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Portrait of a Village: Bringing Basic Financial Services to Rural Kenya

MartinHop on a bus heading out of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and you'll soon learn one reason why formal savings and lending opportunities are often hard to come by for women and men living in poor, rural villages. The further out you go, the fewer banks there are – until you get to a village like Thungururu, where there's no bank at all.

According to Martin Givachu (R), a local teacher who is chairman of the Thungururu Savings Trust Group established by Five Talents in partnership with Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), the village was the last settlement within the region to receive a proper electricity supply.

The lack of infrastructure and development in Thungururu is due, in part, to the fact that the most profitable cash crops – like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and flowers – are not grown here. Martin said the villagers mostly rely on subsistence farming, growing fruit and grain and rearing poultry on a small scale.

Without the savings trust group that Five Talents has helped to establish, villagers would have to travel by two matatu (minibuses) in order to make use of banking facilities.

What's more, once at the bank, the villagers would have to pay fees both to set up an account and to make a withdrawal.

''This is a big problem here," said Martin, "because in addition to the time spent traveling to Thika or Matu, it would cost 600 KES (US $7) [to set up an account] – money which villagers do not have available."

Tiny Accounts Unprofitable for Traditional Banks

Banks in Kenya – and in many countries throughout the developing world – do not like to handle small accounts, largely because of the expense of running them, write MIT Professors Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo in their book, Poor Economics.

"Deposit-taking institutions are heavily regulated, for good reason – the government is worried about fly-by-night operators running away with people's savings – but this means that managing each account requires bank employees to fill out some amount of paperwork, which can quickly become too burdensome, relative to any money that the bank can hope to make from these tiny accounts."

In the future, Five Talents hopes to upgrade the savings trust in Thungururu to a full community bank, which would offer a wider range of banking services within this marginalised rural community.

''Not only would this benefit our current 105 active members, but we could also expand our operation and serve the whole community," said Martin.

Below, you'll find a selection of photographs taken by Adam Dickens that show the beauty and the poverty of this village in rural Kenya:

The rural village of Thungururu, Kenya was the last place in its region to receive proper access to electricity.

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The Weekly Window: Growing a Community Bank in Kairi, Kenya

Like most of the community banks Five Talents has helped to found, the one in this photo by Adam Dickens started as a local trust (or savings) group in the Kenyan village of Kairi. Five Talents partners in Kenya with the Anglican Diocese of Thika and the Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT).

For almost seven years, a high school teacher named Susan Kamani has served as the chairperson of the trust group-turned-community bank. The bank is open to everyone in the community and now has 753 members.

According to Kamani, the village and the surrounding area has in recent years suffered from a drop in world coffee prices. As a result, many small farmers are abandoning coffee planting and turning instead to small-scale dairy or poultry farming as a means of generating income for their family.

Five Talents' program in Kenya has achieved a maturity and a sustainability that we desire for every one of our programs.

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The Weekly Window: A Dress-Making Shop Opens for Business in Kenya

This photo, taken by Adam Dickens for Five Talents, features the dress-making shop of Beatrice in the village of Kibugu, Kenya.

Beatrice once made ladies' garments on a sewing machine at her home. But after joining a Five Talents savings and loan group, she set her sights on expanding her business. Today, she has her own shop, a second sewing machine, and an employee.

In the coming weeks, Beatrice hopes to invest in an embroidery machine with the help of a $160 loan.

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2013 Reading: Five Good Books on Global Poverty and Development

Perhaps you already have 5 books on your must-read list for 2013. Or maybe you have more like 50. Either way, we hope you'll read at least a couple of the following picks over the next 12 months. We're recommending titles that approach poverty from a variety of perspectives. Whether you are a development specialist or someone who simply loves a good story, we have you covered.

dragons_gift_bookThe Dragon's Gift
If you're interested in Africa and would like to learn more about the aid and investments that are flowing into the continent, then Deborah Brautigam's The Dragon's Gift is a must-read. The author has spent decades studying China's investment and aid packages to African governments. Besides offering a timely and ground-breaking analysis of China's activity on the continent, Brautigam also provides context so that we can understand how China's approach to aid and investment differs from that of the United States and other Western nations. For a great review of the book, click here.

