MOTF Rusinga Branch

R & A: Women’s Empowerment on Rusinga Island by Joy Masseno, Facilitator of the Mothers of the Forest and Eunice Majuma, her Assistant. Part 1

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We’re three quarters of the way through the serialisation of the articles featured in our Reports and Accounts 2022-23. We hope you’re enjoying reading and listening to them, as much as we are reproducing them.

In episode 9, we hear from Joy, facilitator of the Mothers of the Forest on Rusinga Island, situated on the edge of Lake Victoria and her assistant, Eunice.

Joy’s group was formalised in the middle of 2022, yet the impact to the lives of the Mothers she hosts, and to their communities, has been significant and positive.

There are notable improvements to the mental health and wellbeing of the Mothers as a result of their improved financial status, so much so, many are able to afford up to three meals a day rather than just one.

Through empowerment and with greater opportunities to learn how to earn a living, many of the Mothers are experiencing more harmonious marriages. Whilst the challenges in their daily lives are still manifold, their lives are more fulfilled and stable.

To catch up with any of the earlier articles from this series, just visit 

Our Wonderful Team

My name is Joy Masseno and along with priceless assistance from Eunice Majuma, I am the facilitator of the Mothers of the Forest branch of Word Forest in the far west of Kenya on Rusinga Island. Our group was formed in March 2022 and I was proud to have the task of recruiting a number of women from humble backgrounds to become the first members.

I did this with help from my good friend Solomon Owiti, who is well known on the island for his work teaching permaculture. Through the support of Tracey and Simon and the entire Word Forest Organisation, we selected 10 women and a cook also. This was done through door-to-door visits and below are the criteria I used for selection:

  • They had to be very small scale farmers who had some growing knowledge
  • We wanted them to be team players who were happy to form a group 
  • They needed to be considered vulnerable members of our community who had no major source of income
  • They needed to be willing to plant 50 trees or more each year in the name of Word Forest

We all meet at least twice a month for our usual discussions and we do many things. Centrally, we concentrate on learning and sharing knowledge about saplings and tree growing. We also come together to learn how to start up small farming programmes using the permaculture way, in order to help reduce global warming but also to be more self-sufficient. 

The good work we Mothers do ensures that no woman is just seated but at least can do something to make her living and feed her family. Our activities are also exciting to do. We empower each other and thankfully also other vulnerable people in our community, especially the very elderly but also children and young girls particularly.

Our Members

Here is a little background information about four of our members, so you can feel more closely connected to their everyday lives. These are not their true names, so as to protect their identity:

  • Amelia is 70 years old and has been widowed for 20 years. She had five children who are all sadly dead too. She is a survivor of death trauma but it haunts her very badly. She does have three grandchildren and they all survive with the money they make from small-scale farming on her shamba (homestead). Her house is a mud hut unfortunately in very bad shape. If she could raise the capital, Amelia would like to learn how to grow more food.
  • Carol is 40 years old and was widowed at a tender young age. It is now 16 years since her husband’s demise and she is left with four children. She has a heavy burden with education and school fees and her mud thatched house is in very bad shape. She is a very hard-working woman and wants to learn more about permaculture and would love to learn some tailoring in the future. 
  • Mercy is 24 and a very hardworking woman in a polygamous marriage. The second wife left her with four children, adding to her three children. She now parents seven children, three boys and four girls. She has many problems paying school fees, plus one of the boys suffers from sickle-cell anaemia. 
  • Patricia is 36 years old and married with four children. She dropped out of school in class 8 (aged 13) due to lack of school fees and because she had an early marriage. She had a small kiosk shop that collapsed because her husband is an alcoholic. Her house is not in good shape, health-wise she’s also not feeling very well and she really needs the support from our group so her children can go to school. Her hobbies are dancing and singing and she loves working with the children. 

Achievements Within Our Group

Here are a few of the goals we’ve managed to score during our first year: 

We have:

  1. All created kitchen gardens at our homes with vegetables we’ve never grown before and some we know
  2. Planted more than 50 different trees on our shambas
  3. Planted more than 300 trees at our Permaculture Teaching Centre (PTC),*
  4. Been running our own table banking system*
  5. Been running a successful Siri Ya Jikoni system*
  6. Received ongoing good education on tree grafting, sapling care, tree growing, permaculture principles and ethics from Solomon
  7. Had great training about syntropic agroforestry from Solomon’s son, Daniel
  8. Received comprehensive training on plant propagation, all aspects of permaculture and tree planting and care, from our UK teacher, Phil Gamble*
  9. Planted many different fruits and vegetables at our homes and the PTC
  10. Become much stronger as individuals and we help each other in times of need and personal crises. This has helped our mental health a lot.

* More Info

The PTC: This is currently a 2 acre site which we’ve fenced in to protect the food from marauding animals. It has been very kindly donated to Word Forest by our dear tree planting friend, Solomon Owiti and his wife, Florence. It is their homestead and their family land. This is where the Mothers come together for their twice monthly meetings. When it is raining or scorching hot, the Mothers are graciously able to learn and eat in the Owiti’s small living room, which protects them from the elements. In due course, we want to build a proper stone constructed Edible Classroom at our PTC, as has been done at Garashi.

Table Banking: As per their sister group in Garashi, the Mothers are paid to plant trees when they come to their meetings. Of their own free will, the Mothers have chosen to put some of that money into a kitty, from which they can take small loans and pay a small amount of interest back. At the end of the year, the money from the pot is shared out amongst the Mothers. It helps them out during times of hardship and everybody wins.

Siri Ya Jikoni: This quite literally means ‘Secret Kitchen’. Think along the lines of the UK office-based Secret Santa gifts at Christmas. Each Mother brings a low value but essential food or everyday item like soap. The bundle of useful items is given to one of the Mothers of the Forest and the recipient changes at each meeting. The Mothers also share the abundance from the crops they are growing. This means that many of them are now able to put food on their table every day. Some are even able to have three meals a day, not just one!

Phil Gamble: Word Forest’s Horticultural Trustee has been a member of the Board since its foundation in 2017. Phil is an expert in his field. He was also a lecturer at Kingston Maurward. He accompanied Tracey and Simon on their Monitoring and Evaluation visit in December 2022. Phil shared critical knowledge on organic growing, composting, propagation and more, across the length and breadth of Kenya during their month-long stay.

The second part of this article will be published on 14th November, 2023.

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