We hear a lot of things about the problems in the developing world … TV nowadays is full of ads voiced by mournful sounding celebs and cut to the accompaniment of rock ballads from the big hair era of pop. But where is the line between information about the appalling plight of people in, for example, Africa, and advertorial for the charity paying out your money for the glossy ads ? These ads tell us about the enormous problems, the vast needs, the nasty diseases and the terrifying statistics. They tell us that they are the ones who are solving these problems “with your help”. Each one vying for our sympathy and, more importantly, our money. It is a dog eat dog business, charity. So there is probably a charity somewhere that rescues half eaten dogs.
But really, it is all very simple. The problems are tiny – each individual is a small, fixable problem. And they deserve to be seen as individuals and not as an invisible statistic in some amorphous mass because the statistics look better that way. And the diseases do not have big scary names, they have two simple names – poverty and ignorance. They say money can’t buy you love, but here, in Africa, it can most certainly buy you life … leaving you time to work on the love thing once you are healthy and fed, with a roof over your head.
Mama Biashara gives people in the developing world, people with nothing except illness, hunger, homelessness and a family of children who need help that they cannot give a business grant – sometimes as little as £5.00 – to set up a business that will give them a life. A hand up, we say. Up out of poverty, disease, starvation, homelessness and ignorance. Not just a hand out.
And we do this with 100% of the money we make (see info about our lovely shop in Shepherds Bush). 100% – we pay no rent (thank you Land Securities) and we pay no salaries. 100% goes to the people for whom it can do most.
This is a selection of just a few of our groups. It does not cover grants given to individuals, a different method of funding which we use more in outlying, rural areas.Neither does it cover the people we get into training or placements from within the Mama Biashara network.
This business was started by a group of 24 gay guys who bought and sold rabbits for meat. They now breed the rabbits themselves and sell not just the meat (mainly big orders to restaurants) but also the fur and the urine, which is an excellent fertiliser and growing in popularity amongst Kenya arable farmers.
This group was started by 18 former commercial sex workers, There are now 30 women and 5 men in the group – all former CSWs. They started selling eggs to Naivasha Prison and now sell in nearby town markets as well. They collect the eggs from the farm and take them – by a wheelbarrow bought as part of the set up grant – in a sort of relay from the farm the 20 kilometers top the prison. They have bought a second wheelbarrow and are nearly at the stage of getting motorised transport !
This was started by 12 young Zimbabwean girls from a refugee community. Most of them were child brides and the third or fourth wife to their husbands. Mama B did a great training workshop with them and supplied a couple of blenders as well as the set up supply of peanuts, oil and salt. They now sell wholesale and are more or less sole suppliers to their community. The group now numbers 26 – all young mothers and child brides – and they are buying a proper peanut butter making machine in January via our girls (more of whom anon) in China.
This group was started by 20 young men who had a contact at Gikomba market where all the containers of old clothes come in for sale. Many of them, interestingly, still have their tags from Oxfam and Save the Children etc still attached. So be aware that when you dontae there, your clothes may end up making someone a fair bit of money … Anyway, our young men got a grant to sell trousers – the ‘first camera’ trousers (top grade). They added another dozen young men to the group and now have a big stall themselves at the market. They started up a group for women selling blouses and shirts and have also spawned an ironing business there, with two irons and boards.
This began as a very small group of 10 people in Kawangware, selling second hand school books. And the occasional … home made copy. The group is now around 40 strong, with branches in Limuru and Nairobi Town
Kucha Kool (Hospital)
We started with a small group of 12 young mothers, trained them in manicure and pedicure and gave them all the start up kit including 12 nailpolishes. They have developed a great method of approaching the matrons of various hospitals (after the first one that was set up for them) and asking permision to approach the families of patients, offering the manicure and pedicure services. We now have 25 girls (and growing fast) who go round the hospitals in groups of 8, now including 2 hairdressers in each group.
