Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ribbon of Hope Self Help Group, Nakuru

Having come all the way to Nakuru to work for an NGO that turned out not to have any projects at present, I was lucky enough to end up working with some people who have a lot going on. Ribbon of Hope is a community based self help organisation. It was initially set up to work with HIV positive people but quickly evolved to support people who are in need of support for whatever reason.

Ribbon of Hope works with local self help groups, advising on and helping with relevant training, sources of finance, income generation schemes and ways of cutting household costs. Members of various local groups are engaged in producing food and other goods and services. Ribbon of Hope has raised the money to rent land and cover the costs of setting up a number of projects. They work closely with the local support groups, ensuring that everything is monitored and controlled adequately and they even go out into the fields to dig, plant and harvest crops.

At present, Ribbon of Hope is trying out new ways of making and saving money, such as solar cookers, fuel briquettes made from organic waste, homemade, reusable sanitary towels and various other techniques. The aim is to find things that are very cheap or completely free and that people with any level of education can avail of. Some people will only want to use the cookers, briquettes and sanitary towels. But others will want to learn how to make them and then sell them on to others.

In addition to these activities, people are involved in more traditional ways of making and saving money, such as growing maize and beans, rearing hens and cows and making jewellery and basketry products. In this way, people who work hard are more or less guaranteed some money, food or other goods. But the additional activities are intended to branch out from things that most self help groups are already doing, and to find some highly sustainable activities that have multiple benefits for those involved. Ribbon of Hope are researching and experimenting with anything that looks like it might help with their work.

It is important to find income generation and cost saving activities that are free or very low cost for two reasons: money is in short supply, pretty much everywhere; but, more importantly, many people in countries like Kenya realise that they need to become more self reliant. Many of the poorer people here have been depending on unsustainable sources of income and support for a long time. They are tired of having to go around to one NGO after another to take advantage of what usually turns out to be a short term hand out to tide them over from one crisis to the next. They don't see Ribbon of Hope as another source of handouts but as a way of getting away from handouts.

In the long term, the poorest people will need to find ways to raise their own living standards. They know that the huge amounts of aid money that come into the country usually end up in the pockets of those who are already well off, politicians, business people, churches and big NGOs. Kenyans have witnessed this over and over again and they don't expect it to change. All that the most active members of these local self help groups need is some initial assistance, in the form of small amounts of money and some good advice. They do the hard work themselves.

Sadly, there are people who are neither productive not supportive. Some are even outrightly destructive. So those who put a lot of work into improving their standard of living also need people to advocate for change, so that they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work. But as they become more self reliant and better able to avoid the effects of those who don't want them to succeed, they should also become better able to advocate for themselves. This function of advocating for and supporting self help groups is one of the most vital roles that Ribbon of Hope plays.

We are interested in hearing from other groups, especially community based groups, who are involved in low cost, sustainable projects that can be implemented regardless of levels of education or skills. In turn, we are happy to tell anyone who is interested about our experiences as we go along. I'll be documenting much of our day to day work on this blog but please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.


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