Most years, I stage a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Free Festival during the Edinburgh Fringe. Any money donated by people at the end of the show is given to comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity. No money is deducted for any overheads; 100% goes to the charity.
Copstick is currently in Kenya. Her charity helps poor women start up self-sustaining businesses. This is another extract from her diary.
As I have the usual mountain of medication and stuff to take with me – and as No 23, Arse End of Nowhere makes this village sound positively central compared to where it is – we are taking David (bang goes another £20) and the car.
David asks if I know about the broker in the group yesterday. I clench. David had heard some of the women talking about someone taking 1,000 shillings from every woman who was given a grant. As the biggest grant is 3000 shillings… anything that I think has been clenched before now positively goes into spasm.
I call Doris.
There is a stunned silence at the end of the phone.
The workshop is cancelled. We rendezvous in Kenol where Doris lives and start calling round the women from yesterday. As soon as we start phoning and asking questions, the village telegraph kicks into action and soon we are fielding calls from them. Of course hysteria, internecine rivalries and general gossip mongering create a tsunami of crap. Everything from extortion to gang warfare is hinted at.
We find the woman who says she was involved. Oddly, her name is Purity.
There were just seven others we hear. I demand they come to Limuru on pain of being summoned by the Chief (err… local Chief, not Proclaimers‘ ‘The Chief’). We head to Limuru. I wonder whether I am in the grip of ‘roid rage, as I have pushed my daily dose up to 10mg for the time being. Probably not, I decide.
We meet the seven on a hillside next to the Bata Shoe factory. I am grim-faced. I told them, I say, that if they mis-used even one shilling of my money I would hunt them down. Well I have heard that someone has been demanding 1,000 shillings from those who received a grant. And I have hunted.
Through tears and waving hands we hear that Purity (who is a really smart, together woman) had suggested to ten women that, as nothing like this (ie me coming out of the blue to give a grant for business) had ever happened before, nor was likely to happen again, they should take the opportunity to put a little aside into a savings account and, by the time I come back to check, they would have bought a donkey and cart and have a whole new business on the side as well as their own individual businesses.
She took 1,000 shillings from each woman (seven as it happened) who wanted in on the savings scheme because I had been handing out the grants in 1,000 shilling notes. She went to the bank, got change and refunded 900 shillings to each woman. The account they were opening was an interest paying account and they each planned to put (after the initial 100 shillings) about 70 shillings into it each week.
I rescind my demand to have all the money returned to Mama Biashara, but not before explaining why we came after them. And why ALL and ANYTHING other than business that concerns the money from Mama Biashara must be done openly and with the consent of Mama Biashara.
I check that all the businesses will be able to start 100 shillings down on their grant. And then ask why, if they CAN, did the women ask for a grant that was higher than they needed. Anyway, all is well that ends well and, bearing a woolly capful of a tiny version of fruit that we call loquats or nisperos over here (unbelievably sweet and moreish), we leave.
As it is now too late for a workshop, we meet with Julius in Satellite to discuss Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan. And drink hot chocolate.
The meeting is slightly complicated by the fact that the man outside has fired up his rudimentary barbie to cook mutura (a little like Kenyan haggis but without the oatmeal) and the surrounding area is thick with charcoal smoke and burning fat fumes. But you get used to it.
Julius wants to arrange a medical clinic for Monday for about fifty people. He also wants to do microfinance but I tell him that I don’t trust his group with money (we have previous that ended with my getting the Chief and the police involved) so he can bring ten hand-selected businesses to apply.
“You promised…” he begins. I cut him off.
“I NEVER promise,” I remind him.
“You say you try…”
I give him my patented Mama Biashara look that says “My head does not zip up the back”. It used to say (and in my defence I can only claim it was an expression I heard over and over in my Scottish childhood) “I didn’t come up the Clyde on a banana boat” – until I realised the full horror of what that actually meant. What can I say? I am a recovering racist. One day at a time…
We arrange the medical clinic, agree fifteen businesses, agree that Doris can add a dozen or so cases from the area, agree that Julius’ phone is indeed “sick”, agree to buy him a new one (God Bless Nokia), and get on to discussing Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan.
Mama Biashara has been offered use of a plot of land in Kwa Maji, an area very handy for bus transport, thriving with businesses and not prone to violence, even in election periods. An area I know well.
We want to build a large structure – an enormous hut, as it were. It will have electricity and water from a large tank (which we will erect on a tower) which will get filled once or twice a week according to consumption. Inside, the structure will have the following divisions:
- Mama Biashara’s office.
- Mama Biashara dispensary (a small division of the office for medical supplies and basic consultations).
- Meeting / training / workshop space. A multi purpose space which can also be rented out to other groups when free.
- The Pads Project: pulp from juiced sugar cane is brought in in huge sacks to be turned into sanitary pads and Pampers. This space will have a vestibule for clothing and footwear changing and will be kept as sterile as is possible in a slum area.
- Njoogo Project: peanut butter production. We already have a deal from one of Kenya’s big supermarkets to take unbranded jars of peanut butter from us. They will brand and give their own quality stamp. Vestibule as above.
Each of the areas will have its own entrance.
Around the outside of the structure will run a sort of covered verandah.
On this verandah outside Nos 4 and 5 will be delivery and storage areas.
Outside nos 1 and 3 will be space for baby businesses.
When Mama Biashara starts a business and feels that the person needs a little support to begin with, the business will start outside the Mama Biashara Centre – using our electricity (where necessary) and water and being monitored by Mama Biashara. Each baby business will get one month to get on its metaphorical feet and then be replaced with another. This is NOT a training ground, just a little initial monitoring.
Loos will probably be outside. But nice. And clean. With a place for workers to shower in the same block.
It might be that we have to hire an askari (a guard). If so, I have someone in mind.
Here Doris, John Kibe and probably Julius would be part of a Mama Biashara official presence.
The building would, of course, be branded to buggery with the names and logos of anyone who helps get it up. I want to start in November and am meeting to finalise the “I am letting you use my land” agreement on Monday (ish … a Kenyan Monday).
And when I say “structure” we are not, of course, talking bricks and mortar but probably corrugated iron sheets on a wooden base. Which means we don’t need planning permission.