Blog Archives

After a delayed start due to COVID, our D.I.G. Entrepreneurship program launched with three teams consisting of SYEF alumni and other youth community members. The D.I.G. program provides approximately six months of training and mentoring to the teams to develop their ideas and business plans, with the caveat that businesses must not only demonstrate potential for profitability, but address a social need or issue as well. The budding entrepreneurs are taught the fundamentals of business management and entrepreneurism, then lined up with a local businessperson for mentoring and support as they develop their business ideas. Once finalized, the plans are implemented with a grant from SYEF for the necessary start-up costs to get the businesses off the ground, and the teams receiving ongoing support and mentoring during their first full year of operation.

As of January 2021, the first ever juice parlor is now open for business in Samburu, with a focus not only on selling juice, but educating customers about the benefits of specific fruits and vegetables, which are not a significant part of a traditional Samburu diet. Also launched is a new “kinyozi” barbershop, with a focus on serving youth who will get their haircuts in a barbershop environment that reinforces the value of education through conversation and décor. Finally, a new bead shop will provide a reliable source of beads for use in making traditional Indigenous beadwork. We look forward to seeing their success, and the example they can provide to other individuals in the region!

Although the world isn’t out of the weeds yet with COVID, there are some steps toward restoring familiar routines and activities in Kenya, including schools resuming in-person learning for the 2021 school year. Students in primary and secondary schools have been out of school since March, so the return to learning and routine is welcome.

With the return to school, our scholarship program also returns. For a number of years now, our total number of scholarship recipients in a given year has remained steady around 45-50, and we will support a similar number of students this year. We also usually deliver leadership and life skills programming during the school breaks; we intend to do that again this year, though the school calendar for 2021 will look a lot different as the national government sorts out how to adjust the calendar to make up for the time missed in 2020. Once the calendar settles, we will deliver some version of our leadership and life skills programming.

Arguably the biggest impact to our SYEF community during COVID has been on the women beadwork artisans with whom we work. With essentially no tourism in Kenya since COVID emerged, and the realities that safari-based tourism is a high-end tourism product that visitors often plan 12+ months in advance, we expect it will be awhile before our women see a return of normal tourism levels. In addition, our online sales are a bit hamstrung by low inventory, as we are periodically hamstrung by a shipping industry for small shipments out of Kenya that has become unstable and unreliable as a result of COVID economic impacts. So, in response to these challenges, we are supporting the women with a weekly stipend that is based on an amount tied to ensuring food security for their families.

Although we were delayed in launching our new DIG Entrepreneurship program, it was eventually kicked off with three teams of SYEF alumni, who participated in a series of business development and planning workshops in the latter half of 2020, and then launched their businesses with SYEF start-up support in January 2021. Included among them is the first-ever juice parlor in the region, as well as a barber shop and bead store. They will continue to be supported via mentoring throughout 2021, and new teams of entrepreneurs will also be added.

All in all, 2021 has some elements of familiarity in terms of programming, and by now we’re all used to adapting often and without skipping a beat, which we know will be a 2021 reality as well.

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The era of COVID has of course required a lot of adaptability and constant conversation among our staff and community board about a role for SYEF in supporting our youth, their families, and the broader community. Our usual programming and activities were largely put on hold in order to be part of the needed measures to help mitigate the spread of disease — physical distancing, no large gatherings, among others – as well as recognizing that many of our youth had household responsibilities to support during the crisis.

Our Samburu staff recognized a number of needs which were generally in need of quick attention, and organized a role for the organization in the community. This included:

  • Supporting high-risk individuals with basic needs, with a focus on older members of the community. We focused on food security and distributing disease-prevention supplies such as sanitizer and gloves.
  • We went household to household to provide accurate information about disease spread and recommended measures to mitigate risk.
  • We provided start-up funds to two women to launch a small enterprise of sewing and selling masks
  • We provided free educational study materials to our students for independent study, to keep them in a habit of learning and studying
  • We have provided a weekly basic income to our 25 beadwork artisan partners, since tourism has come to a halt in Kenya and there are no opportunities for beadwork sales to tourists. In addition, we promoted online sales of beadwork to support the women.

All of our efforts were in partnership and approval by local chiefs and elders, an important collaboration in the Samburu culture. COVID continues to remind us of the value of adaptability and an ability to make decisions in environments of uncertainty and change. This crisis has showcased the leadership of our staff, who have been out front on these activities and recognized as leaders in the community in providing support to people during this crisis. We even received recognition from a representative of Kenya’s president, thanking us for our efforts in Samburu!

SYEF partners with women in Samburu to sell their beadwork online and at events in the United States. The organization purchases the items from the women based on labor and supplies, and then sells the items at a profit to raise money for our youth scholarships and leadership programming.  It’s a strategy by which we can invest in women’s income-generation and youth education, which are the two most important activities for achieving prosperity and alleviating poverty.

Based on follow-up evaluation with the women, the beadwork income helps with food and housing security, and at times provides opportunities for the women to invest in items that are beyond the basics of a household. Our primary women’s group partner for our beading program, the Unity Women’s Village, completed construction of a tourist hut for adventure-seeking travelers to Samburu. The women charge the equivalent of about $21 per person per night, and have had a modest but steady flow of visitors for a few months now.

The women built the tourist hut with funds generated primarily through the income they earned via their beading program with SYEF.  It was their own group decision-making that led to this reinvestment of a portion of the income into a venture that would generate additional revenue, and they have recouped their initial start-up costs already.

As Unity Womens Village continues to pursue a more consistent income, and one that is also less dependent on SYEF bead sales, we will bring additional women into our beading program, and hopefully have a similar effect with more individuals. We’ve added five additional women to the program, and will incrementally add more as we have the capacity and opportunities to sell more beadwork.  In the meantime, you can go to our Etsy site to purchase some of the items we sell.

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