It is 9 pm in Kenya, my phone rings and it is Franciska on the other end. She is one of the recipients of the ‘flow fund’ grants that I made through the Pollination Project’s East Africa Hub. She asks how I am and proceeds to inform me that she is away for 3 days looking for mats made of papyrus reeds to sell in her village. With the poor maize harvest this season, Franciska and her group are diversifying their income sources by selling locally made papyrus reed mats. How amazing it is to see how people hither to considered helpless can be so creative and think outside the box when connected with the resources they need to create change!
I feel that my mission of seeding change in my community is accomplished when I know that I don’t need to tell Franciska what to do. She knows all the challenges affecting members of her community and working with fellow widows, they have all the answers a well. Once every other week, I pay her a visit at her home and I’m always excited to hear her share about how her business is doing, the challenges she faces and plans they have to improve.
The Pollination Project grant has changed her life. No longer is she the old grandma who was once looked down upon. With the proceeds from the maize and mat selling business they can put a meal on the table every day, bank their money on mobile phone, thanks to mobile technology M-Pesa, and pay school fees for their grandchildren.
My heart is filled with inexplicable joy seeing Franciska wake up each day with a purpose, to see her business grow, her grandchildren go to school to get education, and her community transformed. All this has been made possible just because, although she can neither read nor write, TPP believed in her dream and ability to champion change she believes in within her own community and saw the potential for her to make a difference despite her old age.
Somewhere In Obunga slum, I meet Josiah Oketch and his wife Jackline, the proprietors of Kasarani Alpha Nursery School project supporting orphans and vulnerable children in Kisumu. Our paths crossed a year ago when he worked with other masons to build classrooms at Akili School. He shares about his struggles and asks how I can help him. I ask him to call his wife who is the head teacher so that I can talk to them both. At a glance, I can’t help noticing that they have so many pupils who attend classes in substandard dilapidated classrooms.
Although they operate a private school that seeks to offer quality education for children in Obunga slum, the infrastructure they use as classrooms for the children are no doubt worse than those at the government schools. Their classrooms are congested, with dirt floors as they cling to high number of students who they hope would pay school fees to support the school.
As the founder of Akili School, I have seen remarkable benefits of gradual growth. I quickly point out to them the benefits of starting small and growing gradually, using Akili School as an epitome of this success. Despite operating the school for over 6 years, they have no online presence. I am shocked at this revelation. At this point, I pull out my computer and begin the journey of showing them Akili School Facebook page and taking them through the process of establishing a strong online presence and using it as a powerful tool to share stories of their impact with the world, connecting with and building lifelong relationships with their donors and keeping supporters up to date with project activities. I see their faces light up with immense hope and expectation when I mention that pollination project org believes in local change-makers like them and if they can identify their most pressing need, I can give them a flow fund.
After failing to secure external funding in 6 years, all Josiah says is, ‘” you have helped me my friend. I will improve my project. Just connect me to this people and you will see. I want to make the classrooms better. I don’t know where to look for funds. I have really tried since 2012. I have never received any funds.”
I then ask him to fill out the flow fund information forms and he is on his way to his first external grant, his first TPP seed grant and his first real opportunity to connect him with the resources he is in dire need of to create change in his community.
When he calls me next, the tone in his voice tells it all, he has received the good news that TPP is sending money to his account and he is so full of hope for a better future for the children he supports. And he is still coming to terms with his first external grant and the first proof that someone else believes in his ability to lead change in his community. Lack of funds almost compelled him to quit the school and start a general household goods shop business. But now the grant has reinforced his belief in what he does.
I meet many people like Francisca and Josiah every day. My house has become an office where community members with visions come to seek for info on funding and how they can make their projects better. Many of them have 3 to 4 year old projects, have no social media presence, have no websites, have never received external funding and have no one to vouch for them. I wonder and ask them how they are managing to do their work without funds, and they tell me they are just surviving.
I listen to their brilliant ideas, explain to them TPP regular grant, Pay it forward loan, and flow fund. You should see the looks of hope and optimism in their faces when they leave after our meeting, their eyes light up when they know that someone believes in them, that they have one real chance of securing funding to make their dreams possible.
The East Africa Hub is truly making a difference for visionaries like Francisca and Josiah. Just $500 can make a difference for them, $1000 has double the impact.
Working as East Africa Hub Fellow, TPP has inspired me to think beyond my immediate project and look for ways to help individual change makers in my community and enhance community wide change. This opportunity has opened my eyes to see myself as a bridge that connects change makers to the resources they need to create the change that they have seen in their hearts.
My goal now is to start and establish a community resource hub in my community where the different visionaries can meet regularly and access resources and trainings that can help them leverage their impact in the community.