Power Women Group
Currently, I am working with a group of women called the Power Women Group. This group consists of 15 women located in the Kibera Slums in Kenya who are using the internet to make a living and fight to end the HIV stigma in their community.
The Power Women group evolved when a group of women all HIV-positive decided to develop a support group. The original purpose of the group was to provide emotional support for one another. Over time the women began to realize that it was not the physical symptoms of HIV that were holding them back, but it was society. The majority of the community surrounding them believed (and still believe) that when someone has HIV they are useless and cannot hold a job to support their family because they are going to die. This puzzled the group of women. Each member of the Power Women Group faithfully took their medication and were able to complete their day to day responsibilities. So why did other believe they were unworthy of being hired or unable to take care of their family?
Through collaboration with the local community the women realized that it was not only the lack of education that affected societies view, but the lack of role models within the community. They decided they were going to be society’s role models. The women began making and selling handmade HIV awareness pins advocating to both students and neighbors that your status did not determine who you could be as a person and what you could accomplish. Eventually, the women became a well-known role models in the community and were portrayed as positive examples. The joy generated from the success of their pins led the women to initiate new ventures. Now they make and sell bags, necklaces, bracelets and much more to make a living to support their families. They are now a recognized organization in Kibera.
As the Power Women group grew they faced a major problem. Many tourists did not venture into the slums and locals did not buy many of their products. Kibera is the second largest slum in Africa and most locals earn less than $1 a day and do not have extra money to spend on the Power Women beautifully handmade jewelry, scarfs, ect. The women concluded that if they wanted to be successful they had to reach a new market.
This is when the leader of the group Everlyne took the initiative to venture in to the local cyber café and connect with past volunteers through email for guidance. This is when the Power Women Group changed forever. Soon past volunteers were taking action all around the world.
Now, myself along with many other volunteers help the women find opportunities to sell their products through the internet. Volunteers take orders to sell the women products at fundraisers, local stores, jewelry parties, and to give as presents to family and friends.
Recently, I assisted the Power Women Group in creating a Faceboook Page, Twitter, and Instagram account. This helps keeps past volunteers and buyers updated on the women’s progress and their latest handmade crafts.
Currently, the women are fulfilling email orders and shipping their product to customers all around the world. The Power Women Group use to go to the cyber café to check their email. But, with in this past month the women received a donated computer for their shop. This allows the women to process orders fasters and keep in contact with customers on regular bases.
One of the major barriers the women are facing is computer literacy. Their lack of computer skills keeps them from taking full advantage of the internet. Even though there are 15 women in the group only the leader Everlyne knows the basic functions for using the computer. Therefore on days Everlyne is feeling ill or attends to other responsibilities the volunteers have to wait for an email response.
This waiting period can take days sometimes weeks at a time. During this period orders are put on hold and the women at the shop don’t know what they need to make. Therefore materials and time is spent making products that might not be sold. This is a huge problem because the women live on a day to day basis and need to earn enough money to put food on the table each day.
Another barrier the women face is connecting to the internet. Currently, the Power Women use an internet modem. Although this works well it is a constant cost the women must budget for. Due to inconstant sales this will continue to be a problem until the women find a consistent marketing process.
The last barrier the women are facing is finding a sufficient online paying system. We are in the process of setting up a PayPal account for the women. This has been a difficult process finding a bank that will allow us to set up a Paypal account and teaching the women how Paypal works. We are hoping using Paypal account will open more opportunities for customers to send money to the women from around the world.
In the future the women wish to set up a website, but lack the resources to maintain it. A constant barrier remains the lack of computer and business skills force the women to rely on volunteers help. The women hope to find workshops that will further their computer knowledge allowing them to be independent and expend their business in the future.
Now, the Power Women are being proactive trying to tackle all these barriers for the future. They truly believe in the strength and power the internet has given them. They are committed to seek all the opportunities the internet has to offer collaborating with current and past volunteers to learn as much as possible about the internet. They are in awe of the opportunities the internet provide, but also the support it has provided them from volunteers. Together they believe all internet barriers can be broken and provide amazing opportunities for growth in the future.