Our ambitious programme leader in Burundi

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson, with data and information collected from the Five Talents USA office.

Literacy group learner in Burundi. Photo by  Ross Oscar Knight .

Literacy group learner in Burundi. Photo by Ross Oscar Knight.

In partnership with the Mothers’ Union, Five Talents has been working in Burundi since 2008 to support literacy & business skills training and the development of community savings groups. Our programme helps participants learn to read, write, manage their finances as well as develop skills and attitudes that they can apply in their homes and businesses. We have reached over 50,000 participants, and 200,000 family members have benefited from improved household income; which in turn has led to better access to nutritious food, education and medical care.

In 2019 we have already supported the training and formation of 10 new literacy and savings groups in each of the 9 dioceses of Burundi, training 45 new facilitators who have formed a total of 90 groups! These groups are not only encouraging economic development, but also peace building. Participants are drawn from different ethnic groups & faiths, working together in order to meet their basic needs and support each other.

Claudette at her desk. Photo by  Ross Oscar Knight .

Claudette at her desk. Photo by Ross Oscar Knight.

Our Programme Coordinator, Claudette, and her team served over 4,600 new members in the last year and supported the development of over 700 businesses. In Burundi 8 in 10 of our programme participants are women. Claudette visited the UK in July to share the transformative work her team has achieved - and to share the great news that, with your support, we have raised enough money to purchase a new vehicle so her team can travel safely and reach even more rural, marginalised communities!

Many of you may be wondering, what’s next for Claudette? Later this month, she travels to Nairobi to meet our programme leaders at the Five Talents Kenya office. She and her team are sharing their learning to our other programme leaders, so members across East Africa can benefit from her work and the Mothers’ Union’s approach to literacy & numeracy.

If you want to know more about Claudette, she was featured in The Church Times while in the UK; read her article here.

Business Landscapes: Green Pastures & Death Valley

This blog post was written by Five Talents UK’s Founder (and former CEO), Tom Sanderson, after a recent Five Talents’ event.

Tom speaks at the Shard for Five Talents supporters.

Tom speaks at the Shard for Five Talents supporters.

I founded the Five Talents UK office in 2005 and I’m really delighted that it continues to go from strength to strength - not for its own sake, but for the people it serves - currently some 20,000 group members that have mobilised around $5m in their own savings and $15m in loans.

One of our first grants received was from John Humphrys - who runs the Kitchen Table Charities Trust. I really was working from my kitchen table in the beginning!

In other programmes I’d supported, I was met with entrepreneurs who thank me for my support by saying, “This is your goat Mr. Tom.” One of my strongest memories of Five Talents was meeting a woman running a road-side cafe. She had used a loan to buy more plates and saucepans, meaning she could literally serve more customers. The language she used - “these are my plates and my saucepans” - and her self-esteem and demeanour, impacted me tremendously.

Five Talents’ savings-led approach is sustainable and emphasises stewardship and self-reliance, within a group setting, and is coupled with literacy, numeracy and business training.

There are many millions of small enterprises in Africa, but very few large companies. Firms can experience a “valley of death”. The US Bureau of Statistics estimates that 20% of business start-ups in the USA fail in the first year; 50% fail by the 5th year; and 70% fail by year 10.

This made me think of Psalm 23 - “even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. What an amazing picture for the entrepreneur. God is with us in tough times. And of course the Psalm goes on to provide even more encouragement.

I have interpreted Psalm 23 below and given it a contemporary twist for the entrepreneur. It recognises the “green pastures” and “quiet waters” that we sometimes enjoy; as well as the challenges and impacts. This has certainly been my experience.

As I look back with pride on how Five Talents has grown, I simply want to encourage you - entrepreneur or not - to remember that God is with you. He can be our “business mentor and ideal companion - what more do I need?”

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Building Businesses Together in Kenya

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson.

Some of the Baringo beehives.

Some of the Baringo beehives.

Recently many of you supported a campaign to buy a new vehicle for our Programme Coordinator in Baringo, Eva. We’re elated to let you know she has that new vehicle and it’s making her work of training rural, remote Savings & Loans Groups much easier, quicker and safer!

Training is the backbone of what we do and our trainer in Kericho, Kenya, Emmy, has also been delivering training on specific, unique business skills.

These two resourceful women are training groups in activities such as bee-keeping, soap making and yoghurt making. This new training is helping members diversify their resources and work together to create an income to benefit their whole Savings Group.

In Baringo, you can spot honey in jars all along the roadside - it’s often produced in this region of Kenya. Honey must be of a certain standard to go to a major supplier, meaning most producers just sell within their local community. One of our Savings & Loans Groups has invested in over 250 beehives! The beehives will help them produce high quality honey that can be sold to a large supplier in Nairobi. With help from their trainer, Eva, the group is working together to achieve their goals and create a better business that they may all profit from. Drought has delayed their first honey harvest, but the group will split the profits among the members after their first batch makes it to their supplier in Nairobi.

