Mama Mariam

Mama Mariam


From: Tiwi, Kwale County

Interview date & place: 1 April 2016, Mombasa

Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Kate Lines

Original language: Swahili

My name is Mama Mariam Juma Mwacharero. I am Muungano’s Coast region convener. I live in Kwale County and I am a member of Tiwi network. Muungano started off around March 2009, here in the Coast region.

What motivates you?

What I mainly do at the moment is motivate my peers, who are still coming up. I have made it my aim to motivate them and give them hope of succeeding. To motivate them to press on even, in circumstances where they may be lacking. I encourage them to believe that their present circumstances will change for the better. This is what I do, and so whenever I see a discouraged person, I try to uplift them.

Many know me, from all around, for my work in mobilization. There was an incident in Kashani where pieces of land were grabbed: I went there and mobilized the people from all around, and now we have a big group who have joined us. People from Nairobi come to consult me on matters to do with Muungano, because of my broad understanding of the activities that happen within the movement.

When I was helping with housing improvements, I was able to motivate members and urge them to dedicate themselves to the movement, since it had also enabled me to achieve all that I had. What mainly helped us were the savings, and up to now I continue to save. I often tell people, unity brings forth opportunities.

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

The movement started off at Ujamaa Center, with members from Mnazi Moja. We began interacting with members of Muungano, and later Omondi Okoyo introduced us to Akiba Mashinani Trust. Omondi Okoyo worked with an organization from the United States known as Give Us Wings. He also introduced us to the federation with an aim of encouraging us to join Muungano. Many of us came together at Ujamaa Center and, after a series of discussions, we formed six networks: Tiwi, Likoni, Mombasa Island, Mombasa North, Mombasa West, and Kilifi.

We formed 64 saving schemes, all together with 2,245 members: 1,462 women and 783 men. When we started saving, we collectively had 1.8 million Kenyan Shillings. We continued our regular meetings as we were guided on how to carry out our activities within the movement. We also taught and mentored other groups via our saving schemes and networks.

We held around 150 local exchanges, where we visited one another. For instance, Mombasa North network would go for an exchange visit in Kwale, or people from Kwale would go to Kilifi. We also had 37 national exchange visits. At first, many people from Mombasa weren’t familiar with other parts of Kenya, but with the national exchange visits they learned about various regions in Kenya. Exchange visits motivated many people to join – although some people joined for other reasons. Shelter improvements and acquiring land were our top agenda items. We were also involved in looking after orphans in the community. Muungano supported us in all our projects. We started a sewer and water project, and some people from Mombasa went to Kisumu to learn about this issue. Some went to Nakuru to learn about housing. Others went to Nairobi to learn about slum upgrading. Now, we are grateful for the efforts to improve housing facilities here on the coast.

There have also been international exchanges. Many of us were not familiar with East Africa, but through Muungano the international exchanges we have been able to learn about Uganda and Tanzania, and others have visited Burundi and Malawi. Through these exchanges we could see what our peers from various regions and countries have achieved. This helps us to keep track of our progress.

How have things changed over time?

Muungano has helped us build a strong relationship with the government. Now, we can easily meet the governor and MP, who engage with me and Omari, and also the area chief. And so pushing Muungano’s agenda with the government has been very easy. Recently, we met with the Deputy Governor, Madam Achani, and she agreed to give us support and help us in some of the issues we are facing. Muungano deals with many challenges, and, for example, sometimes the [Muungano] convener isn’t in a position to go all over the Coast region to visit groups to check on their welfare – and this poses a problem. So we approached the governor, who promised to look into our issues. Meeting with the governor has given us confidence. In fact, I think we can even have an appointment with the president, Muungano has given us the courage.

What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years (coast region)?

We have made some great progress. Through Muungano, we have learned the process of forming and registering groups. The movement taught us how to read and write, in an effort to enumerate ourselves. We have learned how to safeguard our savings. As well as many other things which we have learned from Muungano. We learned how to lend each other livelihood loans, before Akiba Mashinani Trust started giving us the loans. We brought youths together and taught them some ways to look after for themselves as they seek employment – how to save and get loans from their group through Muungano.

We were taught how to demand our rights. For example, this land in Matopeni, through advocacy in Muungano, we were able to emerge strong. Whenever evictions threats come up, we are able to mobilize ourselves and carry out advocacy. We have empowered, encouraged, and motivated the poor in our community, giving them a sense of belonging.

