BOMA Project mentor Josphine Leseewa lives and works in Samburu county in Northern Kenya. As a BOMA Mentor, Josphine’s training helps provide women with the skills they need to start new businesses and generate income to get themselves and their families out of extreme poverty.
In this interview Josphine talks about her childhood years, why she got involved with the BOMA Project, and how BOMA’s participants are navigating the era of social distancing brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in a village called Ledero near the market town of Maralal in Northern Kenya. My mother ran her own duka – a small store that sells basic supplies. Even as a young child, I was struck by how she was an empowered woman who was able to generate income for her family. It made a deep impression on me.
How did you hear about the BOMA Project?
I’ve always been interested in empowering women in rural communities. Shortly after completing my Diploma in Community Development, I saw an advertisement for the BOMA Project. I liked its women focused mission and the strong presence of women in leadership. I was excited to join, and I have been with BOMA for the last three years.
Tell us a little bit about your work with BOMA.
I’m currently working with about 30 business groups. Each group has 3 women we have identified to be a part of our poverty graduation program. I teach women business skills – what type of business to operate, how to maintain lines of credit, how to put money away for savings, etc. To give just one example, I recent spoke to a business owner about switching from a foodstuff centered business to a livestock business one. In pastoral communities, you can’t purchase and sell cattle on credit, which is something that’s very normal for a foodstuff business. Moving to a livestock owned business helped our participant overcome her cash liquidity issues.
In addition to business skills, I also coach them on important human rights related issues like women’s rights, family planning and the importance of girl’s education. This is especially important in empowering women and giving them a voice both within their home and in the community.
How are women adapting to the social distancing measures imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Kenyan government has closed all the livestock markets after the outbreak of coronavirus. Our participants can no longer set up markets and trade livestock. This is a problem—over 75% of BOMA’s participants run livestock-related businesses.
I am working with some women to pivot to other businesses like chicken rearing or running small convenience stories, which aren’t as impacted. Where possible, I’m also working with the women to draw upon the savings they accumulated earlier in the year.
I can’t meet anyone in person. We’re using telephones to mentor women during these times. Hopefully this period will pass soon, and we will soon be able to get back to business as normal.
I find it extremely meaningful to empower so many women and help them see for themselves that they are not only equal in every way, but also a tremendous asset to our communities.
Why is this work meaningful to you?
Historically, women have been treated as second class citizens in our community. I find it extremely meaningful to empower so many women and help them see for themselves that they are not only equal in every way, but also a tremendous asset to our communities.