Soap making
This soap is quite a crazy green colour, but it is changing lives for some of our members. With guidance from our local trainer, Emmy, in Kericho, members learned how to make the soap so they could start selling it in markets. Making the soap themselves cuts down on the supply chain so members benefit more immediately from the profits. Even better - they found a local school to sell the soap to. They’re supporting their community and creating safe, sanitary environments for their children.

Yoghurt making
Also in Kericho, members have begun making yoghurt to sell. Emmy helped the group through the process. Although it is long, many of the members in the group produce milk, so finding another way to utilise that resource made a lot of sense. The group can invest together in the other ingredients required to make it more profitable for all. Working together they produce the yoghurt, pot it and then sell it to other members of the community.

Five Talents is excited to watch our Kenyan programmes grow as our ambitious trainers help members diversify incomes and build businesses, together.

Where are all the Women in South Sudan?

This blog post was written by our CEO, Rachel Lindley, following a visit to South Sudan in July 2019.

Rachel sits with a group in South Sudan.

Rachel sits with a group in South Sudan.

One of our partners, World Concern, met me at Wau airport in South Sudan, and drove me to the hotel - three men and me. Recently, our local partners advertised for a new microenterprise role and had 60 applicants – only one woman. We passed a Jeep of soldiers on the road; all men. In my hotel that evening, I walked into the restaurant for dinner and every table was full of men. There was not another woman in the place.

I wondered: where are all the women in Wau?

The next day, I found them, two hours down a bumpy dirt road out of Wau. Ruth, the chairwoman of the only community bank, and Tabitha, the cashier; Claudia, who took a loan to start a small café which is so successful she has employed another young woman to help; another Claudia, who with her friend, Mary, took a loan to rent a market stall jointly. Together, they sell sorghum, sugar, okra, greens, lulu oil, cooking oil, sweets and groundnut paste. The profits are good and now their children are in school.

The following morning, we visited “Peace” Savings Group. The Group had 27 women and 3 men. Most of the women had lost their husbands and homes during the conflict. They had fled when violence erupted and returned later to find their houses looted and destroyed.

“War has no warning,” one told me.

They were left with nothing – husbands, homes, farms and property all gone. One woman wept as she told her story, and I saw the need for the trauma healing element of this programme. I felt for women who don’t have a support network like a savings group.

Lastly, we visited another group where the Chair, Treasurer and Secretary were all women. The members told me they used to just collect firewood and cut grass for roofing; now, they cultivate, sell and save. A wizened old woman told me money ‘gets lost’ far too easily unless you have a group to save with. A young pregnant woman explained how the group had helped when her husband died. Another said her children were no longer malnourished.

Several of the women had exciting plans for the future like starting a shop, building a house, sending a child to secondary school, buying a ground-nut crusher – but they caveat every plan with, ‘if the peace lasts.’ They suggested peace starts with them, in the community, not at government levels.

I heard exactly the same message from the wonderful Mothers’ Union Co-ordinator, Mama Harriet, who is a key advocate for peace at national level, and her equally wonderful programme managers, Sarah and Jesca. They have formed and trained hundreds of literacy and savings groups in South Sudan, with some incredible outcomes on community cohesion as well as literacy, savings and microenterprise.

This, I realised, is where the women are. Working together in villages for peace, feeding and educating their children, saving for tomorrow, planning for a better future. We pray the peace will last so they can achieve it.

Taking Opportunities to Create a Better Life

This blog post was written by our Fundraising Development Manager, Charles Harvey, following a visit to Uganda in July 2019.

Charles after landing at Moroto airport in Uganda.

Charles after landing at Moroto airport in Uganda.

I was sitting at my desk at home on a dark, wet January morning sorting out my business finance - distracted by the constant rain. That’s when I decided it was time for a change. I’d spent two years working for myself as a consultant and on paper I was doing better than ever, but something was missing. I wasn't entirely happy.

I found Five Talents almost by accident after a rant and a quick Google search that same morning - then I was applying for a job. Six months later and I’m stepping off an aeroplane in Uganda onto African soil for the first time ever. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life can change if you make it happen!

I had two ‘long-haul’ flights and an overnight in Entebbe before I got on the small two seater plane headed north to Moroto in Karamoja. This remote, but beautiful, region is where Five Talents helps people to transform their lives through savings, loans, literacy and business skills training.

The rains had finally arrived in Karamoja after three months of waiting and everything was lush and green, but this masked the truth that very few people had planted crops, and those that did might not make it to harvest.

Group training in Karamoja, Uganda.

Group training in Karamoja, Uganda.

We drove across rough terrain to visit a remote village and attend an adult literacy and numeracy class. I was excited to meet members of the savings group. Since the team visited last October, the members have moved from writing their names to proudly demonstrating they could write phrases and sentences. This has completely changed their lives. One grandmother told us she now works with the village health team supporting pregnant women, reading health information and delivering hygiene training. Another young man told us that he was able to save for the first time and has taken a loan to set-up his shop; selling to villagers, passing school children and soldiers in the area.

I was struck by this transformation and how our support had given so many members hope and the opportunity to take control of their lives - to create a better future for themselves. It’s made me reflect on my own decisions and my personal journey over the last few months. In this hectic and demanding world of ours, do we stop to think about what we do with our time? Do we grab opportunities that help us live better and more fulfilled lives?