china_meets_india2Where China Meets India
If you'd like to learn more about one of the countries where Five Talents works, we recommend this book about Myanmar (Burma). Last year, the Burmese government made news by launching a series of reforms, including a loosening of media controls and an embrace of democratic elections. What was once one of the most closed societies in the world was suddenly opening its doors to the West and inviting investment to help spur development. Where China Meets India, by Thant Myint-U, is an engrossing travelogue that shows just how fast Myanmar is changing.

free_man_bookA Free Man
If you want to read a profile of an individual who is struggling to escape a world of poverty, look no further than Aman Sethi's A Free Man. The author, a correspondent for The Hindu, focuses his non-fiction narrative on the life of a homeless day-laborer in Delhi, India. The fast-paced story takes the reader into a world that few of us in the West have ever seen. Esther Duflo, co-author of Poor Economics (another great book that we have written about), calls Sethi's book "a beautiful work of journalism," adding: "What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend."

eye_of_needleThrough the Eye of a Needle
If you enjoy history and would like to learn more about the early church and Christians' view of wealth and poverty, read Peter Brown's acclaimed Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, a respected historian, excels at evoking the life of the ancients through colorful prose and through profound readings of saints like Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome. As Christianity Today puts it, Brown lets us "hear the heartbeat of late Roman and early Christian civilization."

helping_hurtsWhen Helping Hurts
If you'd like to learn about how the Christian church has helped – and hurt – the cause of the impoverished around the world, then pick up Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. The book was re-released in 2012 with a new foreword and two new chapters. Readers interested in learning more about the philosophy that informs Five Talents' approach to micro-enterprise development will find this book particularly helpful.

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  • Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), Thika, Kenya
  • Anglican Church of Kenya, Diocese in Thika

Program Type and Services:

  • “Savings Led” with capital for revolving loan fund

This savings-led program follows the Accumulated Savings and Credit Associations (ASCA) model for “Trust Groups,” who then give out loans from the savings pool for business start-up/expansion loans, child education, and emergency loans.

Training Focus:

  • Business management and entrepreneurship for Trust Groups — business planning and values
  • Leadership training
  • Spiritual guidance
  • Savings and credit groups’ constitutions
  • Good savings and loaning processes
  • Solidarity groups methods of co-guaranteeing
  • Pillars of successful microfinance programs

The Community

A country known for its beauty and wildlife, Kenya is experiencing declining economic growth, falling agricultural production, and high unemployment, all leading to an unprecedented increase in poverty. More than 50 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line. This crisis is leaving many families vulnerable both physically and spiritually as they struggle with increasing hopelessness and destitution.

The town of Thika, about 45-minutes from Nairobi, is a microcosm of what has happened in this country. It has experienced a dramatic increase in population in the past 10 years, leading to more families living in the streets, higher incidence of HIV/AIDS, and heightened insecurity. It is the administrative center for the Thika District, which has a total population of 900,000 people.  One-third of this population lives in the urban area.

The Upper Zone of the District has a cool climate with rich volcanic soils that lends itself to coffee growing, tea planting, and pineapple groves. The lower zone has little rainfall and most people live on subsistence farming. Thika was once a major industrial center, but in recent years many of the large plants have closed leaving many out of work and destitute.

The Program

With the loss of the large industrial plants, it is left to the entrepreneurs and small business owners to rebuild the economy.  The Anglican Diocese of Thika requested assistance from Five Talents International to establish a savings and credit program that will empower poor entrepreneurs, a majority of whom are women, to create new jobs and sustain small businesses. The Diocese created the Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT) to operate the program in an efficient and professional manner.

The overall goal of the TCDT Capacity Building project proposal is to contribute to the efforts of poverty alleviation through a sustainable microfinance program. The project employs the principle of savings and credit, and is run by self-help groups herein referred to as ‘Trust Groups’. Trust Groups formed at the grass root level are owned and managed by the members, through the Thika Community Development Trust which is the legal holder.

At the end of FY2012, the program's Trust groups had 4,389 members and an outstanding loan balance of $569,888. Thika is graduating some of the Trust groups into Financial Services Associations (FSAs).  FSA’s are a more sophisticated institution with a physical building, safe and 3 employees all of which would be funded by the interest income from the groups portfolio.  These groups will be responsible for their sustainability.

The Need

give10cFive Talents hopes to reach a total of 5,240 members by the end of 2012.

