My name is Mary Shimwenyi. I am a member of GROOTS Kenya, a community leader and a human rights defender from Malava Sub-County in Kakamega County. My first encounter with GROOTS Kenya was during a paralegal training in Nairobi where I met Esther Mwaura Muiru the founder of GROOTS Kenya who was one of the facilitators. We had a brief chat and she linked me with the rest of GROOTS Kenya members in Kakamega. I got interested and begun participating in subsequent events by the organization at both the local and National levels.
I had a keen interest to grow my capacity on human rights issues while continuing the fight for women’s land rights and child protection because of the high number of cases of defilement and disinheritance of women in Malava. Before 2009, I was working alone and only in part of Malava. Through GROOTS Kenya, I was able to move beyond Malava Sub county and to the neighboring sub-counties helping girls and widows who had been dispossessed to get back their land and properties. My work became easy because I was able to work with a network of organized groups and passionate community leaders across the county.
As I observed how GROOTS Kenya operated in other sub-counties, I got encouraged to organize community groups in my sub-county to increase our voice for advocacy. I had been a member of Machi Women’s Group but in 2012, I organized four other women groups. We have since registered a Community Based Organization known as Shimakiki. Each of the four groups are specialized in different areas i.e horticulture, women land rights and child protection, poultry keeping and entrepreneurship.
Over the last 8 years, I have experienced change in my personal life. Being the first wife in a polygamous family where my husband directed all his resources to the second wife, I had experienced numerous economic and social problems. I had a piece of land but had always wondered if I would ever manage to construct a decent house for myself. Through entrepreneurship trainings and peer encouragement I was able to set up a business selling clothes. I later successfully applied to get tenders to supply local secondary schools with food products. I have now built a 10 roomed house.
I also adopted sustainable farming practices and I keep poultry and grow a wide variety of vegetables all year round for food security. All these have resulted to an increase in my household income and a better life.
GROOTS Kenya helped me grow in my leadership; I was nominated to sit on the board of Malava Sub County Hospital where I currently head the audit department. I have also been selected as a focal leader for women farmers by the department of Agriculture in Malava Sub County.
What inspires me most about GROOTS Kenya is the approach they use. They chose to focus on uplifting grassroots women and having them lead their own development; something that is not common among many development organizations. GROOTS Kenya focuses all energies and resources on grassroots women. Additionally, the level of accountability at GROOTS Kenya is impressive, they always tell us that ‘we have received this amount of money from so and so and that this is what we plan to do with it’ which has helped in promoting transparency and loyalty.
Long live GROOTS Kenya!