26 letters of the alphabet changing the course for women in Narok

Imagine not being able to read text messages on your mobile phone. Your children come home from school and at the end of the day you cannot supervise or correct their homework, or read their progress reports at the end of the term.

Yet this is the reality for a majority of women in some rural areas in Kenya. While efforts are being made globally to reduce literacy rates, data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) indicates that at least 750 million youth and adults still cannot read and write, the majority of these being women in sub Saharan Africa. The low socio-economic status of women in the Maasai community in Kenya puts them in the vulnerable group of the population that is likely to have low literacy skills. This excludes them from fully participating in their families and communities.

By the age of 28, a majority of young people already have their professional goals well planned. Most have already completed their high school education. An even gradually growing number are way into their university education by the age of 28.

But this has not been the case for 28-year-old Nariku Kuyo from the Maasai community. Nariku first walked into a school classroom in 2017. Nariku, a mother of two, is the third wife in a polygamous marriage. “I was a housewife and solely depended on my husband to provide for me and my two children. But this was not practical because my husband also has to provide for my co-wives and their children. I asked my husband if could begin a business so that I could contribute to the family income. It took some time but he eventually gave me his blessing. He sold one sheep and gave me the capital to begin my business.”


AAH Kenya adult literacyNariku Kuyo at her stall on market day at Naikarra centre in Narok County


This is how Nariku’s journey to economic empowerment began. She and 337 other women in Narok West sub-County who graduated from an adult learners’ class run by Action Africa Help International (AAH-I) on 6 September 2018. These women embody this year’s theme ‘Literacy and Skills Development’ of the UN World Literacy Day marked globally every 8 September. These women successfully completed a 6-month training on numeracy and literacy skills for social and economic empowerment.

All the 337 women aged between 15 and 69 years went into a classroom for the first time in their lives in 2017. “This was a dream I held dearly. I can now hold a pencil and write some letters of the alphabet and some numbers. I have waited all my life for this,” says 69-year-old Naatana Karbolo. The basic, adult and continuing education classes are facilitated by AAH-I using the REFLECT methodology. REFLECT is a training technique that provides a space for a group of people to meet and discuss issues relevant to them. Participants choose the topics themselves, according to their own priorities and are supported by a facilitator. The technique uses a range of participatory methods. There are 20 REFLECT Circles in Narok West sub County.

62-year-old Noorkishili Ene Nchoe (centre) on her graduation on 6 September 2018. With AAH-I’s Training Officer Stephen Outa (L) and Community Mobilizer Amos Matirong (R)


The impact that literacy and numeracy skills is having on their lives and in the community is appreciated when you visit the Friday market day at Naikarra Centre. Most of the women from the REFLECT Circles have businesses at this market.

Watching Nariku selling her cereal stock on market day it is heartwarming. “I tried to do small businesses but it was difficult as I could not tell what was coming in and what was going out. I would have goods sent to me from Narok town to Olderkesi, but I was unable to identify my merchandise because I could not read my name,” she says. Her classmate, 45-year-old Nolari Ng’otiek, says she has now learnt marketing skills, including how to display her stock at the market and how to negotiate for better prices from suppliers.

For 26-year-old Noonkokwa Enole Karia, the classes have enabled her to better understand the grades and class positions that her four children have attained in school. “I am hoping that in future, I will be able to comfortably help my children do their homework,” says Noonkokwa.

“AAH-I is one of the organizations supporting the Narok County Government in championing the actualization of the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4”, says AAH-I’s Executive Director Dr Caroline Kisia. AAH-I supports a commitment to ensure that all youth and adults, especially girls and women, achieve relevant and recognized functional literacy and numeracy proficiency levels and acquire life skills, and that they are provided with adult learning, education and training opportunities.

It is amazing just how the alphabet is changing the lives of these women.

Financial Inclusion for Refugees

At least 65.3 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of natural disasters, persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 21.3 million of these displaced people are refugees, 29% of them hosted in Africa.

Refugees in Africa, as is the case globally, don’t travel far from their home countries. It is estimated that about 86% of them settle in low- and middle-income countries close to their home countries. The top six refugee destinations in Africa are Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Chad and South Sudan. The majority of people fleeing the crisis in Yemen have settled in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. It is estimated that 2,800 people arrived in Uganda every day from South Sudan in March 2017, bringing the total to just over 1 million refugees at the end of April 2017. Burundi and Rwanda are hosting refugees fleeing violence, rape and killings by militias in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the large refugee camps in Africa is the Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana county in Kenya, home to at least 154,000 people as at December 2016. When it was set up in the early 1990s, Kakuma was thought to be a temporary settlement. About 20 years later, and with evolving priorities of funding partners, there is need for modifying the support for refugees and host communities to enable them, especially those in the working-age group (ages 18-59), to be more self-reliant.

Shukurani Hota Biclere (L) with an apprentice at her tailoring business in Kakuma

The UNHCR’s Global Trends report indicates that the proportion of refugee populations in the working-age group was at 47% in 2015. Humanitarian actors in refugee-hosting countries have for a long time contemplated the best support for refugees – in a way that can sustainably improve their quality of their lives. But recently the attention is being focused on this working-age group, with new approaches to protect their lives and dignity being taken into account. One such approach is models that offer financial products tailored for refugees.

The World Bank describes financial inclusion as ‘means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way’. Financial inclusion is considered significant in realizing for 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – No poverty (SDG 1), Zero hunger (SDG 2), Good health and well-being (SDG 3), Quality education (SDG 4), Clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) and Affordable energy (SDG 7), Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), Industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9) and Reducing inequalities (SDG 10) and Peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).

On one hand, refugees are in desperate need of opportunities to be self-reliant. However, given their circumstances, it is not always given that they would have complete identification or guarantors or collateral to access financial products in the countries they have settled in. These factors have led to the perception that refugees are a financial risk. On the other hand, financial service providers are now assessing the risks, identifying potential advantages, and are looking for ways to best serve refugee communities.

According to UNHCR statistics for December 2016, inadequate livelihood opportunities in the Kakuma Refugee Camp render 37.7% of the working-age group of refugees vulnerable to socio-economic shocks in the camp. In Kenya, organizations such as Action Africa Help International (AAH-I), in partnership with UNHCR, have from 2015 been implementing an innovative model that allows entrepreneurs in Kakuma refugee camp, Turkana county, access business capital. Through a private sector partnership with Equity Bank, refugee entrepreneurs can access structured institutionalized micro-finance services. Group and individual businesses can receive between KES. 5,000 and KES. 100,000. So far 67 businesses ranging from tailoring, bakeries, vegetable farming and fishmongers have benefitted from the revolving fund. One of the key characteristics of humanitarian work is its impulsive nature, usually responding to emergencies. Offering financial products to refugees is seen as one way of making the sector’s interventions more responsive and sustainable.

Shukurani Hota Biclere, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of the beneficiaries of funds for business startups. She arrived at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2012, already with tailoring skills she had acquired from her home in Uvira, south of Kivu. She qualified for an AAH-I loan of KES. 100,000 for her business start-up in June 2016. Almost one year later, Biclere now boasts an average of 40 clients per month, and has employed 7 staff, all refugees within the camp. As at March 2016, she had repaid KES. 72,000 of the loan.

Biclere showcases benefits of this type of conditional loans – building credit-worthiness of refugee businesses, the creation of employment for fellow refugees and host community members and the stimulation of the local economy through expansion and diversification of businesses.

For those refugees with entrepreneurial experience or talent, small business loans are one way of getting them integrated back into normal life. As we mark the World Refugee Day on June 20th, we honor the courage and resilience of refugees like Biclere.