Front Cover
 The Mraru women's group
 Last-minute rescue
 Further development
 Back Matter
 Back Cover

Group Title: Seeds pamphlet
Title: Village women organize
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088775/00001
 Material Information
Title: Village women organize the Mraru bus service
Series Title: Seeds pamphlet
Physical Description: 20 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Kneerim, Jill
Publisher: Seeds
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1980
Subject: Women -- Employment -- Kenya   ( lcsh )
Cooperative societies   ( lcsh )
Women in development   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Kenya
Statement of Responsibility: by Jill Kneerim.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088775
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 10563435

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
    The Mraru women's group
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Last-minute rescue
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
    Further development
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Pages 10-11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
    Back Matter
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
    Back Cover
        Page 21
        Page 22
Full Text

SEEDS is a new pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all
over the world for information about innovative and practical program ideas
developed by and for low income women. The pamphlets are designed as a
means to share information and spark new projects based on the positive
experiences of women who are working to help themselves and other women
improve their economic status. The projects described in this and future
issues of SEEDS have been selected because they provide women with a
cash income, involve women in decision-making as well as earning, are
based on sound economic criteria, and are working successfully to over-
come obstacles commonly encountered. The reports are not meant to be
prescriptive, since every development effort will face somewhat different
problems and resources. Rather, they have been written to describe the
history of an idea and its implementation in the hope that the lessons learned
can be useful in a variety of settings. They are also being written to bring to
the attention of those in decision-making positions the fact that income-
generating projects for and by women are viable and have important roles
to play in development.

SSEEDS is a jointly sponsored project of the
Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation,
1980 and the Population Council.

Village Women



Mraru Bus Service

Story and Photographs by
Jill Kneerim

The Mraru Women's Group, like many community women's
organizations around the world, is an example of a deeply-rooted tradi-
tion of association and self-help among women. In 1971 the group
began to gather its resources to solve a common problem-transpor-
tation. They raised money, bought a bus and began a public transport
service that made money. Now they are faced with other difficult
questions such as reinvesting profits, serving members' broader needs,
and maintaining a strong economic base. The Mraru Women's Group
has shown unusual creativity and persistence in identifying common
needs and organizing to meet them. They have also demonstrated that
a small, private organization with few resources can effectively call on
the skills and resources of other agencies, both public and private, to
help them achieve their goals, while remaining independent and self-
reliant. It is hoped that their experience may be an inspiration to other
such groups and that other women will be able to profit from the
lessons learned by the women of Mraru.

VVUi Illl, L IUL b U lIlll!

The women in Mraru got angry one
year. The nearest market center for this
cluster of eight small villages in the Taita
Hills of Kenya was the town of Voi, about
12 kilometers away. You can't carry heavy
goods to market or a sick child to the clinic
on foot over that distance. There aren't
many buses to Voi, and almost all are fully
loaded by the time they reach Mraru. If
there is any space, it goes to the men, not
women. Men first: that is the tradition in
the countryside of Kenya, and for women,
the tradition is to resign themselves to it.
But in 1971, the Mraru women decided to
do something else. They decided to buy
their own bus.
This sounds like an unusual decision,
and it was. How could a handful of rural
women with no regular incomes, in a coun-
try where few women own property, col-
lect enough money for the down payment
on a vehicle and then persuade a bank to
lend them the balance? It sounded like a
daydream. But six years later, with the bus
paid for and running a regular route to Voi
every day, the Mraru Women's Group had
declared a dividend to its early shareholders
and was building a retail shop with its

The Taita women in Mraru are not
wealthy or well educated or in any other
way noticeably different from village women
in other parts of Kenya, or even other parts
of the world. Virtually all of them raise large
families and produce the family's food in
shambas, small plots owned by their hus-
bands. They earn some cash by selling
maize or cassava root or goats they have
bred (when they can get these goods to
market) or from trade, buying small quanti-
ties of goods at wholesale which they can
sell at retail. In a good year, a typical woman
in Mraru may make 1,000 Kenya shillings,
about US $130, which she usually spends
on the family: school fees for the children,
the food she doesn't grow herself, corru-
gated roofing for the house.

