Weaving Promise

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Promise Badu loves his work and loves to share it. Operator of Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center in the Volta region of Ghana, the twenty-seven-year-old has a passion for teaching others.

“The aspect I do enjoy most about my work is telling people (tourists) the history of the art/fabric, and teaching it.” Giving a portion of his tour speech, Promise elaborated. “Kente weaving is an ancient indigenous method in which thread (any colour) is set on a loom and woven into strips that are later sewn together into larger tapestries. These cloths are used for ceremonial events in Ghana. It can also be used as wall hangings, table cloths and the like. This ancient art has gained international recognition and tourists come from around the world to see how it’s made.”

Promise has, in some ways, followed in the family footsteps. Raised in a single parent household, he lived with and learned from his father, a master kente weaver and founder of the kente center that Promise now operates. All throughout his formal education, Promise was also receiving instruction in kente weaving. “As a kid,” he says, “I use to stay with [my father] and watch him do it, and helped him after school and on vacations.” His father had little taste for academics and so struck a bargain with his son: he would pay for his school fees until he came of age if Promise worked with him in the kente center on school vacations. Even with assistance from his father, Promise sometimes found it difficult to gather the funds to pay for his fees and textbooks, and often went to school without money for lunch. Promise fought to finish his education, and succeeded, graduating from Agortime Senior High School.

Soon after graduation Promise was hired by the president of Trinity Yard School, a fee-free vocational-secondary school on the west coast of Ghana. Working as the school’s kente instructor four years, Promise “learnt from the kids (students) and also made friends with visiting groups and volunteers from the US and other parts of the globe.” While there, Promise trained a young man named James Awotwe Niffio. Promise described him as “a smart, hardworking guy,” who struggled in formal lessons, but thrived in kente class. A 2012 graduate of Trinity Yard School, James has recently stepped into Promise’s shoes as the school’s official kente instructor. Furthering his own kente education, James is also “undergoing an intensive internship training at the center.”

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Graduation at Trinity Yard School

In the course of his time at Trinity Yard School, Promise came to strongly identify with the school’s mission to “educate and empower the youth… to honor the potential of young Ghanaians.” This is a vision which Promise now applies to his own community in the east of Ghana. “My dream is to raise the less privileged in my community with the help of my business,” he says. “Creating a business avenue to help them get a vocation on their own.” Most of the young people in his community, he says, “have limited access to formal education due to high levels of penury.” This is a struggle which Promise understands. “I have also gone through the same plight,” he says with great empathy. “I know the zeal embedded in these youths, but due to limited resources, they can’t realize their potential.” Lack of opportunities and resources is a condition which Promise hopes to change. He wants to provide “jobs to the jobless, training and educating the youths.” He praises Trinity Yard School, and its founder Rory Jackson, as a “LIGHT in the lives of many.” His time there, he says, “has motivated me to replicate his ideas… turning the center into a light in my community as well, because kids here need same thing.”

Promise long held a dream to empower the youth of his community, but without access to capital, struggled to see how it might come to fruition. After finishing up his time at Trinity Yard School and passing the baton of kente instruction on to his former pupil James, Promise returned to his hometown and began to develop a plan for growing the family kente center to accommodate such an effort. In April of 2015, Promise applied for his first Zidisha loan, one of the first major steps in his new and ambitious project.

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Strips of Kente Cloth

This first loan, for the small sum of $46.75, allowed Promise to repair several broken looms. Faithfully and efficiently repaying this loan, Promise established financial credibility with lenders. With his second loan, $93.50 funded in June of 2015 by three Zidisha lenders, Promise purchased colorful skeins of yarn. These first two loans helped Promise put “stuff in place” in the kente shop, developing capital and resources, building toward Promise’s long term goal of youth empowerment. Six months after this second loan, having repaid his lenders and spent the summer and fall building infrastructure and laying groundwork for a youth engagement and occupational training program, Promise again applied to Zidisha. This loan, a credit of $262 disbursed in January 2016, covered the start-up cost of employing three young members of Promise’s Ghanaian community.

In the ten months since this second loan was received, Promise has fully repaid his lenders and his training program has grown considerably. An August 2016 loan of $348, the most recent sum to date, enabled the purchase of yarns, shuttles, bobbins, and other materials for weaving, as well as supplied the funds to hire two additional young employees. “These loans helped greatly in laying the foundation of the dream,” Promise says.

