by Gwen Meyer, co-founder
Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife
Last November, I wrote about the Molo Wool Project, an activity that our NGO Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife (FKSW) supports in Kenya. FKSW has assisted the 35 members of the Karunga Women’s Group, participants in this project, with skills training in the fiber arts and business development. In 2010, a $1000 loan from FKSW assisted the group to start a tree nursery. Since 2007 they’ve earned more than $26,000 from their hand-knitted products and income from the seedlings is now beginning to bring the group a second source of revenue. In February, we interviewed some of the participants to see how the project is impacting their lives.
The Molo Wool Project: One Member’s Story
Since picking up knitting needles just three years ago, 54-year-old Anastasia Njuguna has seen her natural talent and creativity emerge to make her one of the most prolific knitters in the group. She is also one of the top earners. The quality of her work is exceptional and her creations include chameleons, dogs, horses, goats, angora goats, pigs and antelope. She doesn’t use patterns. Her story about learning to knit a chameleon is illustrative, not only of her talent, but of her determination to better her life.
“My name is Anastasia Watiri Njuguna. When I joined the group, I knitted sweaters but I didn’t know how to knit animals. My first attempt on chameleons I came up with chameleons that were discredited because the legs were straight. And I was told ‘no, no, no, they must have some fingers and things like that.’ So when I did the next one, I had some feet, but I was told ‘no, this looks like a bird’s feet.’ That’s when I decided I wanted to learn what a chameleon looks like.
“So the first day, I went to the forest and I didn’t find one. The second day I didn’t succeed, but on the third day, I found the chameleon. So I took it to a neighbor’s house and tried to learn everything about the structure of its body, the way it walks, and all that and after that I was comfortable with the chameleon.”
Next, she taught herself to make a goat, with some help from her husband. “My husband, Mwangi, has a second wife and he lives with her near Nairobi. Sometimes when I went visiting my husband I saw a goat tethered there. When I saw this goat, I went and bought some synthetic yarn from the shop and started to knit that. When I started on the second one, my husband came in and he asked me, ‘What is it you’re doing?’ I said ‘I’m knitting. I’m trying to knit a goat.’ He said ‘Okay, fine. If that’s what you’re doing, let me take you to the neighbor. They have many different types of goats and then you can pick the ones you want for the example.’”
Anastasia says the Molo Wool Project has helped her increase her income and spoke about the impact her earnings have had on her and her family. “My husband and I have one child. Our daughter has five children. My daughter and her children are dependent on me. Previous to joining the Karunga Women’s Group I had difficulty supporting that family, especially my daughter’s children. When I became a member of the group I was paid initially very little because I only knew how to knit one thing. But since I’ve learned more, the amounts kept growing. The first time I had a substantial amount it was 5,000 Kenya shillings ($53). I had always asked my husband to buy me a phone. I needed a phone seriously. So with the first payment I received, I bought a phone.
“With the second payment I extended this house. I felt it was a bit tiny for me, my daughter, and my daughter’s children. So now it’s much bigger. From the last payment, I was able to buy clothes for the children and my daughter. I also paid school fees for all the children and bought food. And now I have saved some 10,000 shillings ($107), and I’m waiting for the next time I get some more money. I wish to buy a water tank. The first thing I want to invest in is improving my house.
“At the moment, my livelihood is dependent more than 50 percent on the knitting enterprise. I also take up casual employment on peoples’ shambas (farms) but the knitting is actually the backbone of my livelihood. I am now less dependent directly on my husband. He is old and he is no longer working. He is just doing some little farming.
“But I went ahead and asked my husband to bring money for some food even though I knew he didn’t have it. And he brought it. My husband must feel that he is contributing to his family. So the little that he gave wasn’t enough to buy everything that we need, but now he feels that we have done it as a family team. I don’t want to show myself, or to tell my husband—now that I am more capable—that I don’t need him in my life. I need him. I would hate a situation where he feels challenged because he feels that I have more income now. I can’t tell him how much I earn. It’s difficult for many women to tell their husbands what they earn, and even worse for me, because there are two wives. That would be more challenging on the husband and the other wife. So I have to keep my secrets to myself.
“I’m training my daughter to make some of these products. She tried the chameleon but it didn’t come out very well. Now she has learned to make the horses. And so I think I’m capable of doing more. And this might even lead to another means of livelihood and more contribution by my daughter. So I’ve been able to teach others how to make some of those products, but I’m still working on learning more.”