Prior to getting involved with Hand in Hand Eastern Africa, Benedetta Kalondu, a mother of two in her forties, was one of many women in her area just surviving on casual jobs. Today, Benedetta runs a small basket weaving business which produces an income of KES 7,000 (just over US$ 80) per month, employs two neighbors in the business and has earned the respect of her community.

Starting out

Benedetta lives in a hamlet near Tala, a small town of around 200,000 people 56km east of Nairobi. Dry terraced fields cover every hill and subsistence farming sustains the families living here. However, the arid conditions mean that crops fail and famine regularly strikes the local community.
Looking back, Benedetta reflects that the first step on her journey to becoming a business woman was also the hardest. There were no immediate apparent benefits and no hand-outs available at the start of the Hand in Hand Eastern Africa training. Instead, Benedetta and her friends were asked to start to plan their daily cash flow and to save, moving away from a lifetime’s habit of living ‘hand-to-mouth’.

Finding a business niche

The business module of the training made Benedetta realize that what she had always thought of as an enjoyable hobby – making baskets – could in fact be turned into a money-making activity. As many types of baskets were already readily available in the local market, her Hand in Hand Eastern Africa trainer, Mary Katoni, encouraged Benedetta to think of a way to differentiate her products.

Benedetta spotted an opportunity to rework discarded silver foil paper into bright, shiny silver baskets. After showing her group a few prototypes, they encouraged her to follow up on the idea. Benedetta took out a loan of KES 10,000 from the group fund to buy and transport raw materials. Two of her fellow group members have since been trained by Benedetta in the technique, allowing her to expand her production. Marketing is the biggest priority for Benedetta as she lives in a remote hamlet, so she regularly walks with all her stock to the nearby Tala town market.

A path out of poverty

What Benedetta appreciates most in the Hand in Hand Eastern Africa approach is the support of her group, which she feels has alternatively challenged and encouraged her in her business ideas. She also learned from other members’ example to grow vegetables on her ‘shamba’ (ancestral piece of land) to reduce her living costs. “I thought, if Alice can do this, I can also”. The group has set aside a welfare fund, which has funded the hospital bills when one of the embers was ill. To reward those members who invest in education, the group also contributes KES 1,500 for all members’ children’s final exam fees once a year.

With Benedetta additional income, her family can now easily cover their daily needs and school fees are no longer a struggle. Benedetta’s older son – who had missed an entire school year as his parents were unable to pay for his fees – will finally complete his final school year this year.