At this time, the Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center employs nine people. Three work on a full-time basis, two are in training, and four operate on contract. “Work normally starts at 7 AM,” Promise says, describing a typical day at Dogbeda. “You have everyone busy in their various looms, except those training may be assigned to other things.” Weavers take breaks as needed throughout the day, closing up shop around 5 PM, though sometimes special projects will keep them there until 8.

As Promise’s business grows, so do his dreams. “I have been using the funds I get from the sales of these beautiful kente clothes as a source of income to enlarge, renew, and purchase more working materials for my center.” He is delighted at the success of the program, grateful for the opportunity to employ young people in his community. Ultimately, he wants to see the center expand to locations all across Africa. “I want to be a source of motivation and inspiration,” he says. “I always count myself fortunate to have gotten to this level of my business in which I can give a helping hand to few people in my community. My dream is to see more of them not only inspired and motivated but make available resources and jobs for them.”

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Promise’s Training Center

“I would like to say a big thank you to the Zidisha team, lenders, and to all that are making this program work effectively to help young entrepreneurs raise and expand their business,” he said on his loan profile. “I believe with the help of this platform and the support of the best lenders, together we can achieve the targeted goals, that is making a difference by providing jobs and positioning the youths for the future in my community.”

With a name like Promise it is likely that this young man knows better than most the potential for ingenuity, for bright and productive futures, that young Ghanaians hold. He himself is an example of this promise; promise coming to fruition. Thanks to Promise’s effort and dreams, and financial support from Zidisha lenders, more young people will have the opportunity to fulfill their promise and see their communities grow and thrive.

If you would like to assist another entrepreneur of promise, head over to our loans page and contribute to one of the loan applications posted there. Help a community thrive and a business grow.

 

Needle and Thread

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by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

The whirr of a sewing machine fills the little room, the gentle noise softening the edges of the day. Aat Atikah sits at her table, using both hands to guide a strip of fabric beneath the needle as it bobs. She settles into the familiar, soothing rhythm of sewing. She blinks, her eyes keeping up with flash of thread through a pattern of flowers. This is going to be a beautiful dress.

Aat Atikah, called Atik by her friends, family, and lenders, is a wife, mother, and designer in Bogor, Indonesia. Age 38, Atik has three children. The oldest, a son, is 21 years old and lives elsewhere in their island nation. The two younger daughters, ages 15 and 1, live at home with their mother and father. Since the birth of her first child, Atik has been a stay-at-home mother, leaving her eight-year job as a tailor in a garment factory upon confirmation of her pregnancy.

As a young woman, Atik says, “I had a lot of dreams that I wanted to achieve.” She had big plans to build a clothing empire. “I wanted to be a woman entrepreneur who has a large industrial garment factory,” she said. She wanted to “Provide jobs for the needy… Help my beloved family’s economic welfare.” When Atik became a mother, however, she put that dream on hold.

Spending her days in the role of what Atik terms a “normal housewife,” Atik has provided for the needs of her family physically, emotionally, and mentally. As her children grew older, Atik began to have some free time. With her entrepreneurial spirit firmly intact, she took up sewing for neighbors and relatives. As word of her excellent tailoring work spread, Atik began to receive requests from people she did not even know. Atik had, inadvertently, launched a small tailoring service. This business grew, and allowed her to provide a supplemental income to increase her family’s economic welfare.

Presently, Atik is able to accept and fill one order a day. She alters pants, makes shirts, and designs dresses. You name it, she sews it. With customers paying an average of $2 to $10, depending on the complexity of the order, Atik brings in $14 to $70 per week. As her husband is the family’s primary breadwinner, Atik is able to contribute to the family’s funds while also putting some money away for future investments. Currently, Atik says, “I have only one dream. I just want to be happy with my lovely family.” Familial happiness and entrepreneurship need not be mutually exclusive, though, and this is something she well knows.