The Mraru Women's Group
In 1970, forty-seven women in the
several villages of Mraru joined together to
form a club affiliated with the national
women's organization Maendeleo ya
Wanawake ("Women's Progress" in Swa-
hili). They chose as chairperson Mrs. Eva
Mwaluma, a member of the Taita/Taveta
County Council at the district headquarters
in Wundanyi.

Wattle-and-daub houses in Mraru, with hammered tin-can roofing and thatch.

The Mraru group met regularly to learn
about crafts and homemaking and to talk
over their problems. Eventually, one of the
problems they talked about was transpor-
tation into Vol. A year of drought was
making trading particularly important, yet
all of them were having trouble getting to
the market in Voi. There had even been
some desperate cases of women or babies
lost in childbirth because there was no
way to get to Voi's maternity clinic. The
women decided that the best solution to
this problem was to buy their own bus.
In rural Kenya, most transportation is
provided by private entrepreneurs. Even
the country buses dented, patched, and
repainted old products of Mercedes Benz
and British Leyland that toil along the
country roads from town to town are
private property, not a publicly run service.
Virtually every route they take, as well as
many they never get to, is also run by smal-
ler conveyances called matatus. These jit-
neys sporting flamboyant slogans in Swa-
hili are a familiar sight all over the country,
hurtling along loaded to twice their stated
capacity with the conductor hanging off
the back step shouting out his destination.
In August, 1971 the Mraru women

started saving for their bus. They agreed
that, over time, each member should con-
tribute at least 200 shillings (about $27),
which would therefore be the value of one
share. Like many other groups of women.
in Kenya who form savings societies, they
met every month, and each member con-
tributed what she could afford. Those with-
out money brought eggs, hens, fruits -
anything of value. These contributions
were given a cash value and entered in the
record book along with cash payments for
the month. At one typical meeting, they
collected 793 shillings. Next day, the funds
were deposited in the Mraru Maendeleo ya
Wanawake savings account at the post
office in Voi.
Small things accumulate. By 1973,
they had saved 27,000 shillings ($3,600).
That was sufficient capital for Mrs. Mwaluma
to go to Mombasa, some 170 kilometers
away, to place an order for a bus with the
Cooper Motor Corporation. This was the
beginning of a long process. Construction
of the bus body would take time and could
not begin until an order was placed. The
Cooper branch manager figured out the
costs. The bus, an 11,760-pound British
Leyland diesel with an aluminum body and


seating for 21 passengers, would cost
111,780 shillings, including finance costs.
Cooper would need a down payment of
47,800 to release the bus. The group would
have to raise 21,000 shHlings more just for
the down payment. In addition, they would
have to get a very substantial loan to cover
the remainder of the purchase price, and
their only collateral was their determination
to succeed. The bus itself would not be
considered collateral because rough, over-
crowded roads and reckless drivers make
vehicles too vulnerable.
Nonetheless, the group's spirits were
high. It seemed possible that their dream
could become reality. Some of the more
skeptical members now began to deliver
more money, and the women held fund-
raisings to collect donations from outsiders.
(Public fund-raisings called harambees
after the national motto meaning "join to-
gether" are a widespread, popular tradi-
tion in Kenya begun by the first president,
Jomo Kenyatta.) More women joined, and
the possibility of obtaining a loan began to
improve. A government social services
worker in Mombasa lobbied with the Cooper
Motor Corporation and persuaded its mana-
gers that this group was worth taking a

