The Coronavirus pandemic when first discovered in Nairobi Kenya in early 2020, sent shock-waves across the business community.
For those who had established large businesses that had existed for more than 10 years, most were likely unshaken hopeful that their dealings would be unaffected.
But the story is much different for the small to medium enterprise owners. To those who run enterprises that offer them a chance at securing their bread and butter on a daily basis, the Coronavirus wreaked havoc from the very start. In fact, it seems that for entrepreneurs that were solely reliant on one stream of income there was a sense of impending doom that hang over them.
According to World Bank report, the new Kenya Economic Update finds that COVID-19 has damaged livelihoods, especially affecting women, youth, and refugees…Kenya Economic Update, Navigating the Pandemic, finds that the pandemic and measures to mitigate the spread of the virus are creating multiple challenges for Kenya’s private sector, with severe consequences for household jobs and incomes.
For the women of Power Women Kibera, it is a story of resilience even in the face of great hardship. The 15 women formed a community-based organization in the heart of Sarang’ombe, Kibera in 2004. The women who bravely battle with the auto-immuno disease HIV, seek to be independent and provide for their families through the Power Women for Kibera enterprise. Previously working to reduce the stigma associated with HIV and AIDs, they now sell handmade items that include curios, home-ware and African beaded jewelry. One interacting with them, its evident in their faces that they are very proud of what they have achieved; as they rightly should.
From an outsider looking in it may seem that the economic effects of the pandemic are not as serious, but really COVID-19 has affected their business gravely. As we toured their workshop and office premises, their displays remain full; a stark contrast to a few months ago when tourists flocked their stall and product turnover was high.
Speaking about previous day-to-day operations, the Power Women’s Secretary Rosemary Adhiambo noted that the number of tourists sharply declined. Rosemary noted, that from being busy all week long, they have had just afew visitors due in turn to the strict travel bans. A tailor herself, Rosemary noted that for them, it is no longer business as usual.
Since the organization first began in 2004, the group has been at the forefront of dynamic thinking in ensuring they stay competitive in the curio business. They had a previous arrangement working closely with a local touring business in Kibera, this ensured visitors stopped by and purchased their creations regularly. They work with their hands, and often test out new designs, and now with COVID-19 they even switched strategies making masks. As schools opened under the order of the Minister for Education, the women quickly capitalized on the opportunity to make masks for school children and adults at an affordable cost.
Speaking about what they faced and what comes next, beading specialist Teresa noted that many women left the group’s core business to seek other opportunities to make ends meet during these tough times. Understandably so, the group has faced challenges with providing a sustainable living wage for members at this time, they have rented out space to earn an extra coin. With support from various patrons, and organizations including the Octopizzo Foundation the women of Power Women of Kibera remain hopeful for the future.
Looking forward, the organization that first began nearly two decades ago has had to pivot, re-invent itself and revisit its business operations to survive various economic downturns. However, one thing has not changed throughout the years Power Women Group has been more than just an organization to secure a living; rather it is a place where women connect, where women find love and support in like-minded individuals. It is a sisterhood.
Teresa opened up explaining that the support and community in the group is vital to her well-being. She also commented on the fact that there is room for improvement when it comes to the care and welfare of HIV+ members in society. When asked what she would say about her personal journey living with HIV/AIDS, she noted that the unavailability of ARVs does disrupt her health. Government agencies hardly offer any information on new medical advancements, and from her research she wondered if the injectable ARVs would be available locally as they soon will be in other states. Knowing just how important her health is to her, it is evident that maintaining a healthy outlook is a major concern for all members.
Rosemary spoke about the community aspect of the organization noting that most of the women had children in the same age-set. She said, “One thing I have learnt is that to be a leader, is not to demand but to serve.” She also added, “We encourage each other, most of our kids now are teenagers and there are many challenges; so we discuss how to build friendships between a mother and their child.”
Since the pandemic and its effects established itself as the new normal, Power Women’s Group has gone digital. The group now has an Instagram account to sell its wares, and hopefully reach a larger audience despite the travel restrictions.They hope to revive their website to use it as an outlet to sell more products, and offer some insight on the beautiful community around them. Targeting a local audience and patrons abroad, they hope that the new avenue will inject new life into their business and bring with it more revenue for its members.
Please visit their Instagram account @powerwwomenkibera shop some of their products or visit them in Sarang’ombe, Kibera.