With her skills and expertise lying in the realm of fashion, Atik is well prepared for a venture into clothing and textiles. The dreams of her youth are coming back to life, coming off hold. “I really want to have a bigger, industrial clothing production and employ many employees,” she said in her January 2016 application for a $50 loan. “But I know it cannot be achieved easily, cannot be instant. There must be a process that I go through to achieve success. Therefore, at this time, I would like to start from zero.” Her zero is what she calls her “little tailor shop,” the table in her home where she slides her seams beneath the whirring needle of the sewing machine. With her first loan, Atik purchased a stock of fabric, and that fabric turned into profit.

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Atik is working, “slowly but surely,” toward her long term goal of a clothing empire. Six months after her first loan, she returned to Zidisha. “I am very happy I know this site and all of you,” she said. “This program has much helped my business grow up.” With her second loan, a larger sum of $200, Atik plans to buy a new sewing machine. “Yipiiee hehe,” she exclaimed in a discussion post. “I will buy a machine to make my production better. Hope all lenders… know and trust me and can help me again.”

As Atik has said, there is much hard work ahead of her. With help, however, from Zidisha lenders, she has come several steps closer to reaching her goals. Hard work and determination can take a person far, and with a little help from friends around the world, anything is possible.

If you would like to make something possible for an entrepreneur, head over to our loans page and contribute to the project of another self-starter like Atik.

 

 

The Clack of Keyboards

by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

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The clack of keyboards is a constant sound in Elijah Mwenja’s life. The sounds of a computer mouse sliding across a mousepad and a customer’s laughter as she jokes with her friend seated at the computer station next to her are likely also very common occurrences in his busy cybercafé in Githuri, an area of Narobi, Kenya.

Elijah is an amazing example of a self-starter. Entering the workforce in the construction industry, he saved what he could and eventually stored up enough to start his own poultry business in 2008. Entering the realm of entrepreneurship through this endeavor, Elijah grew his business to a capital of more than ten times the funds that he began with. Three years down the road, he was ready for a change. Having a long-standing interest in computers and networking, Elijah, his wife, and his son, started up the cybercafé in 2012. The café is a gift to local residents, enabling them to access information, communicate with distant friends and family, and type up and print their personal, business, and academic documents.

In January of 2015 the booming business began to take its toll on Elijah’s supplies. His café’s printer had worn-out nozzles and was no longer printing as it should. Around that same time Francis Kamau – a neighbor, friend, Zidisha microloan recipient, and owner of a Nairobi hair salon – invited Elijah to join Zidisha. With a small, $100 loan funded by nineteen different lenders from Europe and North America, Elijah was able to buy replacement parts and have the printer professionally repaired. The printer was soon up and running again, shooting jets of black ink onto smooth white pages. Six months later, having faithfully and efficiently repaid his previous loan, Elijah posted another proposal to Zidisha. This loan of $187, funded in June 2015 by a single lender, allowed Elijah to expand his cybercafé business to include a new computer, reducing customer wait time and increasing profit. In later updates, Elijah stated that this new unit was “one of the computers that [his] clients prefer using.”

As Elijah and his family continued to prosper, Elijah’s wife began to see her long-held dream of continuing her formal education as a financial possibility. Possessing a “gift and passion for business,” and boasting a strong track record of successful business development, Elijah’s wife hoped to pursue a degree in business. In December 2015, that hope came to fruition. Elijah applied for a Zidisha loan of $366, a sum which covered the cost of the first installment of tuition fees at Kenya’s Zetech University. Elijah’s wife enrolled in the program, and is now beginning the first semester of her second year, becoming one of an increasing number of women in higher education in Kenya. Making swift use of her education, Elijah’s wife has taken over the management of the family’s cybercafé business.

With his wife managing the cybercafé, Elijah has begun work as a local business consultant. Inspired by his community and other entrepreneurs in his area, Elijah wishes to “utilize [his] professional skills to help other businesses.” He now shares his expertise in business, bookkeeping, and credit management, and his work has helped neighboring business to keep better track of their fiscal performance. Currently, with the help of a $564 Zidisha microloan, Elijah is entering into a master’s degree program. He says that “most businesses in Kenya are struggling with strategy management and practitioners in this sector are few.” With the knowledge he will gain through his master’s, Elijah will be better equipped to handle “complex assignments in strategy management” and “be of benefit to the community at large because they would no longer be entering into businesses without a projected growth plan.”

