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Making a Difference: Kenyan Woman Mentors Community Groups, Teaches Basic Skills

Poor women in western Kenya often struggle to support their families with almost no resources. Many have formed income-generating groups to be able to do so. In our latest Making a Difference series we meet one woman, Sherry Otuoma, who teaches these groups basic principles and skills on how to raise themselves out of poverty.

Sherry Otuoma, Kenyan community volunteer. "If you do not keep records, you might think that you are gaining, but you are losing. Is it good to gain or to lose?" she asked.

Sherry Otuoma stresses the importance of keeping accurate, up-to-date records. She wants to make sure that members of Namwitsula Widows and Widowers' Group are accountable to one another.

Otuoma is a volunteer with Heifer International - Kenya, a non-government organization that supports the projects of 82 community groups here in western Kenya and others nationwide.

Accountability is one of several principles Otuoma teaches some five groups like Namwitsula each month. Members have learned to make collective decisions, resolve conflicts and form long-term plans.

"Before, they were not aware how they can come together as a team. They did not know how they can start [a] business," she said. "Now, if they come together as a group, you train them, and now they can start their own income-generating activities."

These activities include milk production, organic farming, and brick-making.

After the training, Otuoma conducts follow-up visits to see how members are doing. She says she encourages group members to plan their own projects. "You can just go to the group to guide them but not to give them your objectives, because it is not you who want to achieve that, it is them that want to achieve that," she said.

Namwitsula Widows and Widowers' Group is one of Otuoma's big success stories. In four years ago, members have more than tripled their maize yields. Their income has risen to an average of more than 10 dollars a day from less than 50 cents a day. And some have bought solar panels and wells.

Many members are raising children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in addition to their own children.

Around 60 percent of people in western Kenya are said to be living below the poverty line. Otuoma has been there. She had four children shortly after getting married at 20. She had to feed and educate them after her husband took a second wife.

In 1991, Otuoma received a cow from Heifer International - Kenya. From milk sales she was able to send two of her four children to school. She now supports her grandson among others.

Otuoma says that she uses her own experience to encourage group members.
"I tell them, you people, you can change. You people, you will benefit. You people, you cannot believe that one day you will be the people helping other people," she stated.

Otuoma has been a full-time volunteer trainer with Heifer International - Kenya since 2000, planting the seeds that will enable women in western Kenya to grow and flourish.