friends, she met her husband here, who teaches computer classes downtown. They have a daughter, who is also featured on the Zidisha homepage, and an older son (featured above).

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Esther and her daughter

The children study at the SOS school in the village of Mombasa. The SOS schools integrate orphans with local kids from the communities. With the school fees from the local families, they are able to also pay for the schooling of the orphaned kids. Esther is proud of this setup. She has also worked to teach her kids to appreciate the things they have. She gives them money if they want to buy something at the store she owns, so they understand how much things cost.

Customers kept coming and going while I was there, and when Esther is working at the school, she has one employee tend to the store. The shop is open every day from 6 AM – 8 PM (6 AM because that is when the milkmen arrive). It’s a lot of work, but Esther said she is happy and has learned a lot over the course of the year.

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Serving a customer with beans grown by local farmers

Currently she is using the profits from her shop to reinvest and grow the store. She is also paying the school fees of her younger brothers. She has encouraged her sister to join Zidisha as well. Her sister now owns a couple of cows up country and is doing well. Esther is hoping that one day she will join her up country and start a school. It’s a dream that would come much later when her children are older, but she sees what possibilities are out there.

I left the store with a bag of cookies, and Esther helped me get a Tuk Tuk (a small three-wheeled taxi) to the city where I would meet another Zidisha member. Esther is an educated and bright woman. I am positive she will do incredible things in the future, especially with the help of Zidisha lenders! It was an absolute pleasure to visit her.

The waste management extraordinaire

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By Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

Today I had the opportunity of meeting with Nelson Mutabe, the waste management extraordinaire at his office just outside of Nairobi.

Nelson has been working in waste management since he was seven years old, when he sorted trash out of dump sites to sell food remnants to people rearing pigs and other item for some money. He is originally from Dandora, a neighborhood with one of the biggest dump sites in Kenya.

Nelson continued with waste management in high school when he realized what the trash was doing to the environment. He began an organization called Domestic Garbage Collection Services with ten of his classmates. They began by serving the municipal county voluntarily, since the county itself was not doing the job well. The municipal lent out their trucks and Nelson and his group set up bins and went about collecting the trash when the bins were full. The people in the community grew to depend on this service and soon the organization became a business and they began collecting a monthly service fee. Nelson is a true entrepreneur, in that he discovered a need and began serving customers before charging.

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During this time period, Nelson applied for a three-month course on waste management given by the United Nations and was accepted. He said the course had a huge impact on how he operates his business. He learned how he should be collecting the trash as well as the payments. Nelson continued with the business in Dandora, until a local criminal cartel began demanding payoffs. He defied them and conflict began. He said there were gunshots and people were hurt, so he decided to move himself and his business to Nairobi.

Starting all over again was a huge challenge. And in the beginning he sold Mandazis (fried dough) in the mornings while providing guard services to apartment buildings at night to earn the capital for starting the business again. Now, Nelson has not only restarted the business, but grown it to the point where he has joined up with 20 other waste management owners in two areas of Nairobi to form an association called Githukah. This way, since they are all private companies, they are more secure if the government comes in to regulate business. Now there are official documentation and legal agreements.

I walked with Nelson on his runs to deliver the plastic bags he distributes to his customers as well as collect service fees. He has great relationships with all his customers and it was fun to walk around with them. He told me, “It’s going to get hot” since we were walking during the high sun in his village. I told him I can handle it, though my skin has a harder time with it. (I’m very pale.)

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We also visited his wife and baby girl. Next to his home is a small market stall, where he sells plastic to companies that crush it and reuse it for new materials. He uses a weight scale that he purchased with the help of Zidisha lenders. He also used the loan from Zidisha to pay for the stall space where he sells the plastic. There wasn’t any left when I visited, since the broker had just picked up all the plastic the day before. Nelson is waiting for the check, but all a good sign that business is doing well. He hopes that with more loans from Zidisha he will be able to purchase a plastic crusher machine and a molding machine, so he can stop selling plastic and actually manufacture new items like cups and children’s toys.

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Nelson also volunteers his time for a USAID project that empowers local youth. While walking around we met some other members who work on the project. And at Nelson’s house, while I was playing with his adorable daughter, he showed me a brochure of what they do. Nelson has a lot of projects and a lot of energy. He wanted to make sure I saw every aspect of his business as well as the different shops in his neighborhood. We ate at a great local spot. I told him it was the longest amount of time I had ever spent with a Zidisha entrepreneur. So now the record is five hours. This was five hours very well spent!

Behind the scenes

profileBy Taylor Hannah, Ghana Ambassador

I met Naomi Nkrumah and her husband Emmanuel Nkrumah yesterday in the school where they work in Adawso, a rural town near Koforidua, in Ghana’s Eastern Region. Naomi runs the kitchen at Compassion 4 Humanity’s primary school, Compassionate Kids School. The school opened 2.5 years ago as a response to a lack of options for good education in the area and serves children from pre-school through sixth form.