Elijah and his family have been able to repay all loans which they have taken out, in full and on time. They have grown their business and improved their standard of living. Throughout the loan process, Elijah has provided regular updates to his lenders, expressing profound gratitude, sharing his joy about his thriving businesses.

The clack of a keyboard is, for Elijah Mwenja, quite likely the sound of hope, education, and a successful entrepreneurial endeavor. It is a sound that has been made possible in Elijah’s life through the loans of Zidisha lenders. Now, by sharing his business expertise, Elijah is able to help other entrepreneurs thrive. Just as he and his family are now sharing their success with their community, many other people in Kenya will soon be able to do the same. One thriving business fosters another. One generous neighbor creates another.

If you’d like to be a generous neighbor, clack out a number and contribute to the success of one the other self-starters profiled on our loans page.

 

Building up for a better future

Supporting a wife and three children is not an easy matter when one’s occupation consists of being a small-scale farmer. But RichardMwathi was one step ahead and had decided to diversify his business by starting a barbershop in 2005. This move was made in order to help give his family a better life. Below is a recent update from our Kenya Client Relationship Manager on his whereabouts and the occupations he has been involved in:

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.
Knowledge is power. As the leading mantra here in Kenya, it comes as no surprise that the enrollment rate for primary education stands above eighty percent; literacy among youths a whooping ninety-three percent! Parents making meager wages will sacrifice almost anything to ensure their children have an education that they themselves did not get. As my visits to Zidisha borrowers grow, a trend in loan impact reveals itself, for although microfinance was initiated to provide services to uplift small businesses, many see it as a way to empower their children through education.

Richard Mwathi, former owner of a kinyozi (barbershop) in Lanet, Nakuru is the proud father of three teenage boys. With one in Form 4, another in Standard 8, and the eldest enrolled in Egerton University studying natural environment, paying for school fees is no easy feat. Richard’s Zidisha loan was used to pay for tuition, and although he intended to pay back his loan with the revenue acquired through his kinyozi, sales dropped and he decided to close his business.

Seeing better opportunities in Nairobi, Richard is currently living with his sister and nephew in Utawala, while his children continue to attend school in Nakuru. Hoping to accrue enough money to pay back his loan, Richard is working odd jobs at the many construction sites in Utawala. Construction work being on a need only basis and one of the only options for many without additional employment, Richard waits eagerly to be called upon. With elections so close at hand, many construction sites are also at a standstill, lying in wait to see what the new government will bring.
Richard’s struggles are apparent on his face, but his optimism for the future is also unyielding. Making repayments more manageable, Richard has decided to make small weekly installments starting in October. He will continue to stay in Nairobi until the end of the year, seeking opportunities in the growing town of Utawala. My visit with Richard ends on a light-hearted note while we take photos outside and I get a grand tour of a new house his sister is in the process of building. Thank you Richard and family for inviting me to your home, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Capitalism is Alive and Well in Kenya





Another great update from Traci in Kenya:


Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently residing in Mugaa, visiting Zidisha borrowers in nearby villages. 

A borrower’s profile captures a tiny portion of the life he or she lives, rarely painting an accurate picture of their hard work and perseverance. Nicholas Munyua describes himself above as a businessman in Miti Mingi, but having the opportunity to visit him today, I see he did not do himself justice. I meet Nicholas in front of his store, Munyua General Shop, but soon find out he also owns a boutique two doors down called A to Z Boutique. Among the various items stocked on his shelves, Nicholas is most proud of the grains he is able to sell, making a profit of 500,000 Ksh a year. This was made possible through his first Zidisha loan. He explains how Zidisha has allowed him to “elevate to another level”. Along with buying items for his stores, Nicholas was able to repair his vehicle with his second Zidisha loan. As essential to his business as the store itself, his truck allows him to transport his stock from the faraway cities of Nakuru and Nairobi. 

Businesses aside, Mr. Munyua is also the deputy teacher (VP) at Elementita Primary School. This paying only 800 Ksh a month (less than $10), he also relies on his two-acre shamba. His shamba, situated next to his home, is ripe with pumpkins, bananas, oranges, potatoes, beans, maize, and much more. With a kindness that I am unable to express in words, he does not let me leave Miti Mingi without giving me a bag filled with oranges. 