Majani – Tea Leaves
This started in the Limuru area with 3 mamas who had a new way of selling tealeaves to the poorest women in the small rural villages. They sold more or less just enough for one pot of tea. They packaged the leaves very fresh and in little packs they sealed shut with a candle flame. They changed the way tea is sold across these areas. The ladies now wholesale to small local supermarkets across the region. They grew to 20 very quickly from the original 3 – always with the original ladies training the new people in handling and packaging the leaves. Now (about 9 months on) there are around 172 tea mamas – 80 in the Nairobi area going as far as Nyahururu and Kajiando, 40 in Mpekatoni (the area first devastated by the ongoing ethnic cleansing on the Coast), 20 in Watamu and 12 in Ganze (both in the thick of the ethnic cleansing)
This grew out of the Tea Leaf business (above), The first three Tea Mamas started drying ginger, turmeric and cinnamon and grinding it themselves for sale. They now sell to local supermarkets (about 20 mamas) and have spread to Nairobi (where we have 30 mamas selling), down to Mpekatoni (20), Ganze (12) and Voi (8)
This has been very successful for us because of our insistance that any rice selling mamas buy together in groups to give them wholesale bargaining power. From a few scattered ladies we now have 120 in the Nairobi area, 34 in Mpekatoni, 34 in Ganze 16 and 10 in Watamu. There are also another 22 individual mamas selling in scattered rural locations.
Smokies are small sausages which enjoy a (in my opinion, quite strange) huge popularity as a snack food and are sold from small heated carts like mini ice cream carts. We started with 10 commercial sex workers selling from two shared carts. As the business grew and more people were added, they took profit from the business and bought every three new people a cart or a jiko (a stove). There are now 55 Smokie sellers in the Nairobi area.
This is a difficult business as the supply is controlled by brokers up at Kisumu on Lake Victoria. But by banding together, our lady fish sellers have upped their orders to include hotels and restaurants, thereby increasing their own buying power and getting good deals from the brokers. The groups started with a combined membership of 10 and are now at a hard worked for 32 business people.
For kids, of course. Mums cannot afford Pampers nor do they have the ability to wash reusables. Normally they pick an old plastic carrier bag from the street and stick their baby in that. Doris went to Mathare and Dandora – two of the worst areas, massive sprawling slums – and started training women in making waterproof panties from soft nylon material. They are then wiped clean and reused. Over several weeks, funded by Mama B, we established training workshops, bought a couple of sewing machines and all the materials needed for the women to train and to make their first batches for sale. From the original 3 training workshops we expanded into other slums and even down to Mpekatoni on the coast. There are now more than 500 women across these areas up and running and making and selling. And, as with all Mama B businesses, it grows by the day.
A group of six young men were started with a grant for buying and selling pigs. They started with three and built from there. When the wonderful Neil came for a Mama Biashara visit to Kenya, they waylaid him and got a grant for a boar. IN Neil’s honour he was named Dirty Neil. He has been rented out at 1000 (about £8) a pop (as it were) as well as fathering 24 Dirty Little Neils and Nellies for Mama Biashara to start other businesses with.
The boys are now selling directly to Farmer’s Choice (huge company) as well as having set up their own slaughterhouse. From 6 they have grown to 26 employed full time in the business. Dirty Neil became so famous he started a bidding war and was recently sold to a rich white farmer who paid a Very Good Price !! His replacement is working hard.
This was an enterprising group of 19 lads who had all been in trouble with the police and came to us via a contact of Doris’. They were trained by ASK – the Agricultural Society of Kenya – in creating dairy cow fodder from chicken shit. Basically you get 87kg of chicken poo, add a kilo of omena flour (fish meal) and a couple of kilos of salt and vitamin powder. It became obvious after they were shown the recuipie that ASK were only interested in cheap labour, insisted that ALL their fodder be sold to ASK at a terrible price and on somewhat erratic payment terms. And so our boys started finding their own customers. They were reliable, nice to deal with and offered good prices. And so they became very succesful. At which point ASK had them shut down and 27 of the boys put in prison. We got them out but ASK took all their kit, their bicycles and all of their stock. So they started again. And from nothing they have hauled themselves back up to a group of 34 men and are finding customers outside the Nairobi area. They are coming back with great enthusiasm and intent
We started with a group of 12 mamas (again, ex commercial sex workers) who wanted to buy from Tanzania where most of the shukas are made nowadays. We now have more than 95 mamas buying and selling across the Mara, down to Mombasa and 25 who do the travelling to Tanzania. This group is growing very fast
