In Kenya, just like many other developing countries, widowhood often represents a social death for women who suffer with not just the sadness over loss of life, but also the loss of status, safety, and position in the family. Abetting the ruthless cycle of poverty, widowhood has an irrevocable impact on children who often suffer ill health and malnutrition, and lack the means to obtain appropriate education, health care, or other forms of support. With few opportunities under the country’s patriarchal system, Kenyan women in these circumstances often feel hindered, hopeless and the need to pursue degrading work as a way to provide.
The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) seeks to elevate women out of these dire circumstances through the WORTH project - creating for them a new cycle of sustainability fueled by holistic education and empowerment.
Bringing together groups of 20-30 women, the WORTH curriculum provides literacy and savings training and social mobilization for women in need. Program members are taught how to read and write; to keep business records; to account for group and personal savings; and to run their own businesses. The strength and success of the WORTH model can be attributed to the small communities of members, who meet weekly and lean on one another for emotional support, financial contributions, and accountability.
When her husband passed away in 1998, Jane, a citizen of Kitale, Kenya, was left with five children to raise – ranging from eight to 16 years of age – and was soon expecting another. Like so many other single and marginalized mothers in the region, financial pressures began to mount and she found herself struggling to provide the very basics for her large family. Food was scarce in the home and the children were often forced to miss school due to the high cost of education. At a point of absolute desperation, Jane made the heartbreaking decision of selling sexual services to men.
Jane described this period in her life as being very degrading, but she soon found a way out.
Leaning on the financial support, training and accountability of the WORTH project, Jane launched her own ironworks business. Three years after joining the program, Jane’s business is thriving, and her children are all receiving an education, with some going on to attend university. Perhaps the best part of this story is that the tables have completely turned. Jane is now the boss, and to meet demand, recently hired two men to support her growing business. In her journey to empowerment, Jane traveled from being enslaved by men to freely hiring them.
Before joining the WORTH project, Nancy, a member from the nearby community of Elgon, struggled to provide food and education for her four children while working various odd jobs. Upon joining the project in 2013, Nancy borrowed a loan from her WORTH group equal to approximately $25 which helped her launch a business selling beans and cereals. Within two months her first loan was paid off and she borrowed a second, which allowed her to expand her product base to include sugar, millet, and bread. Borrowing for a third time allowed her to rent a kiosk which helped increase the visibility and security of the business. Nancy is now working to pay off her final loan, but does so happily now that she is able to provide consistent meals and education for her children.
Another WORTH member, Josephine was destitute when her husband moved to Nairobi for work and failed to send money to support their family. Unable to provide for her children’s meals or school fees, she would often sacrifice dignity and reputation to beg for food and money from her neighbors.
Through her participation with her WORTH group, Josephine has been able to better save and invest money in the microbusinesses of fellow members. With elevated self-esteem and a newfound sense of worth, her leadership qualities helped her get elected as Chairwoman of her group. Streaming income allowed her to purchase a cow, which provides sustenance for her family as well as milk she can sell to the community. Most importantly, her children are consistency fed and educated.
WORTH resonates throughout entire communities as women gain lasting financial stability, self-sufficiency, and most importantly, the ability to care for their children and end the cycle of poverty at home.
Since the initial implementation of the WORTH project over 10 years ago, The Salvation Army has brought new hope and opportunity to more than 50,000 women and their families in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda thanks to the generous support of donors.