THEY used to brew chang’aa and busaa to eke a living. Many times, they were forced to sleep in cold cells after finding themselves on the wrong side of the law.
However, a group of 40 women in Uasin Gishu county have reformed and are now engaging in other productive activities.
This was after they were trained on how to produce alternative products for export immediately after their rehabilitation at the Ukweli Training and Development Centre.
They are now selling their products in the European and American markets, courtesy of Heavenly Treasures, an NGO, which helped them find markets for their products abroad.
The group makes products like beenies, mats, kiondos, bags, tablemats, shopping bags and coffee bags.
After their training at UTDC — supported by Empowering Lives International — ended in April last year, the women were empowered on various ways of making money through legal means.
“First it starts with them accepting to abandon brewing and showing interest in changing their lives. I started this programme because many women are languishing in poverty yet they have been brewing illicit alcohol for many years. We wanted to do something to change their livelihoods,” UTDC founder Samuel Teimuge said.
In order to prevent them from going back to brewing, Heavenly Treasures partnered with UTDC to train women on knitting techniques. They started with making beanies and exported the first batch in May last year. “It would have been useless to rehabilitate the women without offering an alternative activity for income generation. Since Heavenly Treasures also deals with selling products online, we helped the group to market their beanies abroad,” Gideon Kigen, director of operations at Heavenly Treasurers Kenya, said.
Christine Chesire, one of the beneficiaries of the programme, said never in her wildest dreams did she think that one day she would be making things to be sold outside Africa.
“I am very excited today that at least I can earn my living through making beanies. Unlike brewing, this is very profitable since every month I earn money,” Chesire, who comes from Uasin Gishu county, said.
Chesire is among the 40 women who knit beanies in Uasin Gishu while 27 women are making tablemats, shopping bags and coffee bags in Nandi county.
“I have been looking for an opportunity to quit the brewing business because it’s not profitable and we are harassed by the police. When I got to learn about this programme, I decided to leave brewing and went for rehabilitation,” she said.
Praxides Atieno is another beneficiary of the programme. She was not a brewer but is HIV positive. She is happy that after fighting stigma for a long time, she can now fend for herself, thanks to the training. She makes textile products, which are sold in Europe.
“When my husband died few years ago, my health started deteriorating and I was wondering what was happening. I went for a VCT test and after being counselled, I accepted my status,”Atieno said.
“I was a tailor before joining this programme. I was introduced to the group at the centre where I was tested and I was enrolled in the training to make different textiles,” she said.
She is using the money from the initiative to feed and educate her two children.
“It is really exciting that I make table mats, shopping bags among other things that are sold abroad. The training was free and it is a good way of empowering women,” Atieno said.
She is among the women who are currently enrolled by Heavenly Treasures for the World Federation of Technology Organisations training programme at Samro Polytechnic at Ilula area near Eldoret town.
According to Kigen, the demand for beanies is high in Europe, especially during winter.
“The demand is high and we give women the number of beanies to knit after which we export them to the market on their behalf. We get about 1,000 orders per year,” Kigen said.
“We believe the orders will increase since we are planning to make blankets, mats and pillows for the market,” he said.
The women are currently working at home since they don’t have a central place to make their products.
“They just knit the products at their homes after which we collect them. They are paid fair prices according to the number of commodities they make and the income has really changed their lives,” Kigen said.
In a move aimed at enhancing productivity and ensuring the products meet standards for the international market, Heavenly Treasures invited trainers from Germany under the World Fair Trade Organisation.
The trainers enlightened the women on how to better their production and pricing the products according to the quality of the material.
Ines Jensen from Germany, who is the adviser, market access programme World Fair Trade Organization for Africa and Middle East, said commodities like mats, kiondos and bags made with an African touch are on high demand in the international market.
“Because the demand is really skyrocketing, under WFTO, we are training women on how to price the products in order to get broad market access and get value for their money. Embroidered commodities from Africa are selling well in Europe,” Jensen said.
The women will be exhibiting their products in Sweden in August. “We will be taking some of the products to a trade exhibition in Sweden together with selected women. They have proved their capability and now that they have been trained for international markets, the products have international appeal,” Kigen said.
For the women in this programme, the days of teary eyes brewing illicit alcohol in dingy dens are long gone.