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Naomi and Emmanuel

Serving breakfast and lunch to over 100 students, Naomi prides herself on being able to provide nutritious and fresh ingredients for the best meal most of the students will have access to in the day.  The school is not able to pay Naomi to purchase food ingredients in advance, but rather reimburses her at the end of the month.  By providing more working capital, Naomi’s Zidisha loan has had a big impact on her ability to provide fresh veggies and good protein to students.

The school consists of seven classrooms, an office/library/computer lab, and a kitchen serving breakfast and lunch.  The parent organization, Compassion 4 Humanity (C4H), runs a vocational apprenticeship program for teenagers in addition to the primary school. Naomi’s husband, Emmanuel, helps run C4H and the school.

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C4H gets some funding from program income, donors, and a small amount of government funding for the school, but quite a lot of its funds come from Emmanuel’s own savings from his other work. When he’s not at the school, Emmanuel has a farm of corn, cassava, and plantains, and he sells his produce as well as fertilizers and pesticides to other farmers during Adawso’s twice-weekly market days.  Emmanuel was one of Zidisha’s earliest members in Ghana, and Zidisha loans have been a big part of paying for farm equipment and tools in order to attain higher production yields and therefore higher profits at market days.

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Emmanuel at the farm

In the future, Emmanuel hopes to expand his farm, continue developing the primary school, and level out a spot for a playground. Emmanuel has been involved with Zidisha since the beginning, when he worked with our volunteer Country Expansion Coordinator, Roberta, and has been a huge help as a Volunteer Mentor and a resource for borrowers around the Eastern and Accra regions.

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On the day I visit, one of my favorite Ghanaian dishes is on the meal: Red red, a traditional and filling meal with lots of beans and plantains, and the kitchen is hard at work prepping for tomorrow. Naomi is incredibly appreciative of the help she has received from Zidisha, as I’m sure are the students that benefit from her work, and looks forward to continuing the relationship with her lenders.

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Naomi – thank you for taking the time to meet me yesterday. We wish you and your family the best!

If you would like to learn more about C4H and the Compassionate Kids School, visit their website at http://compassion4humanity.com/.

The impact of a $100 loan

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By Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador

Today I had the opportunity to meet Paul Okun, a leather worker in Nairobi. Paul is new to Zidisha and just received his first loan of $100, which has enabled him to purchase a curve cutting machine. This allows him to cut leather leaving a rounded edge instead of just relying on his scissors which produce a square edge.

Paul was born and raised in Spring Valley, a neighborhood of Nairobi. He still lives on the compound that he and his six brothers and sisters were raised in. In fact, Paul, his mother, and four of his siblings and their families still live in the compound. It can feel very crowded and this may be why his father relocated upcountry to his home village of Oyugis. Paul credits the success of his business to his father, since he has always pushed him and helped him financially.

After high school, Paul’s grades weren’t good enough to study at college, not that he was too interested anyway. He realized he was more interested in working with his and hands and different materials. Together with a colleague, they began building crafts from computer designs. This eventually turned into building and upholstering furniture. Paul would sell wooden chairs from his father’s compound, however since the competition for wooden furniture was fierce, he began producing unique leather products like folders and coasters. He secured his first big deal with Zehineria Hotel in Westlands. He made them their menu folders, later coasters and eventually Zehineria asked Paul to make 200 conference pads for business meetings. Below are photos of all these products.

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Only yesterday, thanks to the purchase of the curve cutting machine, Paul secured a deal with Kenya Scout to make 10,000 scouts, which are used to hold women’s head scarves together at the base of the neck. This is a huge deal, and it is thanks to Paul and his charisma and persistence, but also to Zidisha lenders. Without the machine, Paul could not have produced the curved edges needed for the scouts.

The deal with Kenya Scout has allowed Paul to bring his orphaned cousin to Nairobi from upcountry. The cousin will help him in producing the leather products, and in return Paul will provide room and board and pay for his college fees.

In the future, Paul is looking to continue securing contracts with Kenya Scout to produce pouches and belts. He wants to use these profits and loans from Zidisha to purchase more machines, like a laser engraving machine and hole punching machine. This way he can avoid outsourcing. Like a true businessman he wants to control all lines of production. This will also lead to hiring more employees.

After his meeting with me, Paul was headed to Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. There he works with small business owners to teach them how to market their products. He also plans on spreading awareness of Zidisha. The next time we meet, I will check out his workshop in a neighborhood outside of Nairobi. I am leather lover, so I plan on doing some shopping.