“I believe poverty is the behaviors, values and characters you’re forced into, like digging through garbage bins to find leftover food, being forced to dropout of school or not having a secure place to sleep at night. That took away my dignity. I want others to have the dignity I didn’t have.”
‒ Fridah, Graduating in December 2018 (Kenya)
Fridah vividly remembers the day she heard of her father’s death in 2013. Randomly attacked by malicious thieves on his way home from work, then 17-year-old Fridah was deeply saddened by the news, along with her mother and five siblings. With the sole provider of income gone in an instant, the already struggling family was forced to turn to begging for food to survive.
“We walked the streets, sifting through garbage cans in search of leftovers after community events,” recalled Fridah. “We had to be careful so people wouldn’t notice us and judge us.”
As the eldest child, Fridah eventually dropped out of her final year of primary school as a means of doing whatever she could to support her family. Eventually, she was hired as a nanny for an upper-class Kenyan family who agreed to pay her what is considered a fair wage for that line of work, $30 per month or $1 per day.
Even though she had a steady income, it wasn’t enough to feed the seven mouths in her household. Each day became a disheartening quest to find a meal, which was sometimes only a sweet potato to split amongst her siblings. Other days, it was someone’s trash in the garbage bins. And on the worst days, it was nothing. Fridah and her family lived this way for over three years following the death of their father. In worn, tattered clothes, feeling hungry and hopeless, Fridah was introduced to Zoe Empowers in her small village.
Although she has a living mother, Fridah is considered head of her household, like the majority of children in the Zoe Empowers program, due to her mother’s health status and inability to provide. In January 2016, she began her journey to a better future with the Faith Akui empowerment group, and within weeks, Fridah opened a small grocery kiosk in the community marketplace. She would boil dozens of eggs at night, and sell them, along with other fruits, at her stand during the day. As her business grew, she expanded her inventory to include fresh vegetables.
Fridah began to cultivate a sense of purpose, beyond just finding a meal every day. She found strength in operating her business, serving her customers and connecting with others in Faith Akui because they, too, had faced many of the same challenges as her. For the first time since the death of her father, she didn’t feel isolated from her community, like she didn’t belong. Fridah began to feel the most powerful emotion typically absent in impoverished communities: hope.
Implementing the money management skills learned in Zoe Empowers trainings, Fridah successfully saved $200 from her grocery kiosk business in the first 18 months. She asked her working group to loan her another $200, so she could buy a plot of land to build a new house, since she and her siblings had been renting a single room to sleep in for $10/month while Fridah saved—one of many sacrifices she made for the long-term betterment of her family.
After Fridah built her house, she shifted her business from selling at a marketplace kiosk to opening a storefront shop. She opted to sell household staples, like flour and sugar, instead of fresh produce and boiled eggs. Her new store had enough space for her to further diversify her business by opening a salon.
Between selling supplies and hairdressing, Fridah successfully increased her daily earnings, but she continued to make sacrifices to save for the future. “I denied myself a lot of fun things to put money aside,” she explained. “I saved $5 each day from my supply sales and $6 each day from the salon.” Fridah joined two additional table banking groups outside of her Zoe Empowers group, giving her access to three savings accounts.
In her second year with Zoe Empowers, Fridah was selected as Ms. Zoe Empowers, a highly coveted peer selected annual award given out to one outstanding male and female in each year of the program. Fridah used her $200 winnings to invest in more inventory for her store, adding items like shoes and clothing, to make it a bonafide boutique, and she hired one employee for each business.
Now, in her final year of the Zoe Empowers program, not having to “strain” to feed her family, along with not having to sleep in the cold, ranks high on Fridah’s list of the many things she’s grateful for. She believes Zoe Empowers guided her to a place of personal independence, and it’s her responsibility to pass along her knowledge to others who are still suffering.
This fall, when four local Zoe Empowers working groups united, for what they deemed a “thanksgiving offering”, to fundraise money for another empowerment group outside of Kenya, Fridah gave a generous donation of $38 to ZOE.
Considering, only three years ago, she made $30 per month, freely giving $38 to help fund another Zoe Empowers group is nothing short of remarkable. Fridah knows, firsthand, the transformative power of the program. Playing a role in funding more groups around Africa brings her an immense amount of joy.
“I want others to feel the freedom I have: to sleep where they want, buy what they want, eat what they want,” she said. “I believe poverty is the behaviors, values and characters you’re forced into, like digging through garbage bins to find leftover food, being forced to dropout of school or not having a secure place to sleep at night. That took away my dignity. I want others to have the dignity I didn’t have.”
To pay it forward in other ways, Fridah has mentored two other girls in her community on hairdressing and entrepreneurship. She pays the school fees of another local orphan, and she’s mobilized a Zoe Empowers group in another village and currently acts as the group’s mentor—all while managing and growing her own two businesses, providing for her mother and five siblings and raising her son, Bradley, who was born right before she began the Zoe Empowers program in 2016.
Earlier this year, 22-year-old Fridah invested in another piece of land near a local sewage plant with the intent of renting the existing structure and adding more income properties to the plot to rent to plant employees in the future. Her ambition and business diversification has laid a solid foundation for life after she graduates from the Zoe Empowers program this December.
“I feel ready because my faith in God is strong. I believe God is using me in the way I was meant to be used. If it were not for God touching our American Zoe Empowers partners, it would not be possible,” she stated.
Fridah exemplifies the perseverance, hard work and patience it takes to be successful, regardless of life’s circumstances. Had she not been given an opportunity to live out her power through Zoe Empowers, her talents would still be hiding in the shadows of poverty.
Today, we’re asking you to join Fridah and match her donation of $38 to empower five orphans for one month who also need a chance to discover their own strengths and abilities.
380 million children living in extreme poverty will rely on charity forever.
A monthly gift of $38 over 3 years empowers five orphans out of poverty. How many children can you give lasting sustainable change?