We have engaged in many activities through Muungano, including mobilizing groups, managing merry-go-round programs, giving out loans within the groups, and participating in environmental training.

When we started out, we had no knowledge of bookkeeping, but we were taught how to keep our own records as well as the records of the networks – this knowledge has helped us to form groups and networks on our own.

We have learned about drugs and substance abuse, and passed the knowledge to our children. We continue to create awareness of this issue in our gatherings, including savings group meetings.

Garbage collection was not left out either – we learned about different ways of deriving income from waste management. And lastly, we gained some knowledge on food security through Muungano, which benefited us.

Initially, Michael [Kanayu’s] house was made of mud and straw. But through our savings we were able to construct another house for him.

We had some training on poultry farming while in Muungano, which allowed us to do a group project on it. I saved, and continued with the poultry project after our group project finished. Now, I have expanded my business, employing three people to help me run it. Right now, I am able to sell about 500–600 chickens for 400 shillings per chicken. I credit all this to Muungano. Many of us have benefited. We also have a project to sell herbal soap which can help prevent diseases: there is a women’s group that was given a tender by the agricultural team to make soap.

What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years (coast region)?

A big challenge is maintaining networks like the old ones we used to have. We believe that we can do a lot if we are united. In the past, we had a local place for meetings, but nowadays there is nothing. We used to have resources that allowed us to visit places like Changamwe, but now we have nothing. So we are hoping that Muungano can look at our network and work out how they can help us. Because it is not one person’s job – we believe that Muungano is one family, and that our objective is one.

Another challenge involves transport, including transport allowances to facilitate our movement. People want to learn from us: they want us to visit them and teach them things. But we find it hard to visit them because we lack transport allowances, and funding ourselves in order to meet some of the movement’s expectations is difficult. I have met many people who really need our help. In Kashani, three pieces of land were grabbed by the rich, and yet there were people still living on that land. This is an example of people who need help from Muungano. In areas like Bombo, Kashani, Gandini, and Maunguja, people continue to face eviction threats every now and then. All who are aware of the movement are interested to join us in our cause.

We have also experienced challenges when it comes to lending loans – some people take loans and fail to repay. So we want the [national] movement to help us look at these problems.

And people from Changamwe are facing many challenges, but at present we are unable to visit and help them, unlike before where we had [transport] funds that allowed us to go to them in times of need.

What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?

In the next twenty years, I would like us to purchase land and build storied buildings like those in Nairobi. I would like us to construct seven-storied buildings which can accommodate many of us.

In the next twenty years, we will have big projects that will enable us to move forward. We will start greenhouse projects, buy beach plots, and construct cottages. Foreigners can buy beach plots and set up businesses – and so if we come together, as members of Muungano, we should be able to do so as well. The coastal region is known as a tourist destination, so if we can start businesses which attract tourists this will help us. We depend on Muungano to help us realize our dream. There are beach plots in Malindi and in Nyali – if we can get the support we need, we will be able to move forward. We depend on tourism as our main source of income, so through income-generating projects in tourism we will be able to look after ourselves and our families.

We grow a lot of food, but our main challenge is inadequate rain. So, if all goes well in Muungano, we shall have boreholes in this area. We intend to approach Muungano in regards to getting support to drill at least three boreholes here, which will come in handy. At the moment, food shortage is our biggest challenge. We now depend on Nairobi for our food supplies, because we only experience rain once a year. So, if Muungano helps us to drill the boreholes, we will get the water that can be used on our farms. Through this, we will have managed to solve our problem, but till then we continue to have a high demand for food here.

What message would you give to the younger generations of Muungano?

The youths always have a perception that they are left behind, but, through Muungano, we can mobilize them and mould them to become role models in the community. Empowering and mentoring young women is also important. Young girls today facing many challenges: some are giving birth at a very young age – from 13 and 14 years. If Muungano can mobilize them and offer them guidance, Kenya will progress greatly.

In our area, there used to be young ladies who used to wander along the beach and the fancy hotels. We gathered them all together, about 25 of them, and bought them sewing machines. We also gave them a trainer who taught them how to sew, and they became tailors. I personally came to the trade union and registered them for the tailoring grade test, which allowed them to be qualified to take tenders for school uniforms. That is how we lift our youths, by equipping them with useful skills. Take, for example, the boys: we can decide to bring them together and start a polytechnic for them. Getting teachers to train them on carpentry and other technical work would help them to improve their standards in terms of creating a decent living for themselves.