chance on. The company was able to obtain
a commitment from National Industrial
Credit (East Africa) Limited in Nairobi to
lend the Mraru women over half the pur-
chase price on the strength of the Cooper
manager's sworn assurance that if any
payment was late, he personally would go
to Mraru to collect it.
By early 1975 the bus was in the ware-
house in Mombasa and ready to go. Accor-
ding to size, weight, and capacity, it was a
matatu, but it appeared considerably more
imposing than most matatus. It looked like
a scaled-down, brand new country bus, with
a separate door for the driver, a center
aisle with double seats facing forward on
either side, an emergency escape door in
the rear, a side entrance for the passengers,
and a generous luggage rack on top to hold
loads of bagged charcoal, crates of chic-
kens, and bundles of firewood. There it
was the real bus. Cooper's sales mana-
ger had a sign painted for the display space
above the bus windshield and, on his own
time and at his own expense, drove the
bus from Mombasa to Mraru to show the
women what was almost theirs.
The last push became urgent because
now that the bus was there to be seen,

Highway Sign: Voi Hospital, 4 km.

other customers in Mombasa wanted to
buy it. But, the Mraru Women's Group trea-
sury was 6,800 shillings short of the re-
quired down payment. In their first three
years they had raised 27,000 shillings; in
the fourth year they raised 14,000 more. But
they needed a total of 47,800.

Last-Minute Rescue
It is never easy to discover what makes
for success, but whatever the magic was,
the Mraru Women's Group had it. In the pre-
vious ten years, women's groups of various
kinds had been forming all over Kenya, but
most of them were smaller and had a more
traditional focus such as handicrafts,
savings, farming or raising livestock. In
1975, women's groups received more atten-
tion than usual because of International
Women's Year. Over 70 percent of adults
in rural areas of Kenya are women, often
left behind to keep the home and raise the
children while their husbands migrate to
the cities for wage-paying jobs. In trying to
plan ahead for rural development, Kenya
had begun to take account of what women
were doing and were capable of doing. The
Mraru Women's Group was surely a fine
example and one becoming well-known in

the Coastal Province.
At that time, the chairman of Maendeleo
ya Wanawake for the district of Taita/Taveta
was Mrs. Joan Mjomba, who herself had
grown up in one of the villages of Mraru.
Although she no longer lived in Mraru, she
joined the group to show her enthusiasm
and support. In early 1975, at the Govern-
ment-sponsored provincial seminar for the
International Women's Year, she described
the Mraru women in glowing terms and
urged the provincial office of social ser-
vices in Mombasa to make a special ex-
ample of it in its reports for the Women's
The sense of excitement about what
the Mraru Group had achieved so far was
not surprising. After all, the group had
started with no assets, no special talents,
and no wealthy members, yet it had saved
an incredible 41,000 shillings in just three
years. Now it was on its way to persuading
a bus company and a bank to break tradition
by lending money to a group of women.
A crucial factor in finally securing the
bus was one of the Government's provin-
cial social workers in Mombasa, Terry
Kantai. She personally guaranteed a loan
for the final 7,000 shillings needed for the

Matatu: The poor man's taxi service.

down payment. Then she, the Maendeleo
organization and the Mraru Women's Group
organized a harambee fund-raising to show
the bank and Cooper Motor Corporation
that they could rely on this group to pay off
its debts. At the end of the ceremonies the
group had collected 3,013 more shillings
from 484 donors enough for the first two
payments on Terry Kantai's loan. With the
complete down payment now available
and the skeptics convinced, the bus could
at last be released from the warehouse.
Jubilant, the group hired a driver, and on
May 3, 1975, the Chairman, Eva Mwaluma,
and the treasurer, Mary Frederick, went to
Mombasa, claimed the bus, and drove it
back to Mraru. Next day, the shining white
bus began plying the route between Mraru
and Voi.
The Mraru women now had a full-scale
business on their hands. They had insur-
ance and registration fees to pay, they had
to buy petrol and pay for maintenance,
and they had to meet a monthly debt-
retirement payment of 4,088.90 shillings
over a period of 18 months. In addition,
they had three full-time employees: the
driver; the conductor, who collects fares
and issues receipts; and an inspector. At
first the Mraru women hired a woman con-
ductor, but the customers sometimes proved
too rowdy for her to handle so a young man
was employed for the job. The inspector,

