What We Do – Empower Women

ENVIRONMENT |  EDUCATION | EMPOWERMENT

In early March 2018 on an evaluation trip to Kenya, Word Forest’s CEO conducted a series of interviews with the women of the Boré community.  Recognising in challenging environmental conditions, the Mothers not only looked after their families, and worked hard to find a living, but also looked after saplings in the nursery, eventually digging the holes to plant them out and then nurture them to maturity, Tracey wanted to find out if there was anything Word Forest could do to help them.

She found that many were illiterate, having had no opportunity for education. This was leading to being socially isolated, and also unconnected with other women from their community.  They felt unsupported but didn’t know life could be any other way.

Mothers Of The Forest

On the International Day of Forests, the 21st March 2018 a women’s empowerment group was founded by the charity called The Mothers of the Forest. The 40 members from Boré in Coast Province started to meet twice a month to share best practice for looking after the forest, pause a while from their heavy workload, share a good meal together and receive safe, clean water; a rarity in their world

Mothers of the Forest in Boré with Tracey West

The meeting also included two hours tuition from a local teacher in Kiswahili, English, and Maths, the first lesson can be seen in our documentary #TreesAreTheKey.

They received 2 new saplings per meeting helping them to create their own crop forest, and were paid per sapling to plant them on their shambas (homesteads).  The money they got each meeting was enough to feed their families for a week and meant they didn’t have to turn to nefarious means to earn a living, typically charcoal burning which is illegal.

Period Poverty

It was also found that the women were lacking in basic needs, such as sanitary pads, or underwear. This had a huge impact as girls and women of child bearing age found it difficult to leave the home or go to school once a month due to not having the basic products so easily available in the western world. Even if they did have access to disposable sanitary products there was no way to properly dispose of them.

That’s why we helped the Mothers of the Forest to create their own reusable and washable sanitary towels. Not only are they more eco-friendly than disposables, they are far more practical and cost-effective. Two sewing machines were purchased for the community, and tuition was given on how to make cloth sanitary pads. A huge donation of 800 pairs of knickers was made in February 2019, equipping the women with the basics, and giving them dignity.

Mothers of the Forest with a sewing machine

Inspiring Women

These inspiring women have now taken their first ever exams in numeracy and literacy and passed with flying colours. The net result is they’re able to really lift themselves out of poverty. From being able to work out simple sums to sell the excess abundance from the new forests and writing signs for what they’re selling, to reading the road signs so they know where they are when travelling, these life skills have really empowered them.

This initial educational assistance has had an incredible knock-on effect. The mothers now operate a table banking system, a scheme that they devised themselves. They have a secretary and a treasurer and each woman puts 100 Kenyan shillings (approx 0.75p) into a pot each meeting, which the Mothers are able to dip into to take a small loan. This loan allows them to buy a job lot of fish for example, which they sell on to make a small profit. The interest rate is very low and affordable.

The women have also built a framework of sisterly support too and they are much more confident, for example, when they leave 2 hours before dawn to collect water at the river they go in a group, which keeps them safer. 

Permaculture

In August 2019 Word Forest arranged for two women from the Mothers of the Forest community group to complete a 10 day Permaculture Design Course in Nairobi. They learned how Kenyan permaculture experts teach sustainable growing and resilience, in the tropics. Permaculture methods vary from country to country, although the core learning remains the same.

The women returned to create, with the help of other Mothers of the Forest members, a trial acre permaculture garden. Working with organic methods, in association with the natural planet and its challenged seasons, it not only helps the earth to heal by mitigating climate change but it will also help the people of Boré to gain more food and water security.

2020 Survey

The Word Forest’s 2020 survey asked how the meetings had changed their lives, and the result was immensely positive.

  • You feel more connected to your neighbours and community – 80%
  • You have inspiration to make or do things you haven’t done before – 85%
  • You feel like a worthy member of your local community – 85%
  • You have friends to talk your problems through with – 90%
  • You have more self confidence in your own abilities – 85%
  • You understand more about the need to plant trees – 90%

This pilot 5 year programme aims to help each Mother of the Forest through education, and also supply her with 240 cropping trees, providing food and income. They will also be able to sell the tree seeds to the local tree nurseries, which will create new seedlings for other Mothers of the Forest groups, trees to plant by the new classrooms Word Forest facilities and saplings for general reforestation.

Word Forest wish to introduce The Mothers of the Forest empowerment group to many more women in Kenyan. To be able to offer the chance of support and to educate more women, with the help of women that are already enjoying their new found confidence, and help lift the wider community out of poverty, is the ultimate aim.