News / People

Alum’s micro-lending initiative sends Kenya children to school

When mothers with HIV/AIDS asked Karambu Ringera (PhD human communication studies ’07) for help to send their children — who would soon be orphans — to school, she didn’t just listen. She made a plan, rallied friends, raised funds and has since sent nearly 1,000 children to school in her home country of Kenya. In 2010, three college students supported by Ringera’s education fund for orphans graduated with bachelor’s degrees.

But, the staggering number of orphans in Kenya continues to rise.

“There are 1.4 million orphans in Kenya and 2.4 million adults living with HIV/AIDS who will leave orphans when they die,” Ringera says. “We can’t institutionalize all of those children in orphanages. So I’ve started thinking ‘what would be a proactive response?’”

The devastating news of infection combined with the overwhelming challenges of poverty make many women want to give in and give up, Ringera explains.

“How do we keep them alive longer so they don’t leave their kids too early?”

To Ringera, the solution meant addressing their poverty.

She began helping women make jewelry out of recycled paper and watched as the projects created sustainability, confidence and possibility for the women.

“The cottage industries help create income to have good food and greater access to medication,” she explains. “Once a woman gets nutrition, medication and income, she thrives. It builds her self esteem — and her confidence. HIV/AIDS is no longer the killer disease that it was.”

When Mary came to Ringera in 2004, she was a single mother with AIDS who couldn’t afford to put her daughters through primary school. Ringera taught her to make laundry detergent to sell and pay for their education.

Mary also joined the jewelry-making group. With the money she made on the jewelry, she bought chickens. She sold the eggs and a few of the chickens to buy a beehive. With the income of her successful detergent and chicken projects she bought a bicycle to increase her distribution. Then, people started asking her for bar soap, so Mary learned and added another product to her growing enterprise.

“Now she has become this awesome entrepreneur and women’s groups are inviting her to come and talk and inspire them to start their own projects,” Ringera says.

Community-sponsored initiatives like Mary’s have long been a part of the grassroots work Ringera does through the nonprofit she founded, International Peace Initiatives.

But this fall, Ringera upped the ante and created a more formalized micro-lending program called Friends of Amani that will enable more women to support their families through cottage-industry projects like jewelry-making, weaving, soap-making, beekeeping and raising chickens, goats, rabbits and fish.

“Friends of Amani is my way of creating a fund that can give these women loans to develop the kind of initiatives that will take them to the next level of financial security and enterprise.”

So how does it work? Instead of “re-inventing the wheel,” Ringera decided to use KIVA, a web-based nonprofit that specializes in mircofinance loans. Through the KIVA website, people can donate directly to the Friends of Amani fund. Women write proposals and submit loan applications, and KIVA approves loan requests that meet the requirements. Loans are issued to the women and then repaid back to KIVA, which then transfers the money to the lender.

Lenders can also give a “donation” instead of a loan. The entrepreneur still repays the “loan,” but instead of the repayment going back to the lender, it will go into the Friends of Amani portfolio to support other projects.

“It is a way to support these women so they live longer and so that we stop this ‘churning out’ of orphans,” Ringera affirms. “There is no nation that has developed through a welfare system. People need to create their own solutions. Otherwise, ideas from outside will not change the circumstances of their life. If the poor have access to small loans, they can take charge of their lives and create their own sustainability.”

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