I feel our members grab that opportunity every day they attend group training.

Don’t miss your chance to take a journey with Five Talents as a supporter, an advocate or a volunteer. Contact us to start an adventure that will leave you feeling gratified.

Meet a Microfinance Member: Betty from Kenya

This blog post was written by Five Talents’ 2019 summer intern Amanda Tuzzo from stories collected in Kenya.

Betty with some clothes.

Betty with some clothes.

Betty lives in Embu, Kenya. Like many women in Betty’s community, she does her best to care for her two children with profits from livestock she has. Having been introduced to a Five Talents’ Savings & Loans Group, she joined, particularly excited about the opportunity to be trained in record keeping and how to save money. Betty was excited when her group began loaning to one another, and with thanks to her peers, she was able to take out her first loan.

Betty used her loan to establish a business selling clothes near her home. Today neighbours, church members and many others in her community stop by her stand, and it is growing with more products! Betty is even using some of her proceeds to benefit her community - sometimes she uses her profits to visit and support community members in times of sickness and bereavement.

Unfortunately, drought is able to affect even a budding clothes merchant! Betty has found that drought during the dry season is causing some customers to prioritise buying their food, leaving them less money to spend on her clothes. This makes Betty’s business challenging, but the financial management training she received in her Five Talents’ group taught her to save some of her profits so she is sustaining her family through the difficult times.

Even through the difficulties, Betty feels her business has positively influenced her life in many ways. She feels she is a better mother now saying, “I kept depending on my husband to feed us and meet our needs, but now I can pay for medicine, feed my family, and send my children to school.”

The success of her business, and continued Group meetings, have encouraged her to socialise with the other women in her community and attend more church activities. Best of all, Betty’s been able to open her own bank account for the first time.

UK to Uganda: My Journey with Five Talents

This blog post was written by a Five Talents supporter and donor, Philip Turner, who serves as Head of Specie at Canopius.

Trainers in Karamoja, Uganda.

Trainers in Karamoja, Uganda.

I’ll be honest, my journey with Five Talents didn’t start well! In February 2018 a good friend in my church invited me to a breakfast to promote Five Talents and their work with the poor in Africa. The event was held in the Shard in London and we were to enjoy delicious eggs and bacon with seemingly no expense spared. I must confess, I arrived rather grumpy and ready to challenge how me eating an expensive breakfast helped the poor in Africa?

I met Five Talents’ Director of Fundraising, Sue, and CEO, Rachel, and gave them quite a grilling. I have to admit they came across with an integrity and dedication that was incredibly difficult to fault. I was convicted that rather than hurl bricks at Five Talents why not visit one of their projects and see the work that they do for myself.

So, I quickly booked my trip to travel to Karamoja, Uganda with Five Talents in October 2018. The trip changed my life. It was without doubt one of the best “holidays” I have ever had and I have had a few over the past 60 years! My journey with Five Talents took me from a Shard breakfast to a Ugandan village where the local young men were digging for rats for their breakfast! 

While in Uganda I heard stories of how Five Talents has changed lives - in particular how the programmes have empowered women to earn money and support their families. I saw evidence of big charities at work in Karamoja and it clearly is big business. It was not all good either, as an empty school built in the middle nowhere exemplified!  

Group meeting in Karamoja, Uganda.

Group meeting in Karamoja, Uganda.

What I like most about the work of Five Talents is that it does not give a single penny as a handout. Every Five Talents member has to save their own money and then the charity facilitates those savings being wisely invested in microenterprise projects - after they have received business training and literacy & numeracy training through Five Talents. To me, it is clearly self-help – not charity. 

Today, I am a huge fan of Five Talents and especially of Sue, Rachel and the rest of the small Five Talents team! I have used my personal Lloyd’s of London connections to host a breakfast like the first one I attended (I have found out the Five Talents team calls in favours so that their events are amazingly economical!) and my insurance knowledge to speak at another Five Talents event hosted at the Hatton Garden safe deposit vault. Now, I give monthly and pray regularly that God will bless the work of Five Talents. Starting your own journey with Five Talents is as simple as dropping them a line - and I’d encourage you to attend one of their excellent events too.

Using Your God-given Talents

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson.

Eva (middle) & Megan (left) with Five Talents USA staff, volunteers, and ARDF partners.

Eva (middle) & Megan (left) with Five Talents USA staff, volunteers, and ARDF partners.

One of our donors recently told us, “What I particularly like about Five Talents is that you’re only one step away from the members around the world.”

While we love talking about Five Talents UK as a small organisation with a team that fits around one table, it is also incredible to remember we aren’t actually that small - we are part of a bigger Five Talents family. Five Talents has been serving communities for over two decades and has offices in three different countries - Kenya, the UK and the USA. Together, over 1,000,000 people have benefitted from Five Talents programmes.

