The changing landscape signals new territory. The arid pasturelands of Narok County transition to deeper, darker dirt, indicating soil more fertile as we near Kericho—the land of tea. The climate turns a notch cooler. Here, tea leaves meet the horizon.
For close to 20 years, WE has partnered with the people in the Maasai Mara region, building a holistic development model to address poverty at its root causes. Education, water, health, food, and opportunity programs work together to transform communities.
WE’s proven success in creating opportunity—or economic empowerment—caught the attention of Lipton, whose Unilever tea farms spread over thousands of hectares in Kenya.
Now, WE’s reach is extending into chai country.
Behind every cup.
It’s said the first tea seedling was planted in Kenya in 1903, in the cooler climate of Limuru, less than an hour’s drive from Nairobi. A sign marks that initial tree’s root. Nearby, production is busy on a Unilever tea farm, active in the Kenyan tea business since 1924.
In high season, Unilever employs over 16,000 workers on its estates in Limuru and Kericho. Additionally, it works with over 560,000 smallholder farmers across the central and Rift Valley regions—all Rainforest Alliance certified.
A new partnership with WE, specifically targeted at female tea farmers, aims to provide women with the tools and know-how to be business-savvy, and the solidarity and support that comes through community collaboration.
When women support other women, the opportunities are boundless. We’ve seen this first hand, time and time again, with WE’s opportunity program. In early conversations with tea farmers, women shared that “merry-go-rounds” (a system of pooling money, which is common throughout rural Kenya) exist, but they’re underutilized. Additionally, women say they have time outside of tea farming (peak hours are 7-12, longer in high season) and want to put that time towards their own businesses, stoking an entrepreneurial flame and ensuring they always have enough for their families.
The real work begins through understanding—and over a cup of chai.
Over the next two years, WE aims to engage 80,000 women in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and leadership training. It’s a tall order! But the WE team is up for the challenge, and has been busy preparing workshops and materials, adapting the best of what’s worked in the Mara region. The strongest advocates are always women. In tea country, WE is providing in-depth training for 5,000+ women, who will become champions to reach 75,000 others.
Building on foundations.
Women farmers who sell their tea to Lipton say they do so because they get “better pay, on time.” Ruth (pictured) is one of those women. She’s been farming tea for 30 years. “The secret to being a good tea farmer is to be committed, and to love your work,” she shares. “When I first started, I realized: This is where life begins. Tea has allowed me to educate my children.”
Financing the future.
At introductory meetings about the opportunity partnership with these fierce women farmers, it was unanimous: yes! Everyone wanted in on the program. These women said they hoped the training would help them realize their dreams of opening a small shop, or buying land to farm more tea, or expanding kitchen gardens to sell vegetables. To name a few. Their ultimate goal—seeing their children graduate high school and make it through university.
As Selinah (pictured) said, “Tea is important, because it’s a major source of income, energy and strength.” And she wants to see how far her strength can take her.
WE are pamoja.
Pamoja is Swahili for together. That word is at the heart of what this opportunity program sets out to accomplish. Through Lipton funding to support the program, WE community development experts, and women farmers—together—we’ll pursue new opportunities to work towards transformational change.
In these areas, endless green tea fields touch the horizon, come low or high season. Follow the progress taking place year-round, as we learn more about the women who are part of the program and share milestone moments over the next two years.