however, is always a member of the group
who rides on every trip to be sure fares are
collected and accounted for. This is a de-
manding job and she gets paid for it. At the
end of each day the receipts are taken to
the group's treasurer in Mraru who verifies
the total and enters it in the books. The
next morning the inspector deposits the
money in the bank at Voi.
Each passenger pays 3 shillings for the
one-way, 12 kilometer trip from Mraru to
Voi. The bus leaves the main intersection
in Mraru (the junction of two dirt roads) at
8:00 a.m. every morning and continues back
and forth to and from Voi, with four or five
stops in between, as long as there are pas-
sengers who want to make the trip. In a re-
freshing switch on the original situation,
members of the group get first preference
when there are too many passengers for
one load.
A day's gross for the bus service can
vary from 120 to 800 shillings; on market
days and holidays it can reach several
thousand. The bus is also available to hire
for special trips. A typical one was made for
the Taita/Taveta Education Board, trans-
porting school choirs from one town to
another; the charge, 400 shillings round
trip. If a job requires an overnight stop, the
driver, conductor, and inspector are paid a
small allowance for overnight expenses.


UOnatlons notea in ine recora-DOOK.

The bus proved an excellent invest-
ment. Demand for its services was so lively
that the driver worked seven days a week
and was given vacation pay instead of time
off. In a year and a half, the debts were
paid and the Mraru Women's Group began
a new savings account. By 1977, they had
12,000 shillings in the bank and were accu-
mulating more all the time. The group then
declared half the money as a dividend and
targeted the remaining funds for a new
enterprise, a duka or retail shop in Mraru.
The dividend, distributed in proportion to
each woman's shares, was a stunning
success. Women who had never owned
anything in their lives, and many who had
pursued this project despite their hus-
bands' disgruntled complaints, now were
receiving a return on their investment.
News like that spreads quickly. The group
had 68 members at the time of the dividend;
within two years the number had grown to
195. Many of the new members were women
with more ready cash than the first group;
quite a few of them could afford 200 shil-
lings outright.

The Duka
Almost as soon as they were able, the

women decided to invest in another enter-
prise. The bus, though a good earner,
seemed too vulnerable. They again chose
a business serving the local market; how-
ever this time it was not movable, but a
solid asset. The women applied to the
Taita/Taveta County Council for one of the
plots in Mraru that the Council had specifi-
cally set aside for such use. Again drawing
on outside expertise for estimates of costs
and needs, the Mraru women decided to
start small, with only a shop. At a future
date they would hope to expand the building
to include quarters for employees of the bus
service and the shop, an office, a meeting
room that could double as a classroom, a
kitchen, an indoor toilet, and five bedrooms
that would serve as a small hotel.
The shop and three small rooms made
of cement block with corrugated roofing
would cost 55,000 shillings; stocking the
shop would cost another 22,000. The funds
came from new members who had been
joining under the impetus of the dividend
and the group's savings of 6,000 shillings
in profits from the bus an amount which
was growing every week. With plans
approved by the Council, construction of
the duka began in February 1977 and was
completed six months later. The Govern-


16 j

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P.O. savings window at Voi.

ment Social Services Department made a
loan of 10,000 shillings to the group to help
stock the duka, even though their advisers
were concerned that the shop might be
being built a few years too soon in the
general scheme of things.
Elina Mwaizinga, a member of the
group, is now the full-time salaried shop-
keeper. Rising early from her bedroom be-
hind the shop, she opens the doors at
6:00 a.m. and does not close them until
7:00 in the evening. This is her daily sche-
dule except for Sundays when she closes
the shop for a few hours at midday to go to
church, and on the days she goes in to Voi
to buy supplies from the wholesaler. The
duka stocks simple household items: alu-
minum cooking pots, skin-toning cream,
malaria tablets, canned cooking fat, nipples
for baby bottles, pyrethrum insect spray. Its
biggest sellers are sugar and tea. Whole-
sale costs, of course, are one of the major
expenses of the shop. So is Elina's salary:
300 shillings a month. While the shop's loca-
tion is not ideal for a retail business, since
the population that can reach it easily is
small, it does have 195 unswerving cus-
tomers who will not buy their goods any-
where else. Members pay the same prices