This has always been a popular business. We have lots of groups from long ago but things really too off when we met the wonderful Joseph Karanja. He came to us from prison and wanted to bring chicken from Migori. He worked incredibly hard, he built his business, he bought a truck, he started a chicken farm of his own in Migori and, all the time, he helped our new little groups. He found them orders from his customer base, he gave them the lowest prices for the highest quality and he gave them free transport for the first month of their business. Thanks to Joseph Karanja our Kuku businesses are everywhere and thriving. We have more than 130 business people selling and the numbers are growing exponentially. Joseph was killed by the appalling nature nature of the Kenyan health system and the complete incompetence and absolute arrogance of its doctors. We miss him very much. His farm in Migori is now run by his widow with the help of four Mama Biashara chicken people whom Joseph himself helped to train. His legacy continues …
Women (many of them young commercial sex workers) begin with us selling toiletries and cosmetics door to door. A kind of Kenyan Avon lady. From our original group of 19 itinerant salesladies, we have grown and now have a shop in Kenol, bases in town and a direct connection with our ex-Mashallah girls in China who send all manner of accessories and stuff that the girls here in Kenya offer to their customers on an exclusive basis. We now have 29 ladies in Huruma, 67 in Eastleigh, 32 in Kinoo and 34 other individual ladies who come together to buy but operate in disparate areas. This group is one of the fastest growing and is 100% self seeding
This began with Vivky coming to us having been offered the contract to clean and maintain a hotel just outside Nairobi. This was a hotel that rented by the hour. Eight women and five men started the business. We kitted them out with all the overalls, boots and rubber gloves, cleaning stuff and everything they needed. They then added two more hotels, then a couple in Nairobi town. All the time the group was growing. They took over the maintaining (inside and out) of a big resort on the other side of Nairobi and started with a new group. All trained by Vicky. By now members of the original team were heading up their own groups. Mama B financed another big venture with a huge team being offered the contract to renovate and maintain an old hotel in Voi. From there they have moved along the coast to Watamu and Mombasa where Vicky has been a massive help in securing jobs from some of the refugees fleeing the ethnic cleansing there. Vicky also takes many of the older commercial sex workers in Mombasa and gives them a way out. These ladies have massive health problems because, to try to make themselves lighter skinned (which is what is favoured by the customers there), they scrub themselves twice daily with undiluted household bleach during their working life. So we now have aboput 24 diffferent groups which have sprung out of Vicky’s and 89 men and women who are currently working directly with Vicky.
Painting and Decorating
This grew out of Vickys, when they got the contracts for the Voi hotel. There are now two big groups – the first one in Voi which has grown to 42 and a new one in Limuru of 32 members. They currently have a contract for three buildings but will soon expand the group as they have just got a contract for a seven story building. These groups have been totally self seeding and funded all their own expansion.
Bras and Panties
The businesses began when I took some donated bras to Kenya. We have to thank our lovely customer Yasmin for them. They generated amazing business and now I take bras everytime I go. Supplemented with new bras bought in Eastliegh, we have now started 16 businesses in Kiambu county, 9 in Limuru and down towards the coast another 29. So we REALLY need more bras please …
These businesses started in Voi where ladies were being used by businessmen to sell sweets and biscuits on Voi main road. They would be paid about 70 pence per day. We gave them their own stock and 12 of them started up business. Business is growing and once every week they all contribute £1 which makes enough money to start another mama in business. So in the two months since they started there are another 8 mamas up and running.
We started with 9 girls who were given a professional 5/6 week training paid for by Mama B and are now able to do anything – last year they made 9 wedding cakes and already they have many more on order foor December which is Wedding Month in Kenya. These original girls are now training others and, all in all, since last year they have grown from 9 to just over 80 and growing fast.
Starting with a small group of five boys, we now have had 22 men trained in making jikos (small stoves) and all are fully self employed and working in all areas of Kenya – even some who went down to the coast after the Mpekatoni ethnic cleansing attack. Original training was paid for by Mama B and then our own boys did the training of the new boys themselves.
We started with a grant to 5 young guys who had been in trouble with the police because they are gay.
The total grant was about £50 for the group.
That was about 6 months ago.
We now have sixty people in Kawangware, another 30 in Limuru and these groups are growing logorithmically. We sell to schools and offices and we hawk them around bars in the evening. They are getting such a great rep we now have Supermarkets asking to buy wholesale.
From 30 Mamas and a grant of £200 (which works out at £7.00 each Now hundreds of mamas. And we sell in Tanzania and Uganda – again because of the quality
We gave a grant to some young women in a Zimbabwean refugee community – most of them 4th wives. The first group numbered 25 and got an order from Sudan for Vitamba. We now have 104 in Nairobi alone with orders from Uganda, Tanzania as well as Sudan
From 1 coffee urn we now have 15 of them all over Nairobi. Each urn supports 30 business people working in shifts – 15 day and 15 night. We also have them in Awendo, Burnt Forest and along the Coast
Originally sold by a group of older men with an average of 4 children. We started with 25 and now have 164 selling both wholesale and retail. Plus 30 at the other end of the line in Kiisii