They call themselves the “Superstars” and are in their own little way helping Kenya tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The women’s group in the lakeshore county of Homa Bay is making soap as part of a chama (a type of small savings and loan group that is popular across Kenya). Each of the group’s members contributes money, which is used to buy soap-making ingredients. Once it is produced, each member receives an equal amount of soap to sell. The group meets every week to share out the proceeds, setting some of the funds aside to buy more reagents and provide loans to its members.
Washing your hands with soap is key to curbing the spread of COVID-19 and so demand for soap has increased during the pandemic. The soap-making venture has helped the group’s members make a living since they can borrow from the profits to boost their own individual businesses. The group, which was formed in January, has given out Kshs. 10,000 ($92) in loans to its members.
Akinyi Bonyo, 22 the group’s secretary sells the soap at a small kiosk she had started in her neighborhood to sell vegetables and grains.
“It has increased my income and profit from my initial groceries-only business. We eat well and I have not had rent issues,” Akinyi says. “I use the soap to wash hands and clean surfaces in my house, and I have sold to many businesses that use it to clean their premises - so this is my contribution to the fight against COVID-19.”
Not so long ago, her life was completely different. Akinyi was a stay-at-home mother of two with no income. Her husband, a casual laborer, did not earn enough money to take care of the family’s basic needs. “Sometimes we went for two days without a decent meal,” she recalls.
Then she heard about the United States Government’s Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) program from her neighbor. Akinyi joined DREAMS in November 2019 and underwent a financial capability training that taught her how to save money and the benefits of financial freedom. Inspired by this, Akinyi and 16 other adolescent girls and young women from her DREAMS cohort decided to form the Superstars group. The name was inspired by the women’s resilience in the face of adversity.
DREAMS builds on USAID’s decades of experience, empowering young women and advancing gender equality in the sectors of global health, education, and economic growth. The initiative employs a variety of approaches to provide economic support to adolescent girls and young women.
“As a housewife, I was not empowered enough to give input on important decisions in my household and with DREAMS, I felt I could become more assertive,” Akinyi says. “I am now part of the decision-making process in my household.”
The DREAMS initiative is made possible by the American people through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and is implemented in Homa Bay by USAID’s Afya Ziwani (Health by the Lake) project.