Kenya: Jamii Bora

Mary (of the homepage photo)
Mary is a member of Jamii Bora. She is managing a small business loan to support her dry goods business in the Toi Market of Kibera slum in Nairobi. After the  December 2007 elections in Kenya, post-election violence erupted, and the entire Toi Market was burned to the ground. Mary was among those vendors who lost everything. Jamii Bora helped her rebuild her business at this time, and she is fiercely supportive of the impact Jamii Bora can have for those who work hard. She remains a loyal member of Jamii Bora. Read on for more information on Jamii Bora’s approach to microfinancing.

In 2006, Sister Antoinette Temporiti attended a Microcredit Summit in Nova Scotia and met Muhammad Yunus and also an extraordinary woman named Ingrid Munro, the Founder of Jamii Bora. In 1999, Ingrid, with 50 beggar women from the Kibera and Mathare slums in Nairobi, started a microfinancing cooperative called Jamii Bora.

Jamii Bora has since grown to over 300,000 members and is the largest microfinancing organization in Kenya, and has its own Bank. The keys to success are simple but critical:


  • select their own group of five,
  • start with saving even a small amount,
  • participate in weekly meetings to discuss their loans, and
  • support each other as they successfully pay back the loans.

As members successfully pay back loans, which have a fixed interest rate and a clearly defined payback period, they are eligible for larger and larger loans to start and support their income generating activities. Eventually, members are even eligible for home loans within Jamii Bora’s planned community outside Nairobi, called Kaputei. This offers a pathway for members to move out of the slums and into a neighborhood with green spaces and a sense of positive community. Jamii Bora offers health insurance, life insurance, disaster insurance, business skills education, and even education in English and Swahili as second languages.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa provides grants to support the modest salaries of the Tumaini, who are the social workers whose mission is to reach out to those living in the most desperate of situations, the slums. Tumaini, prounounced too-mah-ee-nee, is Swahili for “hope.” The Tumaini have credibility with this group, because they once lived in the slums and have used the Jamii Bora program to work their way out of extreme poverty. They can say to a poor mother, “You can do it, because I did it.” A typical initial loan to start a business for this group can be as little as $30.

Although Jamii Bora’s program enjoys a payback rate of 98% and is self sustaining, MicroFinancing Partners in Africa can accelerate their reach by funding the Tumaini program. You can donate toward this cause and help the Tumaini spread their message of hope and empowerment through the slums in Kenya. $2000 funds the salary for one Tumaini social worker for one year. Or contribute toward part of a salary. Your donation makes a difference! Click “Donate now” and on the information line, enter “TUMAINI.” or call MPA at 314-776-1319 to discuss your donation.

Levuka Center Sobriety Program
Levuka means sober in Swahili, and offering rehabilitation services to those struggling with addictions to alcohol and/or drugs is one of the creative and effective ways that Jamii Bora has helped its members be successful with small loans.
Indeed, this program in Kenya has seen that someone struggling with addiction has a profound effect on everyone in the household.  The addiction can be an obstacle to so much in life, but also to successful repayment of a small business loan.  To address this, Jamii Bora started a 90 day in-patient sobriety program modeled on the principles of Alcholics Anonymous.  The staff is lean, but have mighty skills and great perspective.  They are absent of pity, but full of compassion.
The Levuka Center operates out of a rented house and can host up to two dozen men and about half that many women.   Meetings are held in a big room, and the Big Book, Swahili edition, is available in a lending library.  The meeting room is covered with posters and sayings that are central to the Twelve Steps of recovery.
Residents or their families are asked to pay a nominal amount for the 90-day treatment and stay, but this amount is a fraction of what other for-profit centers charge in the Nairobi area.  Future plans include offering day-care services so that more women will be able to avail themselves of the in-patient program.
Rent and expenses for the building run about $1,000 USD per month.  The nominal fee paid by residents does not cover this amount, and the Levuka Center relies on outside donations to stay in operation.
The Levuka Center is a compassionate and effective response to support that is critical to successful transformation from a struggle in extreme poverty to climbing up to self-sufficiency.  MPA is proud to support this aspect of Jamii Bora’s microfinancing program.
If you would like to donate to support the rent at the Levuka Center, please click here.
A Personal Note From Board Member, Julie Gundlach

        After less than 48 hours in Africa, I had visited two Nairobi slums– Kiberra and Comacil village, attended a lengthy Jamii Bora meeting, visited a giraffe orphanage, and toured the housing development of Kaputei town.  Exhausted with jet-lag, the prospect of visiting the Levuka treatment center was not one I met with great enthusiasm, but as a person in recovery myself, the opportunity to visit a treatment center in Kenya was one I could not miss.