Also worth noting is his role as a father, for although I have met many fathers during my stay in Kenya, Mr. Munyua may be the proudest. As we sit in his living room and enjoy a steaming cup of tea, he reminisces over a stack of photos documenting birthday parties, school visitation days, and family get-togethers. As he tells me more about his eldest daughter, who now attends Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, he picks up his phone and calls her. Being as kind and personable as her father, Susan makes plans to meet me the next time I am in Nairobi. 

Being poor as a child, Nicholas recounts the many instances where he went without food for as many as two days. He remembers promising himself that this would not be his fate or that of his family. With the help of loans and a man who knows what he is striving for, Mr. Munyua and his family have managed to own two blooming businesses, send all their children to boarding schools to get the best education, and build a new home equipped with all the modern conveniences. With all this determination, does it come as a surprise that this all started with a little kiosk selling mangoes and vegetables? 


A Barber Shop is Born






Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently residing in Mugaa, visiting Zidisha borrowers in nearby villages. 

“I’m very hard working,” says Jane Wambui without a tinge of boastfulness, but rather a sense of pride. Rightfully so, Jane is 27 years old and already a successful businesswoman, not to mention a mother of two. Jane and her husband own a kinyozi (salon) and a produce stall in Miti Mingi. As Jane and I speak from her stall, we peer across the street at the kinyozi where we can see her husband cutting the hair of a young gentleman. In another minute, Jane gets a customer wanting to buy bananas, evidence that their two businesses are thriving. 

Jane is an experienced Zidisha member, already repaying her 2nd loan. She comments on how she finished repaying her first loan 4 months early, and she anticipates following this example for her second. The creation of her family’s kinyozi was possible because of Zidisha. Through her first loan of Ksh 50,000, Jane was able to rent a space, buy all the necessary machinery (i.e. shavers, razors), stock her store with hair products and shoes, and even buy two batteries that enable her shop to stay open during the frequent power outages. While her husband is in charge of styling the men, Jane takes care of the children haircuts when not working at her produce stall. We have all heard of children being fearful of haircuts, with scissors too close for comfort and strange noises and smells permeating the air. Jane gestures towards her face, implying this is the answer to their haircut jitters. Although both Jane and her husband have no formal training in barbering, she explains to me that, “some courses come from the heart”. To further prove how hard working she is, Jane speaks about her two cows, one of which was bought with her second Zidisha loan. With the milk from her cows, she is able to make Ksh 15,000 a month, which then assists in paying for school fees (both boys are in boarding schools) and rent for her kinyozi. 

Upon leaving, Jane reaches for a banana, the ripest of the bunch, and gives it to me as a gift. Refusing to take my money, she makes me promise to visit again, even extending an invitation to her home. As I make my 6km descent home, I think about Miti Mingi, one of the smallest villages I have seen in Kenya, but filled with people possessing the biggest of hearts.



A little help can take you a long way

Massamba Diouf used to run a stationary shop for a living, the profits of which would go to support his wife and two children. During a turbulent time, when he was facing strong competition, he came to Zidisha for help. His ultimate ambition was to use the proceeds of the Zidisha loan to start up a t-shirt and sports shirt business. However, he would need the clothing equipment first to make such an aspiration a reality. Sam Gant, our Client Relationship Manager in Senegal, managed to interview Mr. Diouf on the current state of his affairs:
I’m a Client Relationship Volunteer in Dakar and I visited Massamba the other day in his shop. There were basic office and printing supplies in his shop which he shares with several business partners. What he was most intent on talking about, however, was the t-shrt press that he purchased with his loan and now uses to put prints on t-shirts and baseball caps.
He showed an example of his progress with mastering the press as well as a very nice Zidisha shirt he recently designed with a Client Relationship Manager. He seemed to be doing well with his new business and mentioned that advertisement of his business was spreading slowly but surely, mostly by word of mouth. He seems most hopeful of making shirts for sporting events like football and wrestling as well as various festivals and campaigns.
Massamba lives behind the shop with his wife and two young children. He uses the profits from the store and his new shirt-printing business to support his family. He hopes to be able to save up enough with the new profits to buy certain supplies like expensive printing paper in bulk to cut costs. He also expressed interest in another loan upon the successful completion of this loan for buying in bulk for both his t-shirt press business and the boutique.