Economic Development

Africa Circle of Hope Foundation is committed to helping women who are living in poverty to gain the knowledge, skills and resources needed to earn an adequate income to help support their family and pay for food and school fees. ACOHF has worked with women’s groups in Kenya and Tanzania. Current programs are in rural Kenya.

Makena Textile Workshop (Meru, Kenya)

The workshop was started to improve the quality of life for the women in Meru.

The Makena Textile Workshop was started in 1979 when a group of women from churches in Meru, Kenya, joined together in an entrepreneurial business initiative to improve their quality of life, support their children, and contribute to the local economy in this poor rural area. The group of 21 women members/owners have continued the business and invested toward the purchase of the warehouse shed where they work. When we first met with them in 2007 they were struggling after years of limited sales and often no salary.

ACOHF provided funds for new equipment, boilers and an industrial sewing machine, entrepreneurship training and marketing strategies that increased sales and allowed the members to take a salary. “You have given us hope,” the women said. “This year we had a Christmas.” ACOHF has been working in partnership with the women at Makena Textile Workshop in Meru for more than seven years to help them sell their rugs and fabric and develop new products. The women have enhanced their tie-dyed products and also innovated with different types of fabrics, multicolored designs and natural dyes. They continue to make distinctive household items from these fabrics including tablecloths, napkins, placemats and drapes.

In 2013 these artisans have for the first time created intricate patterns of color on silk scarves. This initiative offers some opportunities for new partnerships and distinctive one-of-a-kind artistic products. The women have also placed their products in home goods stores in Nairobi and have delivered some limited customized work for national and international customers.

Entrepreneurship Training
ACOHF has supported entrepreneurship training not only for the women at Makena Textile Workshop and other cooperatives in rural Meru but also 38 women from the Good Samaritan Mothers group in the Mathare slums of Nairobi. Some of these women had a fruit or vegetable stand, sewed school uniforms, cooked food or had some initiative to gain income. Others wanted to start a small business. The Dean of the Faculty of Commerce at Catholic University of Eastern Africa facilitated monthly educational sessions for these women at CUEA over an entire year. These workshop classes covered basic business operations, budgets, pricing, communication, marketing strategy and customer service. The CUEA Vice Chancellor spoke at the final graduation ceremony and awarded certificates. The graduates expressed their appreciation and determination: “We can be a model for others. We can work together to improve the quality of life in Mathare.”

Rural Agricultural Development

Frequent food shortages and high prices make food security critical to nutrition and health

This ACOHF program provided women with quality seedlings and the farming skills to cultivate small vegetable gardens and banana groves, increase their supply of nutritious fresh food, provide some income from the sale of vegetables and fruit, and empower them to contribute to economic development in the area.

Small-Scale FarmingSmall scale farming
The initial project in Meru, Kenya included women from the Mugeene Women’s Entrepreneurship Group, the Kithoka Young Mothers Group and Meru Association of Positive People. Many of these women were widows and single mothers with several children. ACOHF provided funding for seedlings, fertilizer, insecticide, hose pipes, sprinklers and basic agricultural training for these groups. The women farmed land from a half-acre to two acres, which they either owned or rented.

ACOHF also supported a rural development program in Maua, Tanzania including five women’s groups in the region. Related activities included a seedling program, a poultry project and construction of a kitchen for local schools. The members sold produce to regional markets and to their neighbors.

The banana project in Meru was most successful. ACOHF provided 10 small banana plants to each of the members of the women’s cooperatives. These banana plants are continuing to yield bunches of bananas, which the women can sell for $15 to $20 each. The group members are also working with a farm distribution network to increase their market reach. This initial investment provides the women with an income for many years to come. These rural agricultural development projects are now sustainable.

Appropriate Technology for Conservation
Appropriate and sustainable technology in the Meru area must relate not only to the farming economy and needs for food security, but also to Potato cropthe conservation of environmental resources. One major concern is the loss of indigenous forests as more trees are chopped for firewood.

Greater efficiency in planting and cultivating crops, cooking techniques, and food processing and preservation is essential. Local coordinators researched different agricultural methods, field tested the technology with local women, and developed partnerships for productive development. The major focus of this ACOHF project has been in three areas: Efficient Ovens, Food Preservation and Drip Irrigation.

To develop efficient ovens, project leaders collaborated with engineers and food scientists at Meru University College of Science and Technology to develop an effective design to use less fuel. Solar oven models made of cardboard and foil were too flimsy for long-term use. Metal and wood models proved to be more expensive, bulky and not as efficient. This project group found a possible option with portable clay ovens that use 10% of the fuel of traditional ovens. The women constructed a “hot basket” that keeps hot foods at an even temperature for slow continued cooking. Classes also demonstrated the most appropriate cooking methods.

Food preservation allows women to use the abundance of seasonal fruits in the Mt. Kenya region. Wood and mesh stacked drying racks for fruits such as papaya and mango were built and distributed to women in the community. Members of the women’s groups also attended training workshops about proper techniques for food processing and preservation. Their next step is to take the dried fruits, mix them with locally grown macadamia nuts, and package them for sale.

The current drip irrigation project builds on our successful Rural Women’s Agricultural Development program. As part of sustainable technology in rural farming, the project provides drip irrigation systems, which greatly conserve water and multiply the amount of produce that can be grown on a piece of land. Bucket systems can be used on smaller plots. People in the community are taught how to use this drip irrigation system to improve their crops and sustain their yield in dry weather.

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