Currently, we have active programmes in 8 countries, 15 programme leaders, and over 100 community trainers on the ground who work tirelessly to change lives. Last month I travelled to visit our office in the US - a small building with just a few passionate team members. The US office manages our programmes in South Sudan, Burundi, Bolivia and Myanmar. As our programmes grow, we are working to learn more from each other and grow our programmes together. We are one Five Talents working to transform lives through economic empowerment.

Eva (right) presents to a group about the Bolivia programme’s impact.

Eva (right) presents to a group about the Bolivia programme’s impact.

While in the US, I met Bolivia’s Training Coordinator Eva Mamani. She leads the programme alongside her sister Sara. Over the last year, Eva & Sara have carefully facilitated 23 savings groups. Much like the other countries we work in, they train group leaders to motivate and empower members to save and start businesses.

Eva told an incredible story of a woman, Justina, who started a business with just five dollars. Upon their first meeting, Justina told Eva she was not very smart and didn’t have any skills. When Eva asked Justina if there was anything she enjoyed doing Justina’s answer was quick - cooking!

With some guidance from Eva, Justina took her savings of $5 and cooked 5 plates of food. She was able to sell them and make 10 dollars. With her profits, Justina made 10 plates of food and sold them for twenty dollars. Today, after taking a loan, Eva says Justina owns her own restaurant. Eva was very quick to point out that Justina was a smart woman with a God-given talent for cooking - she just needed a push from Five Talents in the right direction.

A Picture Speaks 1,000 Words

This blog post was created by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson with photos taken by Five Talents’ photographer Adam Dickens.

Five Talents was delighted to be hosted by Wavemaker UK in the Sea Containers building in London for a wonderful photo exhibition. We displayed photos by Adam Dickens and his photographers from Taking Pictures, Changing Lives. While many of our supporters came to hear Adam speak about the last ten years working with Five Talents, we want those of you who could not join us to get to see the beautiful photos displayed. See below the photos included in the exhibit to learn more about our work offering entrepreneurs around the world a hand up, not a handout.

How to Train Your Trust Group

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson, following a visit in October 2018.

Sam in Karamoja, Uganda.

Sam in Karamoja, Uganda.

Sam is a Community Based Trainer (CBT) in the remote region of Karamoja, in northeast Uganda. He is incredibly proud of his work; helping groups with saving, loaning and organising literacy training sessions. Sam did not hesitate with his role, he jumped right in to start forming groups and begin training. Today, he leads nine Trust Groups. A Trust Group is a group of members who save their money collectively and loan from the same collective pot, co-guaranteeing each others’ loans.

When Sam began the groups, he noticed many of the members were hesitant about saving. Members had such little income, and the concept of saving was new, so they were not aware of the benefits saving could have. Slowly he had to encourage members around a culture of saving, but they often did not know how to build their profits or begin.

Distance is a great challenge for both Sam and the members he works with. Members could travel up to 15km on foot to attend a group meeting, or go to the market. Sam is working with members to find ways to combat these challenges. Even among hardship, Sam is quick to note how much the community’s attitude for saving has changed. Many of the members look at saving positively and see how saving will benefit them in times of drought or other emergencies.

Sam shows his group members photos on a tablet.

Sam shows his group members photos on a tablet.

“Distance is one of my challenges, but I find it is okay. I need to reach the members because of my passion to help them see the changes in their lives,” Sam told us when we last saw him in October.

Sam enjoys watching his groups grow and learn together, though he admits he can become impatient as members adjust to new concepts and ideas; he sees members’ potential often before they do. Sam is using his impatience as an asset: making sure he is quick to encourage members during their literacy lessons. After five months of literacy training many group members are writing their names and reading for the first time. Often members find the groups through their local church, or word of mouth.

The positive changes and growth that Sam witnesses within his Trust Groups certainly outweigh the challenges as Sam states, “I know this job is where I am supposed to be.”

Literacy & Learning: Tools of Transformation in Burundi

This blog post was written by Sasha Watterson after visiting a Five Talents programme in February 2019.

Beautiful mountains in Burundi.

Beautiful mountains in Burundi.

Since independence in 1962, Burundi has been plagued by ethnic and political conflict, and is still recovering from a devastating civil war that contributed to high illiteracy rates, poor health care and exacerbated gender disparity. Five Talents has been working in Burundi for over 10 years and recently I visited the programme with a group of supporters, where we got to visit some incredible members.

One of the many highlights of the trip was visiting a literacy class in Makamba. In Burundi only 5.2% of women and 9.2% of men have a secondary education, so with high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy, these classes are key to the Five Talents programme working effectively in many of the rural communities we work in.

Our local partner Claudette told us that members buy their own notebooks and supplies for the classes, as they are participants, not beneficiaries. The local team want to encourage members to take ownership of their group and learning; this encourages the members to take pride in the work they are doing. The class we visited was close to graduation, and will soon be starting a savings group.

Something that was immediately obvious, was the impressive way the facilitator kept everyone's attention. He knew how to keep everyone engaged in the material, changing up his teaching style and using different mediums to keep everyone interested.

Blackboard used during literacy and numeracy lesson.

Blackboard used during literacy and numeracy lesson.

