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Hellen and Sylvia: A Transformative Friendship

When women come together, powerful changes can happen. Here’s an inspiring example of how.

It’s the story of Hellen and Sylvia, two Indigenous women in Kenya, and the transformative friendship they’ve forged, with your help.

Hellen is a mother of five from the rural town of Chepareria, Kenya, and a member of the Pokot Indigenous People. She works hard on her one-acre farm to support her family by selling her crops in the local market.

Sylvia is a Maasai woman from the town of Ololulunga, Kenya, some 250 miles away. In her impoverished, rural town, Sylvia was struggling to find ways to support her family. Her maize crops were dying due to drought. And the extra money she earned from selling what little maize she grew in the market was just not enough. She needed another option to survive.

Maize Crops During Drought
Sylvia's maize crops were dying from drought.

That’s where MADRE – and you – come in.

With your support, MADRE and our local partner group, the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), bring Indigenous women like Hellen and Sylvia together for community exchanges. We give them an opportunity to visit each other, share ideas on how to raise money for their families, and learn new strategies to combat the impacts of climate change.

Earlier this year, Sylvia made the eight-hour bus journey and traveled to Hellen’s town for a MADRE-supported community exchange. Without this opportunity, Hellen and Sylvia would have never met. For many of the women we support, these exchanges are the first time they will travel outside of their own communities, and the first time they will meet with Indigenous women from different communities.

There’s another reason why their meeting is so unlikely. Indigenous communities in Kenya are often pitted against each other. Sometimes it’s because of resource scarcity linked to climate change. These days, there are growing tensions around the upcoming elections, and many fear outbreaks of violence.

But through your support of MADRE, you bring women together across divides. Exchanges like these are more than just a way for these women to meet one another. They offer women from different communities an essential way to build new alliances and friendships. And they are an effective way to prevent violence. After all, it’s much harder for people to turn against each other when you’ve visited each other’s homes, met each other’s children, and formed meaningful friendships.

And that’s just what Hellen and Sylvia did. When Sylvia visited Hellen’s farm, she was immediately impressed by what she saw. And she got just the life-sustaining idea she’d been searching for.

You see, in addition to farming fruits and vegetables, Hellen started a poultry farm. When she started it a few years ago, she had 500 chickens. Now, she has over 1,500! MADRE provided her with a jiko – an energy-efficient cook-stove – and now, her chickens are thriving. That’s because Hellen made a small tweak to the design, creating a safe warming area for her chicks that ensures their healthy development.

Hellen's Poultry Farm
Hellen at her poultry farm.

When she needs extra money, she sells her chickens in the market. One chicken sells for 500 Kenyan shillings, roughly $5 USD. This, Hellen tells us, is crucial for her family. It helps her to put food on her table, pay school fees, and care for her children.

Sylvia was immediately inspired by what she saw at Hellen’s home. She thought, “I can do that!

She took a picture of Hellen’s chicken coop, noting the materials and the dimensions to build it herself. And she exchanged phone numbers with Hellen so that she could ask questions and benefit from her guidance and friendship.

Sylvia brought her new knowledge back with her to Ololulunga. And she shared what she learned from her new friend with her community. One short month later, she already has her own poultry farm up and running! She invested in 24 chickens to start. She tells us that each chicken lays one egg per day. Already, she said, she’s earned extra money by selling eggs in the local market, and has raised enough money to pay for her children’s school fees!

Sylvia's chicken coop
Sylvia's chicken coop

Sylvia with her chickens
Sylvia with her chickens

Thank you for making this friendship and exchange happen! Through your support, women like Hellen and Sylvia learn life-sustaining strategies from each other. And they form important relationships that otherwise would not be possible.

When you support MADRE, you help women in Kenya and around the world gain the tools they need to provide for their families.

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