Portrait of a Village: Bringing Basic Financial Services to Rural Kenya

Hop on a bus heading out of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and you'll soon learn one reason why formal savings and lending opportunities are often hard to come by for women and men living in poor, rural villages. The further out you go, the fewer banks there are – until you get to a village like Thungururu, where there's no bank at all.


According to Martin Givachu (R), a local teacher who is chairman of the Thungururu Savings Trust Group established by Five Talents in partnership with Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), the village was the last settlement within the region to receive a proper electricity supply.

The lack of infrastructure and development in Thungururu is due, in part, to the fact that the most profitable cash crops – like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and flowers – are not grown here. Martin said the villagers mostly rely on subsistence farming, growing fruit and grain and rearing poultry on a small scale.

Without the savings trust group that Five Talents has helped to establish, villagers would have to travel by two matatu (minibuses) in order to make use of banking facilities.

What's more, once at the bank, the villagers would have to pay fees both to set up an account and to make a withdrawal.

''This is a big problem here," said Martin, "because in addition to the time spent traveling to Thika or Matu, it would cost 600 KES (US $7) [to set up an account] – money which villagers do not have available."

Tiny Accounts Unprofitable for Traditional Banks

Banks in Kenya – and in many countries throughout the developing world – do not like to handle small accounts, largely because of the expense of running them, write MIT Professors Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo in their book, Poor Economics.

"Deposit-taking institutions are heavily regulated, for good reason – the government is worried about fly-by-night operators running away with people's savings – but this means that managing each account requires bank employees to fill out some amount of paperwork, which can quickly become too burdensome, relative to any money that the bank can hope to make from these tiny accounts."

In the future, Five Talents hopes to upgrade the savings trust in Thungururu to a full community bank, which would offer a wider range of banking services within this marginalised rural community.

''Not only would this benefit our current 105 active members, but we could also expand our operation and serve the whole community," said Martin.

Below, you'll find a selection of photographs taken by Adam Dickens that show the beauty and the poverty of this village in rural Kenya:


The rural village of Thungururu, Kenya was the last place in its region to receive proper access to electricity.


Rose, a member of the Thungururu Savings Trust Group, sells garments and shoes at a market stall. To purchase much of the stock in her stall, she took out a loan of 20,000 KES (US $234). She estimates it will take her about 10 months to repay the loan. Without it, she said she would not have been able to open the market stall and provide a livelihood for herself and her young son.


This is one of the garments that Rose has on display in her stall.


A boy without shoes runs through a field in Thungururu.

UPDATE: New Community Bank Opened in Thurunguru

Five Talents is pleased to announce that the Village of Thurunguru has now successfully opened the first Community-Owned Bank in the region:

Special thanks to Five Talents UK Program Manager Rachel Lindley. Photography by Adam Dickens.