His topic was ‘soil erosion’. The group shared wisdom on how too much tree-cutting can indirectly lead to poor harvests and food shortages. The group learnt about an issue, as well as practising all the vowel and syllable sounds in ‘soil erosion’ (in Kirundi of course). They also did some numeracy practice; how many trees do you have if you plant 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon, but 3 of them die?

He began with a review of the last lesson, which had focused on the theme of gender relations. Claudette noted that when she had previously visited the class men sat on one side, and the women on another.

That wasn’t the case when we visited; everyone was sitting mixed together.

We saw lots of examples of transformation like this. One woman from another Group had taken a loan to expand her cafe menu and with the increased profits, she was paying school fees for orphans and giving some enterprise skills training to local youth too. It was so inspiring to hear how she shared her learning and profits with others in need.

You can learn more about the Five Talents programme in Burundi by clicking here.

Meet a Member: Joyce from Uganda

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson.

Joyce at her Trust Group meeting.

Joyce at her Trust Group meeting.

I’d like to introduce you to Joyce, one of our members. I had the pleasure of meeting Joyce in October 2018 in rural Karamoja, Uganda.

Joyce is the Secretary of her Five Talents Savings Group in a remote village. She takes great pride in helping lead the group, and sees herself as an example to other members. At 36 years old she has two children, both are of school age and Joyce has to pay the fees. Joyce lights up when she talks about her children. Providing for them, and ensuring their future, is incredibly important to her.

As Secretary, Joyce collects and counts the money for her group meticulously, making sure everything is accurate. Joyce trusts the other women in the group, as they trust her and she enjoys the friendships that she has built through the group.

While she has pride in her children and leadership responsibilities, she also loves her pigs!

Joyce owns 15 pigs, raising, caring for and selling them is how she makes a living for her family. The pigs provide her an income, and she has been raising them for just over three years. She can sell one piglet for 25,000 Ugandan Shillings which feeds her family for two weeks.

One of Joyce’s greatest challenges in raising pigs is having a proper enclosure and containing them. She has a small mud and stick structure which she corrals them in, but she finds the pigs often break out. Sometimes they will eat the crops her neighbours are producing, and they can be difficult to track down and bring back on foot.

Joyce feeds some of her pigs.

Joyce feeds some of her pigs.

As part of the group, Joyce enjoys having a safe place to save her own money, and soon hopes to take out a loan to create a better enclosure for her pigs. This will keep them from escaping and causing damage, but it also means she will be able to raise more of them, which will add to her income!

“The pigs are challenging, but I love what I do.”

Youth Become Leaders in Tanzania

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson.

Youth member at her stall making chips.

Youth member at her stall making chips.

As our Tanzanian partners often tell us, Tanzania is a vast country. In fact, Kenya would nearly fit into Tanzania twice over.  Five Talents started our latest Tanzanian programme in Morogoro Diocese in 2017 - a large area nearly four times the size of Wales. Today, the programme has over 1,000 members.

On a recent visit to Tanzania our Programme Manager, Hannah learned why members find it important to join Trust Groups. Members mentioned they enjoyed helping each other; being united; loans; savings; exchanging ideas; having a safe place; and they can pass the training on to their families.

Hannah also met lots of members who were benefitting from Savings Groups, including  Mary-Ann. Mary-Ann joined the group because of her friend Jenny and immediately saw the benefits of business training. After saving 10k TSH Mary-Ann was able to start a business selling clothes in the market outside Gairo. She took her first loan with the group for 50k TSH and used it to buy materials to make her own clothes to sell. With her second loan of 90k TSH she was able to hire a tailor to help her. Mary-Ann has paid back both loans, and with the profits she made using the loans she has been able to make repairs to her home.

A third of young people in Tanzania are unemployed and so reaching them through the programme has been a priority. We’ve made sure we go to places where youth feel safe and welcome already - often choirs or sports clubs.

Saving money at a group meeting.

Saving money at a group meeting.

“We have a large population of youth in the community. There are some challenges but it is our goal to look at these challenges and find a way to address them. They have a large amount of unemployment. The community does not trust them because they are not engaged in economic activity. It is important that we help them.” - Jackie, Community Based Trainer

Through Five Talents, youth are becoming more involved in the local economy and are starting to grow their own businesses. They are quick to understand how the programme works and become leaders. Jackie finds that even as leaders they often doubt themselves, with such high unemployment, many feel they have little to contribute. She encourages youth leaders so they feel more comfortable in their new role. Often Jackie finds they make great leaders because they can respond quickly and make changes - she has found that groups develop quicker when the youth are in leadership positions. Since starting the Five Talents programme in Gairo, she has seen the value that youth can contribute to their community.  

Asante Sana, Kenya, For the Memories

This blog post was written by Leanne Turner, a 2018 Marathon participant.

Leanne laughs with children in Mathare.

Leanne laughs with children in Mathare.

This was my second visit to Kenya on a volunteering trip to support an amazing organisation, Five Talents, and my first trip with Impact Marathon. I was given the opportunity to attend the marathon with the support of Glorious Brands.

