From student to teacher
Mary Koech is a powerhouse. A third-generation tea farmer and mother of two children, she’s also a successful entrepreneur and respected community leader. As she reviews her notes for tomorrow’s class, Mary prepares for yet another new and challenging role—teaching financial literacy and business skills to the women in her community.
A year ago, Mary was one of the program’s first participants . Tomorrow, for the first time ever, she will take the lead as a program instructor. Her childhood dream of becoming a teacher is about to come true.
A virtuous circle
Launched in 2018 in Kenya’s tea region, the financial training program is an initiative of WE Charity in partnership with Lipton. The program aims to help 80,000 women, all small-scale tea farmers, develop the business skills, know-how and support they need to maximize their earnings and build a better future.
Mary had 15 years’ experience as a tea farmer before the financial training program came to her village. She welcomed the opportunity to learn financial fundamentals like budgeting, saving and bookkeeping, as well as develop business skills that would help her increase her income and profits.
Thanks to a combination of enthusiasm, aptitude and real life expertise, Mary excelled at the program—so much so that she was invited to continue on as a trainer.
Mary grew up in a tea farming family in a small village near Kenya’s tea capital. The income from the tea farm helped finance her education, and she became the first woman in her family to graduate from high school. Mary dreamed of becoming a teacher, but was unable to afford university. She joined her parents to work on their tea farm, and soon saved enough to buy a one-acre plot of her own.
Participating in the WE financial training program inspired Mary to apply her learning to the family farm. She and her mother, Sammary, identified a new business opportunity and diversified their income. By turning unused land into a kale and cabbage farm, they created a cash crop to sell to local vegetable stands run be female entrepreneurs.
Mary begins her big day by rising early to finish household chores and pick tea on her farm. At 11:30 a.m., she carries her basket of tea leaves to the central collection point where a Unilever representative weighs and collects the tea from the farmers.
Drop-off completed, Mary is joined in their open-air classroom by eight other women, including her proud mom, Sammary. With a brewed cup of chai in hand, the women settle in. Mary begins with today’s lesson: the importance of budgeting.
The one-hour session is soon over, and Mary is both excited and relieved. “I am finally a teacher,” she says.
The circle continues
Dorcas Ng’eno is a student in Mary’s first class. The shy 25-year-old feels a bit intimidated by the older women in attendance, but wants to learn how to make her year-old fruit and vegetable business profitable. Dorcas soon realizes how the classes will help turn her business around. “The training changed everything for me,” she says.
Finding her voice
Dorcas attended all eight classes led by Mary. She credits the record keeping and inventory-management skills she learned with helping her understand the profitability of her produce and improve her bottom line. Most importantly, she has grown more confident as a business woman and has found her voice. “I am able to tell suppliers the stock I want, and won’t end up with rotten fruit and vegetables because I am afraid to speak up. Now I pick what I want,” she says.
An investment in each other
Access to start-up capital is challenging for any entrepreneur, but it’s even more daunting for women in rural Kenya. In Lebkeyet village, the participants in Mary’s training class form a merry-go-round group, where members contribute an amount each week that is pooled and then invested in each member in turn.
Eunice Reto, veteran tea farmer, is the first recipient of the funds. She plans to use the money to pay for school fees to further her children’s education.
Since completing the financial training program, Eunice has expanded her business beyond tea farming. Challenged to find new opportunities as part of her training in entrepreneurship, Eunice saw the market demand for cabbages and decided to plant an additional crop. She now sells her cabbages to vegetable vendors from her home. As a next step, she plans to build a new vegetable stand to provide a permanent home for her successful business.
A brighter future
The women of Lekeyet village look to the future with anticipation. As a result of their training, many are hoping to scale their businesses for growth. The whole region benefits from their success, as virtually every dollar earned by these women is invested in the health and welfare of their families and their community.
In the second full year of the financial training program, WE and Lipton will continue to provide women with new opportunities for business training, as well as help community members develop income-generating activities such as savings and loans groups. By working together and investing in themselves, the women of Lebkeyet village are one step closer to achieving their dreams.