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When Jackline Karambu a 30-year-old small scale farmer from Meru County, joined a Village Savings and Loaning Association 9 years ago, she didn’t anticipate the transformation it has contributed to her financial freedom today. Having been used to the traditional merry-go-round women’s groups, Karambu thought that this was just another group where they could meet and share the little contributions, they had amongst themselves and call it a day. At least, that is how Jitegemee Group C Self Help Group (SHG), where she is a member, used to operate until their journey with ICE began in the year 2015.


“My name is Jackline Karambu. I am 30 years old and I am married with two children aged eight and four years. I hail from Kirogine village in Imenti North Constituency, Meru County. When I completed school, I chose to immerse myself in self-employment through small-scale farming. I have always loved farming; hence, it was very easy for me to find my footing quite quickly. “I embarked on farming vegetables and rearing chicken,” she narrates.


Jackline says all was not rosy because after some seasons she needed money to expand and attempts to get a loan from mainstream financing institutions turned futile. “Every bank or savings and loaning facility that I approached required me to submit some form of security, which I didn’t have.” “This was quite frustrating, and it slowed down my ambition,” she recalls.

Jackline at her food forest: VSLA has helped diversify her farming ventures


In 2014, a friend introduced her to Jitegemee Group C (SHG), a village merry-go-round group where members would meet and make minimal contributions that would be shared amongst them. This, she says, wasn’t the ideal arrangement she was looking for, but the group helped in bringing together individuals that shared a common vision. A year after the group’s formation, Jackline narrates that an encounter with ICE transformed the group’s way of operating. Through capacity-building workshops conducted by ICE, the group was trained on governance, group dynamics, and registration, and it is out of this that the group that was then operating informally was registered and transformed into a VSLA. Through the VSLA, Jackline says that she was able to make some savings, which enabled her to borrow a loan three times the amount of her savings.


Asked about her experience since she joined the VSLA, Jackline says it has been transformative. From only growing vegetables on a quarter of an acre of land and keeping a handful of chickens, she has now diversified her farming by venturing into dairy farming and large-scale chicken rearing. “I now rear up to 500 chickens per season,” she explains.


Out of her diversified farming venture, Jackline has also supported her husband in building some rental houses to boost the family’s income. She also says that the group members are allowed to take up more than one slot where they can contribute double or triple the monthly contrubtions, which has also helped her increase her loan borrowing stakes.


Asked to describe the operations of her VSLA, she says that the group has quite a number of benefits that range from table banking to welfare to emergencies. In her table banking, members contribute 200 Kenya shillings per month, which is in turn lent to members who repay within the period of one to seven months with five percent interest. Currently, the group lends a maximum of Kshs. 30,000 per individual member. For the welfare, members contribute Kshs.100 which is put in a kitty to help any ember that gets into an emergency. Emergencies range from lack of school fees to sickness or death.


Jackline says that this has not been without challenges, though. She says some of the challenges the group faces are the inability of some members to repay their loans due to various reasons or some intentional refusal to pay. The other challenge is lack of enough capital to accommodate all the intentions to borrow. They have managed to minimize their risks by putting in place stringent measures for borrowers that require them to have guarantors or submit security. The group also ensures proper recording and has a debt recovery strategy that engages the local authorities in case of default.


A parting shot from Jackline about VSLA, “VSLA works. At least it has worked for me and other group members. My economic status has improved tremendously for the past 7 years since I started borrowing loans from my group. “I would encourage other people out there to join VSLA, and I always share my experience to encourage other people.”