Life was turned upside down for Telesia when her husband died, leaving her alone to raise two young children in rural Kenya. Unskilled and unable to earn enough money to afford the cost of food and school fees, Telesia and her family faced an uphill struggle for survival. But thankfully all that changed after she began receiving training from international development charity Farm Africa. Here Telesia, 37, tells how she went from being the ‘poorest of the poor’ to a successful business woman and community leader:
“I first became involved with Farm Africa in late 2005 when they came to work with the poorest of the poor in this area. They were doing a dairy goat project and were looking for people living in a makeshift house with nowhere proper to sleep, no livestock, and who could not earn 100 shillings a day (approx. £0.70 GBP).
“By that time, my husband Ndenge had already died and I was looking after my children alone, earning 50 shillings a day (approximately 35 pence) doing casual work and weaving ropes. The house we lived in fell down and after sleeping under a tree, my church built us a small, one room house with an iron sheet roof but no door, so I used a thorny branch to block the entrance. We had no bed and slept on the floor, and no plates so shared one saucepan to eat. We would go for days without food and I worked all the time, so I had no chance to rest, and yet I was not able to earn enough to feed my family.
“My son was often sent home from school because I could not afford the fees and I felt very bad for my children — not having enough food to give them and no money for school or clothes — I felt not worthy. I questioned why I should be in such a terrible situation and hoped one day to become a successful person, but even as I struggled I believed eventually I would make it.
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“Things started to change when Farm Africa identified me as someone who needed help. We were given local goats to cross with a dairy goat breed for milk production, and as I was the only person in the group who understood English and spoke Swahili, I was trained as a community animal health worker.
“I began earning 200 shillings treating animals and was also trained in running a savings and loan credit group. Each member deposited a minimum of 100 shillings a month and took turns taking loans for an amount three times what they had paid in. I started saving and after 800 shillings I was able to buy a door for my house. I was very happy and it was from that point that life started to change for the better.
“I was elected as the treasurer of our savings group and was able to borrow 60,000 shillings (approx. £418.00 GBP), which I used to start a business selling petrol, kerosene and diesel, and I was also still earning an income from treating animals. I saved money and opened an account with a bank, from there it was possible for me to get a loan of 200,000 shillings (approx. £1,393.00), which I used to open my shop.
“Through my savings I was also able to extend my own farm plot and now I farm one acre of green grams and cow peas. The green grams grow very well in this climate, they are drought-tolerant and earn a good price.
“Since 2014 I have been participating in Farm Africa's community-based seed project where we produce high-quality seeds to sell to seed dealers. Farm Africa has trained us in land preparation, and taught us about the importance of early planting, selecting drought-resilient crops, disease and pest management, soil fertility and seed preservation.
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“With my increased income I have been able to improve my family’s diet, buy beds, plates and utensils, and soon I will send my son to university to study medicine. My older daughter is in secondary school, and my other daughter is in primary school. I plan for all of them to get a degree, something which I did not have the opportunity to get.
“If it was not for Farm Africa’s empowerment I feel I would have lost hope in life and my family would still be living in a pathetic situation. When Farm Africa found me my income was just 20,000 shilling a year (approx. £139). Now it is 300,000 shilling (approx. £2090) and my ambition is to hit the one million shilling mark. Having been through all the hardship, I feel very proud of everything I have achieved and am happy that my children have a better future.”