Unitus and Jamii Bora Featured in the Seattle Times

September 14, 2009 Posted by Media Exposure

Unitus Partner Jamii Bora Featured in the Seattle Times

“Microfinance group helps Kenyans build a new life”

KAPUTEI, Kenya —

On the second night in her new house here, Jane Ngoiri told one of her children to get something out of the kitchen.

Then she started laughing.

“I told them, ‘It is us talking about a kitchen. A kitchen!’ ” recalled Ngoiri, a former prostitute who moved with her four children earlier this year from a rented, one-room shanty in the Nairobi slum of Mathare.

“It’s unbelievable.”

Kaputei represents an audacious leap for both Ngoiri and the Jamii Bora Trust, a Kenyan microfinance organization that began a decade ago lending 50 women beggars money to start their own businesses.

About 22 miles outside of Nairobi, rows of cinder-block houses topped with red tile roofs spread across the plains — the first stage of a new, self-contained town that Jamii Bora hopes will someday be home to 10,000 people, schools, shops and small industry.

Ngoiri paid 350,000 Kenyan shillings — about $4,500 — for her two-bedroom house with a kitchen, toilet and bath. Her mortgage is around $40 a month — not much more, she says, than what she paid to rent the cramped room in Mathare.

To keep costs down, Jamii Bora is manufacturing the building materials on site, providing jobs to its members and others living nearby. Kaputei is also an eco-town of sorts, with houses powered by solar panels and an ambitious plan to recycle 70 percent of the wastewater through man-made wetlands.

“It’s really beyond the wildest imagination of what most microfinance organizations are thinking about,” said Ed Bland, who heads Seattle-based Unitus, which provides business and technical expertise and helps raise capital for Jamii Bora and other microfinance groups.

“They are taking on things that others just complain about.”

In recent years, microfinance — providing credit and other banking services to the world’s poor — has boomed as both a poverty-fighting strategy and a business.

A survey by the Microcredit Summit in Washington, D.C., found that from 1997 to 2007 more than 150 million people — two-thirds of them making no more than a few dollars a day — had borrowed money from microfinance organizations like Jamii Bora.

> Read the article at the Seattle Times

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