Nothing could have prepared me for the week ahead, the unmeasurable feeling of inspiration that was about to cast its spell on me in more ways than one.

Our first stop was the Maji Mazuri project in the Mathare Valley. Mathare Valley regularly makes the news for reports of violent gang-related crime. We learned that there’s a lot more to this community and the people that call it home, many of them just trying to better their lives. The Mathare Valley is the oldest and second largest shanty town in Kenya, after Kibera, also based in Nairobi.

The children here are raised in poor living conditions and value their right to an education. The Maji Mazuri project allows children to an education, which will give them the tools to change their lives in the future.

I had the most memorable running experience of my life during this trip to Kenya training with elite Kenyan athletes. It’s not by chance that the Kenyans are arguably the best runners in the world. They train, and they train hard! In high altitude and warm temperatures.

Under coach Gabriel’s lead, we embarked on one of the hardest training sessions of our lives! Interval training has nothing on this, think star jumps, 400 metres, 800 metres and sprint sessions…on REPEAT! Although it sounds like absolute torture, it was lots of fun. I felt honoured to be training among the best in the business, including the 2017 Dublin Marathon winner, Bernard Rotich who completed the 26.2miles in 2 hours 15 minutes!

Runners set out for a training run in Kericho.

Runners set out for a training run in Kericho.

Many of the athletes explained that running in Kenya to the younger generation is inspirational. It demonstrates to them that you don’t need money, or any material equipment to be successful, but you just use your body and train hard to become the best that you can be. Many children in rural communities run to school, run back for lunch, back to school and back home again, so from a young age running is something they’re familiar with.

Throughout the week we learned, we cried, we felt inspired, humbled, shocked, excited, tired, energised, and exhausted. You go through a roller-coaster of emotions whilst having so much fun along the way. All of this was just the lead-up to race day where the roller-coaster of emotions come back…apprehension, excitement, the ‘can I do this’ voice on one shoulder, and the ‘just have fun’ on the other shoulder. Impact Marathon do a fantastic job all week of making you realise that this isn’t in fact a race, it’s fun.

“You’re about to run a half marathon on a tea plantation in Kenya 2,000 metres above sea level, enjoy it.” – Nick Kershaw, Impact Marathon Founder.

And that’s what we did.

We ran with the most motivational group of Kenyan athletes, took in some breathtaking views of the famous Rift Valley, climbed a total elevation of 500 metres and had lots of fun along the way. This really was a race like no other and an experience I’ll never forget.

If you love to run, love to travel, and love to help, sign up now – you won’t be disappointed.

Asante Sana x

Find Leanne on Instagram or Facebook to see more about the 2018 Kenya Impact Marathon and follow her next journey.

Leanne meets students at a Five Talents project in Nakuru, Kenya.

Leanne meets students at a Five Talents project in Nakuru, Kenya.

A Year On From the 2017 Big Give Appeal: Kenya

This blog was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson.

Adam Dickens 2017 - Five Talents-IMS, Kenya 167.jpg

For the 2017 Big Give we asked you to help over 6,700 families in Kenya, as the drought ravaged their crops making life in many regions even more difficult. Malnutrition was widespread, and the government declared it a national emergency.

Last year we introduced you to Esther, from Nakuru. Before the drought she could grow 27 bags of maize on her farm, but as the drought worsened and weather conditions grew poor she could barely grow 10 bags.

Esther and the members of her community were forced to survive on one meal a day, but she always remained hopeful. For Esther, having a safe place to save became incredibly important, as she would have to rely on her savings to see her through the terrible drought, as well as other emergencies and crises. Thanks to her savings, Esther was able to to take a loan from her Five Talents Trust Group, which she used to buy a water tank to help get her through the dry season. She no longer requires assistance from government aid.

Because of you, thousands of farmers like Esther have become more capable of handling crises. They are saving more, buying water tanks, and starting new businesses to see them through the next drought.

“We’ve formed 6 completely new Groups in Embu and Nakuru in the first few months of 2018 and continued to train and support our existing 94 Trust Groups, meaning so many more families will now be protected in the next drought too. Thank you for giving these communities hope and security for the future,” said Eva Karani, local partner in Baringo, Kenya.

Esther’s cow grazing.

Esther’s cow grazing.

Today, Esther is thriving. She can afford to take her children to school, and can access medical care for them when she needs to. She continues to dream big for her farm, and is proudly supporting her family. We’re happy to support people like Esther, to grow their businesses and support their families.

Consider supporting this year’s Big Give Christmas Appeal Aru, DR Congo by clicking here.

Conflict, Climate, and Culture: the Foundations of Karamoja.

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer, Megan Henderson.

Karamoja is located in Northeastern Uganda, close to the Kenyan border. Last week I visited the region for the first time to meet our local partners and visit Trust Groups in the area. It did not take long to understand their challenges. Karamoja is one of the most remote places in eastern Africa. Many people had to walk over 15 kilometers just to attend a group’s meeting. Illiteracy is at 97%, one of the highest rates in Uganda, and people are left poor and uneducated after years of conflict and violence.

Mount Moroto in Moroto, Uganda.

