VICOBA training asks participants to identify what they have, moving from a mindset of hopelessness to recognizing resources. For the women of the Dorcas Cooperative, this was a tough question to ponder.
“We live in a very dry part of Kenya where it is very difficult to get water. For us, the challenge of water has made it hard to work and send our children to school.”
So, you can imagine the skepticism when VICOBA founder David Clemy first asked the question: what do you have? The women were sure they had nothing.
“It is part of the mindset shift process”, David says. “These are people who are dealing with tremendous challenges to making ends meet on a daily basis. The idea that there could be extra resources is a foreign concept at first.”
But it’s all in how you define “resource”. As David explains, “you have to think creatively about everything in your life that you could be using in a different way.” It might not be a traditional resource such as money or liquid assets. For some, pig manure is a resource for farming. A street stall is a resource to sell groceries in an underserved area.
For the Dorcas women, their resource turned out to be a skill: sewing.
You may remember this iconic scene from the 1986 film “The Three Amigos”: after terrorizing the village of Santa Poco, local bully El Guapo and his gang head to the village for a final showdown. The Amigos and the villagers – the underdogs – must find a way defeat the bad guys.
Ned Nederlander, Amigo: “You can use your strengths against El Guapo. Now, what is it that this town really does well?
Townspeople: “Hmmm. Hmmm? Ummm.”
Mama Sanchez: “We can sew!”
And there you have it – the VICOBA philosophy in Hollywood form.
In a silly way, this scene exemplifies what VICOBA is all about – thinking outside the box to solve a problem. While sewing isn’t a material asset, it’s a resource that can be capitalized upon to start a business. And in Hollywood, it even saves a town from El Guapo. (The villagers save the day by sewing dozens of Three Amigos costumes and confusing the gangsters.)
Most of the women in the Dorcas cooperative lack formal education. They walk over 3 miles a day to fetch water. But they also have unique skills to offer: many of the women have been sewing for their entire lives.
“We thought water was the biggest problem in the area, but VICOBA training has helped us realize that here is so much we can do for ourselves to address the challenges we have in our community,” says Muthini Sakayo, a member of the cooperative and a widow.
After graduating from VICOBA, cooperative members created a business plan for starting a sewing school. A sewing school would create jobs for the Dorcas women and provide much-needed vocational training in rural Kibwezi. The school launched in January and already has 8 students.
The school is already so popular that many young people in the surrounding villages want to attend. Right now, thanks to funding from friends of African Road, a new school building is being built to take on more students!
As Ned Nederlander would say, the women of the Dorcas Cooperative are defeating their own El Guapo: the cycle of poverty. Through creativity and innovation, these women smartly identified a market opportunity and are making the most of it. We can’t wait to see what they do next!