as other buyers, which are more or less equi-
valent to the standard retail prices in other
shops. Although all of them patronize the
duka faithfully, their business isn't taken for
granted. At the annual year-end meeting and
party, members are invited to show shop
receipts for purchases of more than 50 shil-
lings, which entitles them to an item off the
shelves. "That's to please the customers for
coming," says Elina.
Although the shop is not nearly as
profitable as the bus, it represents a solid
asset. "The thing we are proud of is that in-
vestment," says one of the members. "We
will never be counted bankrupt with that
there." The cement-block building could
always be rented in hard times. It could
even be sold, but the group is determined
never to have to do that.

Further Development
As a registered women's group, the
Mraru Group is eligible for continuing assis-
tance from the Governemnt, including ad-
vice on further investment to protect against
any problems in its other businesses. On
the advice of Government social workers,
the group has begun raising goats and
studying for self-improvement. These more
traditional pursuits of women are both sub-
stantially underwritten by Government
The Taita Hills area is extremely dry at
times, which makes goat raising a better
investment than farming. Besides almost
every woman in Mraru is skilled in raising
goats. The Women's Bureau in Nairobi, with
funds from UNICEF, provided the Mraru
Women's Group with 100 goats, plus two
outstanding he-goats to help them develop
their stock. The male offspring are sold for
meat at about one year of age, the females
are kept for breeding.
Group members added 30 more goats
to the herd, and the village of Mraru also
contributed by granting the women's group
free use of grazing land on one of the hill-
sides about half a mile from their shop. A
goatherd, whose salary is 240 shillings a
month, is the enterprise's largest operating
The major capital expense was a
building to house goats and herdsman: 350
shillings for poles on which to plaster clay
walls, 700 shillings for corrugated roofing
sheets, and 150 shillings for the builder. The
builder and poles were paid for by members'
donations, but the money for the roof came

The market at Voi.

from the profits of the duka. As it turned out,
the shop was not quite profitable enough
to cover the whole cost, so the side toward
the hill is roofed with empty tin cans cut
open and hammered flat, contributed from
members' households.
Unfortunatley, goats are a more vul-
nerable investment than canned cooking fat,
and the first year of this undertaking was a
year of drought. Some of the animals died,
including one of the prize he-goats. In order
to protect their stock, the Mraru women sold
a number of the remaining animals so they
would have the cash to expand the herd
when the rains returned and grazing was
good. As of May 1979, the herd stood at 48
goats and the rains were blessing the
The group began one other new enter-
prise at about the same time, this one aimed
more at personal improvement than profits
for the treasury. Here again, it received sub-
stantial Government assistance. The Social
Services Department donated two sewing
machines and the salary for a teacher to live
in Mraru and give classes in sewing and
family health. The Department also gave the
group 3,000 shillings for sewing materials.
A monthly fee of 10 shillings per participant

pays for small supplies like needles, thread,
and buttons. The teacher, Dora Malemba,
works full time and lives in a room behind
the duka. She holds classes for one group
of women in the morning and another in the
afternoon. Her 28 students, who almost
never miss class except in the planting
season, spend a good part of the sessions
working on the two sewing machines. Al-
though this project was intended for per-
sonal improvement, many of the dresses,
jackets, tablecloths, and children's clothes
the women produce are sold next door in
the shop. In the first eight months of classes,
the group made almost 1,000 shillings on
the sale of these items.
In addition to sewing, Dora teaches the
women about health and family planning.
She works every day from a lesson plan she
has devised in advance. Classes are infor-
mal with women wandering back and forth
from the duka and babies tied to their
mothers' backs or playing on the floor.