We'd appreciate your continued prayers for this transformative program. Please help us expand our work in Kenya either by making a one-time donation or by signing up to "Walk with Us" as a recurring donor. A monthly gift of $10 will transform up to five lives.

Are you on Facebook? Become an online advocate for Five Talents! Our online "flash drive" has everything you need to promote the work and mission of Five Talents.

Updated October 2013

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Download and Read Five Talents' 2011-2012 Annual Report

click_report2We're excited to share with you our 2011-2012 Annual Report for the fiscal year running from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. Click here to download the PDF.

In the report, you'll find all of the latest financial figures and program statistics, as well as stories, photos and highlights from every one of Five Talents' programs.

The report also features beautiful illustrations from one of our volunteers, Laura Bauder. So a great big thank-you to Laura, who also took on the task of designing the report.

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The Weekly Window: Getting Around in Rural Kenya


Five Talents board member Jim Oakes recently traveled to Kenya to lead a series of business training seminars for micro-entrepreneurs. The meetings were held in the village of Thungururu, which is about 30 km out of Thika, a town which is itself an hour's drive north of Nairobi.

In this photo, a person rides a bicycle on a paved road just outside of Thika.

"I was particularly struck by how hard some people had to work to get there," Jim wrote in a recent blog post. "I noticed that ours was the only car in sight – one person had come by motorcycle, about a dozen had ridden bicycles, and the rest had walked or gotten rides from someone. I learned that some people had walked over an hour to get to the training site, and that one group of women had hired a Matatu (a kind of a shared taxi service) at a cost of almost a day's wages to get there.

"As you might guess," he added, "we felt a heavy responsibility to make sure the training was worth their time."

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Kenyan Micro-Entrepreneurs Put Business Principles into Practice

Editor's note: Five Talents recently sent a team of trainers to Kenya to hold business seminars for a group of micro-entrepreneurs about 30km outside of Thika. Here, one of the trainers, Five Talents board member Jim Oakes, shares stories about some of the micro-entrepreneurs he met, including a woman who gave him the most delicious tangerine he has ever eaten.

bam_trip_to_kenya2I'm writing this from the lobby of the Fairview Hotel in Nairobi, waiting to head to the airport and return to the US after a week in Kenya. I have once again led a small team (there were two of us this time, Brad Frink, on the far left in the photo, and myself, next to him) to teach basic business principles to Five Talents clients. This trip, we worked in Thungururu, Kenya, which is a small village about 30 km out of Thika, an hour's drive north of Nairobi.

Five Talents partners with the Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), which operates under the umbrella of the Anglican Church in Kenya. TCDT has grown rapidly, and now has over 3,800 members in savings groups. One area where they hope to increase their activity is in the village of Thungururu. Although it is only 30 km out of Thika, it is a world away. The last 16 km or so are on a dirt road that was barely passable. I learned that very few services are available to residents of this area, and poverty is rampant. The congregation there cannot afford a full time pastor, so they share their vicar with three other congregations. The litany of things not available was familiar – no electricity, no running water, no banking services, (I was told that three quarters of Kenya's population does not have access to banking services) and on and on. But there was no shortage of enthusiastic people eager to learn.

For various reasons, we arrived at the teaching location about an hour behind schedule on our first day. But apparently, not a single person had left. Within moments of our arrival, the church was packed, with over 100 people waiting for us. No surprises so far, but I was particularly struck by how hard some people had to work to get there. I noticed that ours was the only car in sight – one person had come by motorcycle, about a dozen had ridden bicycles, and the rest had walked or gotten rides from someone. I learned that some people had walked over an hour to get to the training site, and that one group of women had hired a Matatu (a kind of a shared taxi service) at a cost of almost a day's wages to get there. As you might guess, we felt a heavy responsibility to make sure the training was worth their time.

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The Weekly Window: Tea Time in Kenya

Five Talents board member Jim Oakes recently took a team of business professionals to Thika, Kenya, where they held workshops on topics like marketing and accounting for micro-entrepreneurs.

As team member Brad Frink wrote last week, the team also worked with a group of micro-entrepreneurs to develop a value chain analysis for the production and sale of free-range broiler chickens. The ultimate goal of this project, said Frink, was to support the establishment of a farmers' cooperative.

In this photo, a group of micro-entrepreneurs line up for tea during a break in one of the workshops.

Click here to read Frink's account of the business training seminars.

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