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The farming village of Mtambula sits in the highland region of Iringa, Tanzania. There is a population of roughly 4,000 people, and like many places in East Africa, this is set to expand rapidly. At the time of writing, more than half of the community is school-aged.
In 2015, Five Talents partner in Tanzania, Mama Bahati Foundation, identified Mtambula as an area for expansion. After a period of sensitization, they started a Trust Group with just five members. The program quickly attracted interest, and membership has spiked as the women begin to recommend the group to their friends and families. At the moment, average savings per person range from as little as Tsh 40,000 (about $18) to Tsh 100,000 ($45), which demonstrates the level of poverty in the area.
Elizabeth Sanga joined the group after being persuaded by her neighbor. When asked why she joined, Elizabeth simply says that she was easily converted "due to the transformation I observed in my neighbors."
"Before I joined MBF group I suffered from a shortage of capital, [I was] out of stock and was about to close the business. Our village is so far from town that financial institutions feel reluctant to provide financial services. We used to borrow money from money lenders with higher interest rates. But now we thank God for MBF because now we can get a loan with a very affordable interest rate."
Elizabeth is a 26 year-old mother of three and a savvy businesswomen. Her children Josephine, Boniface, and Godfrey range from nine months to three years old, and when a member of the MBF team interviewed her, Elizabeth was also looking after her sister's two children.
Elizabeth's eldest child, Josephine, has just started primary school. Twenty-odd years ago, Elizabeth was doing the same, but unlike her mother, Josephine will progress well past primary school. Elizabeth said that she doesn't "have plans for further education" but would rather "make sure" that her children receive higher education levels than she did.
After getting two weeks of pre-loan training I received my first loan in March 2015, It was Tsh 200,000 ($90) The loan was used to purchase stocks for my shop. I even remember what it was, 5 cartons of bar soap, 1bag of sugar, 1 bag of wheat flour, and other small retails stocks."
After a few years of saving small amounts and taking business loans, the Trust Group has had a tangible impact on Elizabeth's life. After one meeting, she ticks off on her hand the improvements, which range from the quality of her family's diet - which now consists of more than two meals a day - to her abilities to pay for all school costs, like uniforms, books, and other school requirements. The improvements are not limited to her domestic situation, business is going well, and Elizabeth is looking to expand her operations:
"My plan in future is to be the wholesaler in our village, I want to be a supplier to all of the retail shops within Mtambula and the nearby villages."
Special thanks to the MBF team and Five Talents UK for this interview and the accompanying photos.
Sampson grew up in an agricultural community amidst fields of maize, coffee, pineapples, and beans.
While there are a few larger plantations in the region, most residents of Sampson's community are small-scale farmers. They struggle to eke out a living and meet basic financial needs. Many keep poultry or livestock to feed their families. A few sell in the local markets, but many business opportunities are yet to be explored. Development and escaping poverty are on everyone's minds.
With few formal jobs, lack of capital, and limited financial services, many young men in the region don't think small businesses can work. They turn to crime. Unemployment and alcohol abuse are rampant.
Sampson's story took a different turn. At the encouragement of friends and his local church, Sampson joined a Five Talents savings group. Here he learned financial management and business skills. He also gained access to savings and loans.
With advice from his group leader, Sampson took a loan of 50,000 Kenya Shillings ($500) from the community savings and used it to buy a small business for animal feeds.
He began sourcing and selling products to small farmers, quickly paying back his loan and using profit to further develop his business. Many of his neighbors were losing animals to disease or malnutrition. Sampson hopes to help these farmers protect their assets and strengthen their community.
Last year, Sampson took a larger loan of 120,000 Kenya Shillings ($1,200). He has been faithfully paying back and continuing to grow his business. Sampson has also been using his profits to construct and develop at home.
"I hope to do big things through our bank", he says.
The Thurunguru Community Bank is the third community bank opened in partnership with Five Talents and the Diocese of Thika. Its members now have access to a variety of financial services including savings accounts and educational, business, and emergency loans. The community bank is a source of pride and signals new opportunities for the residents of Thurunguru.
Learn more about Five Talents programs in Kenya and help more entrepreneurs like Sampson.
Photos (from top) by Joseph Paulini: Sampson welcomes bank and community leaders to his shop, Sampson serves customers, A collection of animal feeds ready for sale inside the shop, Members of the Thurunguru Community Bank Make a Transaction.
"My face portrays the happiness from my heart because I simply feel prestige being a member of Mama Bahati. It was a bit hard for me to join MBF as all know that the Maasai are not business people by nature."
Katito (36) joined our Tanzanian partner organization, Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF), in 2014. As a women and a member of the Maasai tribe, Katito suffers from a wide-spread ethnic stereotyping that has to a large degree been internalized by the Maasai themselves.
The Maasai have been nomadic pastoralists for thousands of years, and have had little opportunity or need to start small business. Now, as grazing lands are increasingly depleted, entrepreneurship is becoming a necessity. Despite the fact that times are changing, the Maasai and in particular the female members of the tribe are still seen as poor businesswomen.
Katito's Trust Group consists of just five members located in Izazi Senta, 56km from Iringa town. Three years ago, her husband left town to find work, and hasn't been seen of since. Now, Katito is focused on covering her children's school fees.
"The main business I am doing is food, but sometimes I supply fresh milk around the streets. For the short period I've been in MBF I managed to pay the school fees and other expenses for my three children who are studying at primary school. The business has been expanding day by day."
In 2014, when Katito joined her local Trust Group, she had just Tsh 50,000 ($23). Since then, she has diligently saved small amounts which has, in turn, unlocked loan capital. As with all of the Five Talents programmes in Tanzania and Kenya, Katito's group received financial literacy training and business advice from the local Five Talents partners. Two years on, her savings have increased threefold.
"I am not scared to ask for the much bigger loans because; MBF officers have been giving us much training on how to manage and develop our small businesses. Through the profit earned, I want to purchase a piece land so that I can build a good house for me and my children. Through MBF and their partners, I am sure my plans will became true.
It's my advice for other Maasai ladies not to fear of taking loans for the business, the life has been changing, I am no longer dependent, I can do anything by myself. May God bless MBF and their partners to continue supporting low-income women in Tanzania."
Learn more about our programs in Tanzania.