The group still meets once a month at
which time money is collected and the
number of shares increased. Women who
do not attend meetings are fined. (This is a

Final purchase form for the bus from Cooper Motor Corp.

Joan Mjomba, right, talking with the vice chairman of Mraru group, Polina Danson. The road to Mraru.

The road to Vol.

The original bus at retirement in 1979.

Left to right: The group's chairman, treasurer, instructor in home economics, and vice chairman. On any special
occasion and at every meeting, the group sings the song, "Maendeleo ya Wanawake."

general tradition in Kenya, to keep up atten-
dance at all kinds of meetings.) One share
in the group is still worth 200 shillings, and
the women have set eight shares as the
maximum any individual may buy. "We
don't want to have some women who are
better than others," the chairman has said.
In fact, the aim is to bring every woman's
holdings up to eight shares so all will be
equal, but that probably will have to wait
until the group again has enough income
to declare a dividend.
For business purposes, full-scale
meetings are clearly too cumbersome, so
the group has elected a committee of nine
members to consider policy, look into pro-
blems, and make recommendations to the
full membership. The majority rules, and
election is done by secret ballot. The com-
mittee, which meets once every three
months, unless a pressing matter requires an
extra meeting, is also responsible for choos-
ing the group's officers chairman, vice
chairman, secretary, vice secretary, and trea-
surer. These women in turn have their own
special duties. The work of the treasurer and
secretary are demanding enough to warrant
their being paid a monthly fee of 100 shillings
each. The secretary records the amount of

money deposited monthly by each member
and keeps a cumulative tally so it is clear
where members stand in their ownership of
shares. The treasurer has the daily job of
counting the bus receipts and entering the
total in the books.
None of the officers has had special
training for her job. The treasurer, for
example, has a secondary-school education
but no background in accounting. Once the
books were set up by a professional accoun-
tant, she has had no trouble maintaining an
accurate record of the group's financial
transactions. The professional accountant,
from the County Council office, is hired by
the group to go over its books once a year.
This underscores one of the secrets of the
Mraru Group's success. From the start, it
has sought and received professional assis-
tance. Government social service workers
have counseled the Mraru women on how
to organize, on investments, and on the
details of running a business. The group has
had the invaluable counsel of Terry Kantai,
first as an employee of the Government's
Social Services Department in the Coast
Province and now as director of the Women's
Bureau in the national government. They
also have received advice from members of

Mr. and Mrs. Mwaluma, standing together on tarmac, seen through the windshield of the bus.

all levels of the Kenyan Ministry of Housing
and Social Services, the Community De-
velopment Assistant of the Department of
Social Services, the District Social Ser-
vices office, and the County Council.
The Maendeleo ya Wanawake national
organization is also available for counsel
and instruction. Maendeleo can lobby with
various government divisions on behalf of
any one of its member groups and com-
mand far more attention than a single group,
even one as substantial as the Mraru Group.
The extraordinary energy and enthusiasm
of Joan Mjomba, first as district and then
as provincial chairman for Maendeleo, was
likewise an advantage other groups might
well envy. None of these advisors, national
or local, intrude on the Mraru women, who
clearly would be able to resist interference
if they needed to. But obviously the women
do not operate in a vacuum. If they want
further counsel on any matter they can
usually get it.

