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Milk Was a Luxury

After a tough start, Ruth can finally take care of her family comfortably (Photo: Riccardo Gangale/Grameen Foundation)

Sometimes Ruth Waithera can scarcely believe how life has changed for her family.

For several years she worked as a farm hand in her community in Kenya to feed her three children. After work, she would fetch water and firewood to prepare meals. Those were long, gruelling days, made more difficult by her husband's struggles with alcohol. 

"Providing a balanced diet for my family was not a priority and, at some point, milk was a 
luxury," she explained. 

It was tough, but she was prepared to take on whatever job was available to keep her family in their one-room house, and her daughter, Mary, in high school.

That's when she learned about Musoni Kenya, a local microfinance institution that works with Grameen Foundation. 

Musoni uses an all-digital model that allows its clients to receive and repay loans via mobile phones. Its approach is just right for Kenya where almost 90 percent of people have access to a phone, and farmers often cannot afford the lost time and money spent traveling to a branch office.

When Ruth joined Musoni, she saved up the little she had until she was able to get educational loans for her daughter's schooling. 

Her third loan - a Kilimo Booster loan - gave her the break she needed for her family. Developed by Grameen Foundation and Musoni, Kilimo Booster is designed for smallholder farmers and offers repayment terms that match a farmer’s crop and cash cycles.

Ruth was able to buy a cow and rent plots of land to farm, and has continued to expand her business with additional loans.

"Now I am no longer a farm hand but I employ farm hands to help in my farming. I now cultivate my own land and Musoni is there to give me money to buy seeds, fertilizers and increase the productivity of my farm," she said proudly.

Her home life has also improved.

She helped her husband through rehab and he now runs a metal spare parts business - and counsels others about drinking.

Ruth has big plans for the future. She wants to buy two more cows to increase her income and a motorcycle to transport fodder for the cows. She also wants to erect some houses for rental income. 

And, she's always happy to encourage others to join Musoni. 

Thinking back, she said, "We are living comfortably. We are well fed and well clothed. I now have piped water, electricity and I also cook with gas. I no longer fetch firewood. I am also able to take care of my grandchild without any problem. If I remember where we were before and the difference now, I feel like crying, 'God is great.'"