-By Steve Sisler, Director Maendeleo Initiative

What is courage? Sometimes a word just can’t capture the essence of the reality. Courage is the choice and willingness to confront emotional agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.

I’m sharing a story with you of what I consider true courage. I have never needed to be, and hopefully will never need to be as truly brave as Mama Kahato.

Life in rural Kenya is full of difficulties, but there may not be anything more intimidating than life here as a woman with little to no education. Prevailing culture makes having a husband necessary for survival because you have few opportunities or rights of your own, and often, little to no help from your birth family after you become an adult. So what happens when this very life support turns against you? When it turns against your child? Circumstances require a choice: stay and be beaten, abused, humiliated and demeaned, or throw yourself into the emptiness of uncertainty, knowing only that failure could literally mean death.

This is where we found Mama Kahato – taking a courageous step away from domestic abuse and her cultural “safety net”. She left knowing that with her fourth grade education, no family to rely on, and no marketable skills, she was stepping off into a void without anyone to catch her fall. Mama Kahato and her son traveled to Longonot, a small, run-down truck stop town along the 500-mile stretch of highway from the coast of Kenya into Uganda.

When our social workers found her, she was struggling to earn the few shillings needed for their daily bread. Relying on the occasional manual labor job, usually working a field, she had managed to rent a small shack for $10 a month. But even then, she refused to give up hope.

Her son, Samuel Kahato, was admitted into Cornerstone Preparatory Academy. This meant the assurance of both an education through high school, and a holistic support system to allow Samuel to blossom into his full potential. Suddenly breakfast, lunch, and two snacks a day filled Samuel’s shrunken belly 6 days a week. Laughter with his fellow classmates filled his days as he embraced this new environment, learning character traits that will shape his future self.

Through Cornerstone’s community development project, Mama Kahato was given the opportunity to secure a better safety net for her family. She joined Cornerstone’s local table banking group, contributing $1 a week from her manual labor jobs. These groups, guided by Cornerstone’s Maendeleo team, create a savings and loan system in which contributing members build a group capital that can be loaned to the same members for various purposes. Mama Kahato applied for, and received, a $50 loan to start a business. Startup capital in hand, she purchased large sacks and a hanging scale with a hook. She ventured out on foot to knock on doors in Longonot and the surrounding villages. At every stop, she would inquire if the house had any scrap metal she could purchase for 5 cents/pound. No amount of metal was too small, and eventually, as the days and miles passed, one sack would fill, and then another. Carrying several full sacks of metal, she boarded public transportation on the crowded, hour-long trip to Nairobi. Her destination? A scrap metal market where her scrap metal would be purchased for 13 cents/pound.

Now, because of her perseverance and true courage, Mama Kahato earns $70 to $100 each month. She is excited about growing her business and is already looking into renting storage space and sharing the expense of hiring a pickup truck for transporting scrap metal to Nairobi. She is creating a sustainable future and watching her dreams for her family become a reality.

For more information about Maendeleo and how you can be involved with our community development projects, click here or contact Steve Sisler at Ssisler@naomisvillage.org.