Despite its growing diversity the group
has had only one substantial moneymaker,
the bus. But years of steady use on rough
roads have worn it out. By the time the bus

reached age 4V2, repair bills began to equal
earnings and the group decided it was time
to turn the machine in for a new one. At this
point, the Mraru women met their first major
In the years since their first purchase
from Cooper, inflation had been rampant
worldwide. Added to that, Kenya had a
foreign exchange crisis that forced the
Government to place high tariffs on goods
from abroad. The bus the women now
wanted to order was slightly larger than
their old one, seating 26 rather than 21.
Cooper was willing to give them good trade-
in value for their old bus-60,000 shillings-
and beyond that, they had 31,600 in savings.
This would almost have bought their old bus
outright in 1975, but in 1979 the Cooper
managers shook their heads. Now a new
bus, with insurance, registration fees, and
interest on a loan included, would cost
about 310,000 shillings. Although the group
had a flawless record for repayment of
loans, money was much tighter now and
the best loan Cooper could arrange was for
a maximum of two years. That would mean
monthly loan retirement payments of nine
or ten thousand shillings. The Cooper man-
ager and Mrs. Mwaluma agreed that the

V -

The shop. "We'll never be counted bankrupt with that there."

income from the operation of a single bus
could not sustain such payments.
Some of the group's decisions now
had to be evaluated in a new light. They
had chosen to invest in the duka rather
than save for a new bus. While the Cooper
Motor Company was sympathetic, they had
to have a minimum cash down payment
much larger than the group's savings. The
duka should have been sufficient collateral
for a long-term loan, but the land and build-
ings in Mraru have not yet been surveyed
and centrally registered with the Ministry
of Lands and Settlement in Nairobi. This
means that there is no deed to the building
and, without a deed, no bank will grant a
As of this writing, the group's dilemma
remains. The old bus, too tired to continue
as is, has been retired and sits in the Cooper
yards in Mombasa. Although Cooper has
ordered the new bus, it will not release the
vehicle without first receiving at least half
of the total price in cash-approximately
60,000 shillings more than the group can
currently muster. The Mraru Women's Group
clearly needs to raise more capital, but its
only substantial source of income is the
bus service, and that is not running. The

women of Mraru are experiencing some of
the old problems they had almost forgotten:
once again it is difficult to get to Voi. Al-
though they can now make simple pur-
chases nearby at their own shop, individually
they have less money to spend because
they cannot get to Voi to trade.
However sobering, the setback seems
temporary. The group has assets: its old
bus, its building, the shop's inventory, the
goats, the herdsmen's building, over 30,000
shillings in cash, and goodwill in many
places. It seems likely they will find some
way of obtaining the loan they need. The
strong spirit that has carried them through
so much hasn't wavered. They discuss
their plans for more goats, the hotel, and
with the encouragement of the Cooper sales
manager, the hope that after they get the
new bus on the road they might reclaim and
restore the old bus so they would have the
wherewithal to give each vehicle proper
servicing while still keeping up a regular
schedule. Some of their advisers, anxious
that the group not overextend itself in one
area, have raised questions about expanding
the bus service. It will be the women of
Mraru, however, who ultimately make that
decision. And whichever choice they make,

r** y,

Behind the shop: site of the hotel.

their story augurs well for women and de-
velopment in Kenya.

The story of the Mraru Women's Group
is a story of courage, ingenuity and per-
sistence. Members have learned a great
deal about the rewards and the problems
of economic enterprises, information useful
to women in other countries:
1. It is important to select a product or
service for which there is a strong local
demand: Both the women and their com-
munities needed better transportation
services. The demand for a small retail
shop was evidently less strong so the
immediate returns have been smaller.
The duka does, however, have the ad-
vantage of being a firm asset, potentially
usable as collateral.
2. The choice of product or service should
be subjected to the most vigorous
possible economic analysis to deter-
mine its economic viability: The bank
knew the bus could not last long on
rural roads and set credit terms accord-
ingly. This seemed troublesome, but

in the end served the women well by
holding them to realistic economic
criteria. The loans provided for the duka
and the goats were given on much more
lenient terms and perhaps this should
not have been.
3. Available support services from in-
dividuals and agencies should be used
to the fullest possible extent without
creating dependency: Small groups
often need assistance, especially in
the early stages. All countries have re-
sources such as government agencies,
national women's organizations, com-
munity leaders, and international or-
ganizations that can provide advice and
assistance. Drawing on their experience
can often help solve difficult problems
or bring new ideas and energy into a
project. But the group also must ex-
ercise its own judgment as to what
advice to accept or reject. Autonomy
is important, too.
4. The design of the project should be
kept as simple as possible, especially
in the early stages: It is generally best
to start small, with one or two products
or services and a clearly defined mar-

