There are over 1,500 orphans in Korogocho, a desperately impoverished slum area outside Nairobi with over 50,000 inhabitants. Our first step is to visit each of the 11 villages in Korogocho and speak with the village elders, NGO’s and all others caring for orphans in the village. We then hold community meetings and announce our micro loan program for orphan caretakers/guardians. Once all parties have verified the orphans and guardians, participants form into groups of 30-40 according to village.
Each group then goes through an extensive 10 week training program which explains micro loan basics, teaches business skills, and assists the guardians in developing business plans. All of them are also asked to contribute to their new personal account which helps them gain commitment and learn savings skills. For many of them it is the first time they have had a savings account and this is a valuable tool in gaining confidence and discipline.
All the orphan caretakers in Korogocho, are encouraged to participate in Ujamaa. This is what makes us unique. We do not discriminate against those that are aged, ailing or have no prior business experience. Because of the AIDS crisis, many people in the “middle generation” have died which means many of our orphans are being cared for by very old and sometimes very frail grandmothers.
All the orphan caretakers are then assessed based on 12 different factors including: age, health and prior business experience. Stronger guardians are paired with those that are less capable to form intimate groups of 10 that will advise and support each other throughout the 6 month loan repayment term. The original loans are quite small, 5,000 KSh or $75 USD. A second loan for 10,000 KSh/$150 is given at the end of the 6 month repayment period, then a third which is double the second etc. But all 10 group members must repay the loan or no additional loans are given. Since we have groups which mix stronger with less capable guardians, the stronger are very motivated to assist the weaker members with mentoring, resource sharing and encouragement.
In the same way that new American Immigrant Communities, Italians, Poles, Jews etc. lived in proximity and participated economically in buying and selling goods and services to one another, these Ujamaa groups are rewarded for buying and selling from one another. Ujamaa also has a robust “bulk purchasing” program that members are allowed to participate in. Wholesale -cooperative buying of cloth, fish, flour and produce enables members to eliminate the “middle-man” and save up to 35% when they purchase food or materials for their businesses.
Ujamaa loan officers, field workers and health care workers offer continued regular assistance with the businesses and monitor the living situation and well being of the orphans throughout the training, lending and repayment process. We want to be sure that both our guardians and our orphans remain healthy and strong so that they can live healthy and productive lives in spite of the many difficulties they face in Korogocho.
We have now made loans to over 500 orphan guardians, which represents the care and education of over 1,500 orphans. Now instead of Ujamaa buying school uniforms or running a feeding program, these guardians are able to use the profits from their businesses to provide for the orphans in their care, as well as all the other children in their household. These small businesses are the vehicle that carries this community of caregivers from dependency, to the confidence and well being that all of us feel when we are working to successfully provide for ourselves and our families. In the process, the entire community becomes connected, socially and economically. Which we call in Kiswahili: UJAMAA!