Residents of Maara in Tharaka-Nithi County are bubbling with hope that they could eventually kiss poverty goodbye in the next few years.
Their hopes are riding on a business model designed by a US-trained lawyer, Dr Kajira Kanampiu Mugambi. The model borrows substantially from an idea in Bangladesh which has been so transformative that the idea’s originator, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Dr Mugambi created the initiative which local have dubbed mutethia — a kikuyu word meaning saviour— in a bid to turn around the fortunes of his villagers. He is carrying out the project under his charity, Village HopeCore International he set up 2001.
So will this idea take off and be a resounding success as it did in Bangladesh? Dr Mugambi strongly believes so.
How does the plan work? A loan of Sh30,00 is given to a group of 12 people after undergoing training. The debt attracts an interest rate of 4.5 per cent over six months.
If the group repays the loan, each of its members qualifies for a credit of between Sh30,000 and Sh60,000, depending on how industrious and capable they are. The loan is repaid in 22 months and attracts interest of nine per cent per year.
“I borrowed that idea from the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh,” Dr Mugambi said when we sat down for an interview in his office in Chogoria. He said he read about Prof Yunus’ idea and modified it to fit the Maara Sub County environment.
“It is about funding groups of poor people in the community; people who cannot afford to, or who would not qualify for, loans from commercial banks,” he said.
“Prof Yunus found a way for the poor to get loans, where they even co-sponsor each other and guarantee each other. That’s the idea I borrowed from.”
By June this year, HopeCore had funded 105 self-help groups. The aim is to enable residents afford their children’s school fees, pay their health bills and get well-fed.
When Enterprise visited the lush green constituency — where the main economic activities are farming coffee, tea, subsistence crops and rearing livestock — we found that a number of those who had taken loans from HopeCore had invested in agriculture.
Ms Consolata Karegi, for instance, received a Sh30,000 loan in 2013 with which she bought a dairy cow. Two years later, she got a second loan which she used to buy another cow. She currently owns three dairy cows and two calves.
In Gitumbi village, Anthony Mwiti decided to invest in posho mill business. A Sh30,000 loan he received in 2016 helped him buy a posho mill, enabling him diversify his businesses. He hopes to finish repaying the loan later this year.
Inspired by the achievements made by those who had taken loans, Ms Fridah Gakii from Mugijo village formed a group in order to meet the requirements for getting a loan. She was one of the people receiving training from HopeCore personnel at a PCEA church compound when Enterprise visited.
“I want to rear chickens. I have some already but I want to add more and build a better structure for them and feed them well,” she says.
Chogoria sub-location assistant chief Wilberforce Micheni said Village HopeCore’s poverty eradication programme is “very popular”.
“They have nicknamed it mutethia, meaning the rescuer,” he says.
“HopeCore has opened up opportunities for those businesspeople who are competent and hard working.”
The assistant chief has been monitoring the organisation’s operations since it began in 2001 and has a lot of praise for Dr Mugambi , who is in his seventies.
“He is an economist, a philanthropist. I think it is his childhood dream; he came all the way from the US to here at the village level to implement the idea,” Mr Micheni says.
After living, studying and working in the US between 1963 and 2005, Dr Mugambi decided to leave his high-flying job as a lawyer to uplift the livelihoods of his home village, where he himself grew up in abject poverty.
“I often went for a day or more without food, surviving only on water,” recalled Dr Mugambi, who beat odds to obtain doctorate in law from the University of California, Los Angeles, California (UCLA).
He went to the US with the help of his cousin Julius Murungi who was part of the Tom Mboya airlifts to America that also involved his brother Dr. M”Rithaa Kanampiu.
Dr Mugambi’s zeal to form Village HopeCore was informed by a vision he had been holding dearly. From 1982, after helping some of his siblings move to the US, something was pushing him to do something to rid his home area of preventable diseases that were killing children. He decided the best way to do this was to lift his village from poverty.
To realise his dream, Dr Mugambi incorporated Village HopeCore in the US. From the 1980s it was a step-by-step process, building the project with his own personal funds.
In 2000, Dr Mugambi flew to Kenya to formally register the organisation.
“I chose ‘HopeCore’ as the middle name for my charity as a reminder of the American Peace Corps. The Peace Corps reminded me that if young Americans can be coming to our African villages and sacrifice two years of their lives, I, who was born in an African village, should commit many years if not a lifetime to making a difference in African village communities,” he says.
In 2001, his idea began to take shape as the first groups took Village HopeCore loans.
“I decided to work with them for two years to actually see the model; to see how it was working as a poverty eradication strategy,” says Dr Mugambi.
In 2002, however, he flew back to the US after leaving someone to foresee the running of the initiative. But running it remotely posed problems and in 2005, he decided to permanently relocate from the US to come to Kenya.
Since then, Village HopeCore has grown with the help of well-wishers who Dr Mugambi met during his stay in the US State of California.
The well-wishers include US-based doctor Philip Rasori, who is also a member of the HopeCore board and the director of its public health department.
Dr Rasori’s son Philip Michael and daughter Ariane of California are among those involved in the funding and running of the organisation. Kathy Sangster of New Port Beach, California has also been supporting the programme over the years.