The aroma of Chemosoren Village, in tea country Kenya, is a combination of freshly mowed grass and that instant jolt of hot water poured over black tea.
It’s just after 10.30 a.m. and farmers are carrying in the morning’s harvest, heaping bright green tea leaves onto wooden tables.
Once sorted and weighed, the bundles are loaded into the back of a Unilever truck, primed to pick up the morning’s shipment. Each farmer’s efforts are noted for his and her pay sheet. The tea picked that morning is sold to Unilever, to make Lipton tea. It’s the farmer’s primary source of income.
After the shipment is loaded, over a dozen women farmers go out to welcome the WE team, who’ve arrived in a field truck. It’s our first time visiting.
Benson Sigei, WE program manager, greets everyone in the local language of Kipsigis and explains why we’re here. WE has partnered with Unilever to work specifically with female tea farmers, who will have the opportunity to join a financial literacy and leadership program that builds off the success stories WE has seen elsewhere in Kenya.
“We’re here to work together to increase knowledge and provide training so you can go farther,” says Benson.
He explains that he works with WE—the Swahili word is sisi, which directly translates to us—and speaks about WE’s success bringing the opportunity program to farmers in the Mara region, over a 100 kilometres away. Currently, over 1,200 women are achieving economic independence in 70 women’s groups across 20 villages there. The new partnership with Lipton will engage a different demographic—female tea workers—to benefit from the best of this programming.
“WE are all working together,” his outgoing personality elicits laughter and the ice is broken.
After Benson speaks, the team sits and chats with individual farmers, to start to understand their everyday realities and hopes for the future. And yes, together drink chai. This happens in each new community the team visits across tea country.
Mother of nine
Working with tea for 37 years.
“I’m proud to work with tea. My husband and I started with a quarter acre-plot of land, and we’ve grown it to one acre.”
Business goals: Find more opportunities within the tea sector. “I want to keep expanding, to increase production.”
Mother of seven
Working with tea for 15 years.
“With tea farming, I’ve been able to buy a cow, chicken, and pay school fees for my children. My life has improved significantly since I started to sell to Unilever, and I want it to improve more.”
Business goals: To become a fresh vegetable vendor. “I always wanted to own my own business. To grow and sell vegetables. I plant maize and beans now, but it’s only for the family.”
Limuru tea estate
Mother of six
Working with tea for 11 years.
“I’m interested in the program because, using the example of financial management that you’ve talked about, I’ve seen in many places people who have joined and are succeeding… I hope to one day be a trainer on a full-time basis because I enjoy seeing people’s lives transformed through new knowledge.”
Business goals: Open a shoes and clothing store. “Because here, things like shoes and warm clothes are needed. It’s sunny today, but most of the time it’s cold. So, clothes are in high demand especially jackets and sweaters because of the weather.”
The program is just beginning. Keep checking back, as we check in and follow the progress.