-i. I-_____ --'

The shop's wholesaler at Voi

ket. Decisions on diversification and
expansion should be made with the
same care as the original choice. Sim-
ilarly, the project should require only
a small staff, easily supervised by the
group, at least at the outset.
5. Any group undertaking an income-
generating project must organize care-
fully and provide a paid staff to carry
out basic operations: In Kenya, women's
organizations have a strong tradition
of doing this, and can rely on both the
Government and the national women's
organization for guidance in selecting
officers, developing guidelines for
savings and investment activities, re-
cruiting and supervising project staff,
etc. It is crucial that the procedures
and principles agreed upon be followed
consistently so that all members ben-
efit and contribute fairly. Officers who
have specific responsibilities should
be chosen on merit and replaced if they
do not perform properly.
6. Most countries and cultures have long-
standing traditions on which women's
organizations and projects can build:
In Kenya the long tradition of harambee,

working together, is surely an important
source of strength for the Mraru women,
not only in building their economic
strength but in developing a broader
competence to sustain their families
and their communities.
The story is not over-the ingenuity
and commitment of the women of the Taita
Hills is stronger now than ever. They are
confident they can find solutions to the
problems they face in improving the quality
of their families' lives. They know how to
accomplish things by joining together. It
should only be a matter of time before a
new bus pulls out of Mraru on its way
through the Taita Hills to Voi.


The Song of Maendeleo ya Wanawake

Maendeleo ya wanawake
Ni lengo letu la daima
Maendeleo ya wanawake
Ha yana budi kutunzwa

Waume wetu sikilizeni
Kwa utulivu na makini
Maendeleo ya wanawake
Ha yana budi kutunzwa.

Afya nzuri na hali nzuri
Ya watu wote wa nyumbani
Ya tegemea ya tegemea
Maendeleo ya wanawake.

Women's progress
Is forever our aim.
Women's progress
Must be our pursuit.

Our husbands, listen
Tentatively and carefully.
Women's progress
Must be our pursuit.
Good health and well-being
For everyone in the family
It depends-it depends!
On women's progress.

Women sitting and standing on shop's doorstep.

The goats.

Project Mraru Women Group
of Maendeleo ya Wanawake
Village Kulele
Sublocation Mraru
Location Mbololo
Division Voi
District Taita/Taveta
Province Coast
Country Kenya
Mraru Women Group
Box 163
Voi, Kenya

Chairman Eva Mwaluma
Vice Chairman Polina Danson
Secretary Jamima Mahalon
Vice Secretary Dricilla Nginton
Treasurer Mary Fredrick

The Mraru Women Group, its official title, is
an affiliate of the Maendeleo ya Wanawake
Organization, whose national headquarters
are at P.O. Box 44412, Nairobi, Kenya.

For general information about women's groups
in Kenya write to:
Women's Bureau
Ministry of Housing and Social Services
P.O. Box 30276
Nairobi, Kenya


National Council of Women of Kenya
P.O. Box 43741
Nairobi, Kenya



Women sitting on stoop, assistant chief in doorway of classroom;sewing machine visible inside.


Elina and the shop. As members see it, "the duka is the
child of the bus."

Design Three to Make Ready Graphics
Typography Alphabette
Photography Jill Kneerim
Printing Tartan Executive Services

We invite your comments and your ideas for projects which
might be included in future editions of SEEDS. If you would
like additional copies of this issue or would like to be
included on the SEEDS mailing list, please write to:

Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10017 U.S.A.

'.O. Box 3923 Grand Central Station. New York, N.Y. 1001

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