I recently celebrated the two year anniversary of my stay in Kenya. It is hard to believe that I have been living abroad for so long. What began as an 8 month consulting assignment has evolved into a fantastic 26 month experience. Juhudi Kilimo has grown from a small pilot project into a real business. We have a new website and we were featured in several news articles. Our partnership with Kiva in 2010 has been quite productive by helping us distribute over $550,000 worth of loans. Thanks to all of you who have provided our clients with loans through the Kiva site. Next year will be exciting as we finally hope to close on our funding and will roll out new projects such as M-Pesa and the SMS survey tool called mSwali.
Some personal highlights of the last few months include my rafting trip on the Nile to Jinja in Uganda, a trek through the jungles of Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas and a few other stories I wanted to share.
In Uganda we rode the big white water on the Nile before a new dam destroys the whole valley.
In November I joined a group of friends on a trip to Rwanda to tour the genocide museum of Kigali and see the mountain gorillas. We were charged several times by the gorillas who were drunk on bamboo shoots. One person in our group was actually slapped by a young male.
Diani Beach Generosity
I was biking in Diani beach with a friend and some 20km south of our hotel when we rolled into a thorn patch along the beach. Dozens of razor sharp thorns quickly cut clear to the wheel-well of our tires. We slowly walked our bikes back to the main road and into the nearest town. The afternoon was approaching and I was getting worried that we would not make it back to our hotel before dark. After asking around the village, we found a group of kids who directed us to a bicycle repair shack. There we found an old man with some super glue and a few strips of rubber. The initial diagnosis uncovered nearly 30 puncture holes and resulted in a bill of 500 shillings (about $6).
Unfortunately, I had spent our last 200 shillings on a few bottles of water and did not have a single cent to my name. We begged for help but the old man would not consider doing the work pro-bono. The group of children who had followed us from the beach all banded together, dug deep into their pockets and scraped together the money we needed for the repairs. I will never understand why these children spent their month’s savings to help two strangers from the US fix their flat tires. In many parts of Kenya a gang of children would easily steal our bikes and leave us stranded in the streets or worse. Kenya continues to surprise me.
M-Pesa in the Farms
In August of this year, Juhudi Kilimo held a training event and a new office launch in the town of Eldoret which is in the western part of Kenya. We invited 150 farmer group officials who represented about 3,000 farmers to participate in a free training session on agriculture and animal husbandry. The training is our way of expanding our lending operations into a new area. During the registration, one of my regional managers noticed a large crowd of farmers who were gathered in the lobby of the seven-story hotel where our training was being held. The manager discovered that these farmers from the rural parts of the country had never been inside of an elevator before. They were terrified of the small box that seemed to swallow people and disappear with them. We finally convinced everyone to make the journey to the 7th floor (many opted for the stairs) where we began our training.
At the end of the event, I was telling the crowd about Juhudi Kilimo’s plan to roll out M-Pesa, the mobile money payment system with Safaricom, and asked how many of them were familiar with the new mobile technology which is not even available in the US. All the farmers raised their hands. Safaricom did an amazing job in identifying an appropriate technology for the rural Kenyan farmer and then in distributing it to the most remote regions of the country. It gave me lots of hope for our plans to integrate M-Pesa with our loan administration system.