Mount Moroto in Moroto, Uganda.

The climate in Karamoja is harsh, in both wet and dry season. When it rains it pours, making roads unnavigable, flooding fields and destroying crops. During the harsh dry season livestock suffer leaving farmers without food or product to sell. In juxtaposition to the many challenges, each and every person I met echoed one sentiment: hope.

The people of Karamoja are vibrant and welcoming. They are immensely excited to be living in peace and unity together. They want to continue to move forward. They are dedicated and committed to learning literacy, numeracy, and business skills. Each of the four groups I visited wish to create better futures for their children. The women in Karamoja were left behind, often widowed during times of conflict and tension. Today they are thriving, starting their own businesses, and sending their savings to the bank so it is out of reach from their husbands. They are focused on independence, trust, and fellowship with other women in their groups.

Saint Steven’s Savings Group in Pian, Uganda.

Saint Steven’s Savings Group in Pian, Uganda.

The women have many professions: pig farmers, market sellers, shop keepers, fruit growers, bee-keepers. Through their variety of professions you can see their entrepreneurial spirit. They have big dreams, they just need a little more support to get there. Each group was eager to show off their skills. Many of them could write their names, and read their child’s school reports, after only five months of lessons. It was humbling to see our training groups writing their names, when only a few months ago they could not hold a piece of chalk at all. The capacity for knowledge and learning is overwhelming. These women had such pride in themselves, their businesses, and their groups.

Striving to create a better future can be difficult anywhere. In Karamoja it seems incredibly daunting, as markets are far from family homes, making businesses harder to maintain. In Moroto town things are looking better and better. New offices and structures are being built, and the area seems to be expanding at unprecedented speeds. Five Talents is not without our own hope. We are happy to support a marginalized community where every day women are becoming leaders, and building brighter futures. We want the people of Karamoja to continue growing and learning with us, as we discover more ways to help train them for success.

I was shocked at the openness of the communities we visited. Everywhere we travelled the people of Karamoja shouted “Alakara!” In Karamojong this means thank you.

I’d like to pass along their thanks to our supporters. Without you our work in Karamoja would not be possible.


Client Story: Carol from Maai Mahiu, Kenya

This blog post was written by our Creative Communications & Events Officer Megan Henderson, from stories collected earlier in the year.

Carol is the secretary of our Trust Group in Maai Mahiu, Kenya. She has received the largest loan of the group, worth 400,000 Ksh. Carol decided to use the loan to build a kindergarten in her community. The school was opened in January 2018 and has 43 students and employs 10 staff members from the local community. Carol was delighted to share her school with us; she is incredibly grateful. Without the support of her Savings Group and the training she received through our programme, Carol would not have been able to build the school and help the community.


Carol told our team that she hopes that Five Talents continues to grow and serve the other members of her community. In the future she would like to take out a loan to expand the kindergarten for primary (and even secondary one day!) age children to attend school and also to buy a bus, making commutes easier for children and their families. The school is covered in bright colours, and radiates joy from the students and staff, though there are heavy, secure gates around the outside. Microfinance made the school possible, but Carol’s bright idea and creative eye makes the school a beacon to the community.

Click here to read more of our client stories.

How Does Microfinance Work?

This blog post was written by our Engagement & Finance Officer, Sasha Watterson. 

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Microfinance today is a broad term used to describe financial services (such as loans and savings) which are offered to entrepreneurs, small businesses and individuals who lack access to traditional banking services. Dr Mohammad Yunus is considered a pioneer of modern microfinance. In the 1970s and 80s, he experimented with making small loans (which he funded himself) to women in Bangladesh who had relied on loans with unfair terms in the past. 

Since then microfinance has expanded and evolved to include many different structures of microfinance - microcredit, savings-led microfinance, The Grameen Model, savings groups etc. The movement has impacted millions of families over the years, and even today the microfinance landscape continues to develop. For more than a decade Five Talents has been developing a model of savings-led microfinance which allows our clients to build a sustainable income and forge a route out of poverty.

As a microfinance charity, we provide services to more than 35,000 people living in East Africa. Our aim is to give our clients the means to save together (in groups we call Trust Groups) and take small business loans to invest in their micro-enterprises. All Trust Groups are unique and progress at different speeds but most follow a basic model:

  1. Mobilisation: Members form Trust Groups of 75-100 people, subdivided into groups of 3-5 people, who know each other well and are prepared to co-guarantee one another’s loans.

  2. Formation: Members begin saving and are trained in financial literacy and business skills. A Board is elected from amongst the members who are then trained in good governance and oversee all Group meetings and transactions. Groups write their own Constitution and hold elections each year.

  3. Launch of loan scheme: After around 6 months, members start lending to each other and the fund grows through the charging of interest (which is shared out as dividends at the end of the year). Experience shows that groups make very strong credit decisions since each of the members are invested in the loan fund. Throughout this period members continue to receive training in basic business skills.

  4. Trust Group matures: After around 18 months our involvement will begin to decrease as groups mature and are able to operate independently. Groups continue saving and lending together,  giving them an ongoing safety net through their savings and the means to keep growing their businesses.

