Scarves and Stoves: Faith’s Journey to a Bright Future

The 36 members of the Kwata Vata women’s group meet every Friday, right in the middle of their village in Machakos, Kenya.

Every proud group member wears a colorful scarf around her waist. Today is spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts day. They have a different scarf for every day of the week. Sitting on green plastic chairs, they settle in—to discuss the latest news, exchange grievances and advice as well as collect the weekly payments they lent to the woman most in need of some extra cash, be it for a new bed, a wedding or a funeral.

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It was at one of these Friday meetings more than a year ago that the women learned about EzyLife. A member had brought the idea to the group to discuss: an energy-saving stove with a payment plan. Only one initial down payment of about $13 was required; they could pay the rest over six months. Everyone had seen these types of stoves before but fronting the entire amount was impossible. “I bought the stove from EzyLife because they had a pay in installment option,” one of the women, Faith Mueni Charles, explains.

Faith is a 42-year old mother of three who, like many of her neighbors, struggled to pay family expenses. School fees were especially challenging. “Many times my children would be sent back home for lack of school fees and they didn’t do well because of the days they missed,” she says. As a housewife and subsistence farmer, she barely had enough for the basics—with a substantial part of her money going towards charcoal to cook three meals a day. Her husband could not contribute much either. With few jobs available in Machakos, he has moved more than 400km (248.548 miles) away, to Kenya’s coast. There, he sells carved sculptures to tourists. But tourism in Kenya has been down for years now, so sales don’t come easy.

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When Faith bought the Jiko Koa Charcoal Cookstove, along with all of Kwata Vata, things got better. The same amount of charcoal now lasts three to four times longer, so that Faith is able to save around $2 per week. This is enough to pay for her children’s school fees. “I have really benefitted because now, I am able to pay school fees for my kids and I can also pay for a tutor so they keep doing well in school,” she says.

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When Faith speaks about her children, she looks over at them, proudly. They all have great plans for the future. Her older daughter, 17-year old Regina, wants to be an actor, 10-year old Jane a teacher and 15-year old Victor an engineer. As for her, she wishes her children a good education and bright future ahead. But in the short term, “I want them to eat well and wear nice clothes,” she says.

Faith has been able to give exactly that to her children. After paying the school fees, a little money remains. She has used it to start a business, buy charcoal, firewood, and tea leaves in bulk and sell smaller units at a modest profit. She uses profit to buy the small things they could not afford before: new clothes and linens for the house.

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Aside from saving money, Faith also enjoys cooking more now. Her previous method, an open fire, was cumbersome and smoky. “The smoke affected us,” she says. Often, she would cough and tear up while cooking and have chest pain afterwards. With the EzyLife stove, the fire is contained, which results in less smoke, less charcoal used and a shorter cooking time.

Charcoal Cookstove

The best part is that Faith has begun teaching her children how to cook, given how easy it is to light and operate her new charcoal cookstove. “I am teaching my children how to cook, because it does not have bad flames that can burn kids.” Faith starts cooking lunch, but her eldest, Regina, soon takes over. Sitting next to her daughter, Faith happily oversees the process.

Behind Faith, in a corner of the kitchen, stands a packed-up energy-saving cooking stove. Turns out Faith bought one for her mother too. “I’ll take it to her next week,” she says with a big smile.

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