Interview: Emmy Ronoh, business adviser, Kenya

01 September 2017

‘When women have an idea, they can make things happen’

I run a microfinance organisation with Five Talents in Kericho, Kenya, which covers three counties: Kericho, Narok, and Bomet, over an area of 21,900km². I form groups, and encourage them to save, with a view to taking loans.

 

I offer business training for small-scale businesses. So, for example, I help farmers to diversify: to grow crops for local consumption and for trade. If people are willing, I help them to form trust groups, and elect and train their group leaders. They’re savings groups, but we call them “trust groups”, because they are based on trust. People pool their savings and lend to each other with no collateral.

 

We encourage them to have a variety of crops, to see if one is better than the other, and also because it’s good for someone to be able to find everything he or she needs in her own community — and everyone needs vegetables. People grow maize, kale, and other traditional vegetables, and tea, but I encourage them to try vegetables like onions and tomatoes.

 

I work in the same office as Grace, who is a Five Talents Kenya colleague who helps with the forming and training of groups in Narok; and Florida, who is an accountant and field officer. They are both married with one child. We have an office car to use to travel to remote places. I normally drive myself, and go with a colleague, and we try to avoid driving at night; so it’s not dangerous. My boys are big boys now, and they are getting used to me not being around when I’m travelling.

 

I enjoy working with the people in the community the most: those who are isolated and think they’ve been forgotten. They become my close friends.

 

The hardest thing is convincing people to join the trust groups. Previously, there were other organisations that came along and pretended to be setting up loan groups, but they were con men who took everyone’s money; so people were hesitant at the beginning. But, because we work through the Church, people trust us, and even those from different faiths are comfortable joining our groups.

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I think the most surprising thing was that some of the people in the groups had money but felt they did not have enough to do anything with it, such as invest. Through our training, they’ve been able to save their money and use the community’s joint savings to take out loans to invest in projects that they previously felt they couldn’t start up.

 

In Kenya, girls are now going to school and universities, and are excelling in life. Women are becoming empowered economically, and they’re able to contribute financially to the household. Lack of transport affects women working in bigger towns because they have to wake up very early and spend a lot of time on the road to get to work on time. In some communities in Kenya, women and men couldn’t socialise together, but this is changing. Many of our trust groups have both men and women.

 

In the past, there was no role for women in the Church, but now we see women leaders and pastors. In my community, women are now one of the pillars of the Church. When women have an idea, they get moving, and they can make things happen.

 

Our women need to run a small business or co-operative or become wage-earners, because in Kenya you can’t just live on a single income. We have so much responsibility for our extended families.

 

My first experience of God happened in June 1992, when I was in high school. Although it was a girls’ mission school, some of my peers tried to lure me into drinking and smoking, but, because of my strong Christian upbringing, I knew this was a moment of decision. I gave my life to God: it felt like my heart had been heavy but became light.

 

I was born into a Christian family, the sixth-born, and the last daughter. My mother is a retired pastor; so going to church was what you did on Sunday. I went through primary and high school and married immediately, but my husband took me to college. This is quite common in our community. My parents were able to send me to college, but I wanted to get married; so my husband paid for my college fees after we married.

 

I studied theology. Part of the course was community work, and then I took further short courses in training and development.

 

We’re blessed with three sons, aged between 22 and 15 years; so I’m a busy woman; and besides being employed I also do community work. I also have to supervise work in our garden, look after the cattle, and do the household chores. I visit the less fortunate in the community. When I made my first long visit away from home, coming to the UK, my husband has told me that he now recognises all I do in the home.

 

England? Wow! We made new friends, travelled places, and everybody I’ve met has been good to me. I thought the weather would be very cold, but it has been friendly to me. I was very surprised to see trams in Croydon: I’ve never seen trams before. The trains in London move a bit slowly at times, though your car drivers are very disciplined, and everybody’s busy walking up and down, rushing everywhere. I’m not used to that.

 

And the food isn’t African. I miss Kenyan tea, and ugali, which we make with maize meal and water.

 

We organised to have a fringe meeting at the York Synod, which went down well. We met some bishops, who were friendly and great men of God, and they heard about our work and promised to support us in prayer. I also met Dr Rowan Williams, who has been to Kenya, and we had a little time for discussion. I liked him: he’s a focused man of God, and a visionary man.

 

I love the sound of people singing and praising God. I love singing, too. My son’s at boarding school, and he rang me the other day to tell me that he’d been in the street and a car had driven by playing my favourite praise song, and it had brought tears to his eyes. He called me to tell me that.

 

There’s not much time in my life to relax, but I love putting my earphones in and listening to music.

 

My mother’s been the greatest influence on my life. She would take me with her on pastoral visits, and ask me to think of a hymn we could sing. She taught me to follow the right path. She implanted a good Christian foundation in my life. Even before I chose to dedicate my life to God, I respected her way of living. I call her my training manual.

 

When I pray, I thank God for giving me the favour to serve him. I thank him, and pray for good health, my family, the nation, and the needy.

 

I feel angry when I’ve done something to help the community, and people don’t appreciate and support all my efforts. They even demean me sometimes, though that is rare. That’s part of human nature, anyway. Some people won’t accept new things and move with it, even though it’s good idea.

 

I’m happy when I am given the space, a conducive environment, and resources to work. Those are my happiest moments.

 

Because I serve God, I work knowing that all my plans and visions will be successful, because God is faithful and will walk with me to the end.

 

If I was locked in a church for a few hours, I’d choose Joel Osteen as my companion. He’s an inspiring great man of God. I listen to his sermons online, and what he says really inspires me.

 

Emmy Ronoh was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. www.fivetalents.org.uk

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