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Each microfinance programme is based on a model that is designed and operated by our local partners. They know their communities best and, because the model builds sustainable groups, it allows us to move on and start programmes, supporting more communities. Since 2016, as a result of the generosity of our supporters, we have been accelerating the number of programmes we are starting. Visit our website to find out more about our current programmes, including a brand new programme in DR Congo.

Does Microfinance Reduce Poverty?

This blog post was written by our Engagement & Finance Officer, Sasha Watterson.

Over the past decade we have seen hundreds of cases which show the impact of microfinance on poverty. Over a three-year period, our monitoring shows that the clients in our savings-led programmes will have increased their savings fivefold.

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Whilst the savings provide a place to turn during tough times, loans help businesses grow. The members pull their savings together to form loans. At first, these loans are small, generally no more than £150. But as the businesses grow, members save more and the loan fund grows.

There are many ways to reduce poverty, but in the rural areas in which we work, microfinance and development go hand-in-hand. And what’s more, poverty alleviation through microfinance is highly efficient. Over the past decade, every pound donated to our Kenyan programmes has unlocked £12 of economic activity, either in the form of savings or loans.

Over the past ten years, Five Talents supporters have transformed the lives of our clients in a range of ways. The most important effect we see is an increase in dignity; rather than being given a handout each entrepreneur is provided with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. The benefits of our savings-led microfinance model include:

  • Growing a safety net of savings: Microfinance effectiveness can be measured in financial terms. A central benefit of microfinance is that those who joined the programmes three years ago have grown their savings more than fivefold and each has an average of £133 in their savings account today. It’s important to think about these financial figures in a human context. Our group members typically have no savings when they join and live on less than $2.50 a day so this is a truly significant change. The practical result of this is that events such as drought or illness no longer push households into absolute poverty.
  • Building and expanding business and incomes: The main microfinance benefits are the investments made by members from loans which enable them to establish and grow their small businesses. And this is a long-term impact. Repayment rates in our Embu programme in Kenya, for example, are always above 98%, which shows that members are able to run successful businesses after receiving our training.  
  • Being able to meet basic household needs: Children indirectly benefit as members have the income to invest in their children’s schooling, diets, and improve the quality of the family’s healthcare. As a typical family has 4 dependents, by impacting 22,000 households our donors are supporting around 80,000 children. When we visit our clients, the biggest change mentioned by the majority of members is: ‘Now my children can go to school.’
  • Female empowerment: For Five Talents, the importance of microfinance is also linked to the impact it has on gender relations. Women are empowered to make decisions about how to save and invest their incomes and earn money for themselves, which increases their decision-making power in their households and communities more widely.

Microfinance success is always achieved when the model is designed with the client in mind. Each of these benefits is a result of a long-term focus on the dignity of the people we work with. We've seen this pro-community, long-term view work again and again throughout all of our programmes.


Living on the Edge: First Impressions of Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo.

This blog post was written by our CEO, Rachel Lindley upon her return from visiting our new programme starting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Crossing the land border from Uganda into DRC was underwhelming. The border was a piece of rope held by two young men, and as we waited for the inevitable paperwork, the landscape was surprisingly dull. There was none of the usual cross-border trade, bustle and bargaining. Not a single overladen truck, motorbike or even bicycle, no kiosk selling mobile phone top-ups, Coke and sun-bleached biscuits, nothing.


Passports eventually stamped, we drove off into DRC. The contrast with the Ugandan town we'd just left behind was stark. Behind us, a thriving metropolis, with tarmac roads, men, women and children heading to work and school with all the hustle and bustle of every day life in a busy town. Just a mile away in DRC, life could not be more different. I noticed the silence first. No dust - no traffic apart from bicycles. The tarmac main road from the border was built by one of the gold mining firms, but otherwise the roads are all unmade. There is no electricity except from generators or solar panels, no advertising, no mobile money or airtime kiosks and very few roadside businesses, even the most informal.

People in Aru live on the edge in more ways than one. They are on the edge of DRC, just a few miles from Uganda, and many have fled there when conflict and violence have erupted. Decades of civil war in the region mean communities have experienced hideous atrocities as well as famine and sickness that come from fleeing your land and home. As we write, thousands have fled their homes just 100 miles south of Aru, to escape violent machete attacks, raping and looting. Thousands more risk starvation.

I received a warm welcome in a village in Aru, DRC

Thankfully, Aru itself is currently peaceful, and the communities we met could not have been more welcoming - nor more desperate for our programme to begin. Most NGOs are working in the conflict zones, where the need for disaster relief is urgent. But in Aru, people urgently need a way to boost the local economy, increase the number of small businesses, build some savings in case of emergencies and support their children to go to school.

Our programme will integrate literacy training because so many adults missed out on schooling during the years of civil war, and trauma counselling to help adults and children come to terms with the attrocities they have seen and experienced. Despite the horrors in the past, Aru is a place of hope - living on the edge of opportunity with powerful resources of community solidarity, fertile land and a belief in creating a better future for their children. We're privileged to be part of this journey with them.