After a drive of nearly an hour (the center is located far from town, to encourage people to stay and be away from temptation), we arrived at the Levuka Center.  It was family visiting day, and groups were outside– generations– parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles–reminders that addiction is a disease that affects whole families.

We were introduced to Tom, the director of Levuka.  He toured us through the grounds that were once a residential estate, where now, male patients sleep many to a room in bunkbeds.  The women have a separate quarters on the property, and in the rear of the property, clients tend to animals and a small vegetable garden.

I heard stories of people that had started sniffing glue in childhood to take their minds off of the hunger pains in their bellies, but as I looked in the eyes of the clients, I saw the same thing I see in the eyes of people at home in the states as they strive for recovery– hope that things can get better and that there can be escape from the bondage of alcoholism and addiction. I thought back to home, where people struggle for recovery, even without the challenges faced by the poorest of the poor in Africa.

Tom invited us to attend family group while we were there and introduced us as guests of JamiiBora.  While waiting for it to start, I was moved to share something from the book Alcoholics Anonymous with the other JamiiBora members attending, and was shocked to find out that the doctor with us– who runs a medical clinic in the slums– had never seen a Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunities I have received in my life and the desire to do what I could to help those elsewhere, where the stigma of addiction is still strong, and the poverty and deplorable conditions make the struggle for recovery even more difficult.

As Tom introduced us to the group, I stood and identified myself as a sober person, and as always in a room of recovery, I felt unity in recovery and moved by a connection that is greater than the barriers of nation, class, race or language.  It will be a moment that I will treasure always– it is imprinted on my heart.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Levuka Center is doing amazing things in the face of great challenges to help people to gain sobriety and change lives.


Please help keep Levuka Center alive.

With hope,

Julie Gundlach


Clarice Adhiambo
Clarice Adhiambo was a beggar in the streets for 15 years  This was not how she had dreamed her life would be. When Clarice’s husband took another wife and kicked her out under threat of death if she returned, her parents encouraged her to go to Nairobi to start a new life. Once there, Clarice quickly realized that she did not know the language in Nairobi. As life got harder and harder, she lived on the street. She prayed to God to give her death.

And then Clarice met Mama Ingrid, who told her she could do it. Clarice took lessons in Swahili and English, and started to save.

Clarice was one of the original 50 members of Jamii Bora. She started her first steps out of the streets with a loan of only 1500 KES (US$ 22) With this she started a business in the Koma Rock neighborhood frying fish and chips to sell to workers who needed an inexpensive lunch. She would fry two or three fish and sell them in small pieces to her hungry customers. Her daily income was no more than what she could get as a beggar, but she was working for herself and proud of it. By using her loan she had gained her dignity and self-confidence. Clarice’s business grew step by step and she was soon able to take bigger and bigger loans.

Today Clarice has a wholesale business selling fish in Gikomba market to many shops, hotels and restaurants and to the small vendors in town. Clarice also has a restaurant serving fish dishes. She has also become a landlord, renting out market stalls to small shops in the Soweto slum. She has brought herself from being a beggar on the streets to being what she considers a rich woman. What’s more, she has inspired hundreds of desperate people to join Jamii Bora and get out of poverty.

Looking back, Clarise now sees the day her husband chased her away as a day of blessing, because it led her to Jamii Bora.  “I now can help others, especially old people and children.”

Joyce Wairimu
Joyce Wairimu was one of the many victims of tribal clashes of 1992 in the Molo District of Kenya.  Joyce describes the clashes as very bad—children were killed, houses were burned.  She fled her farm in Molo with her five children and was forced to leave behind everything. She was a refugee in her own country. Like many others in her situation, she ended up begging in the streets of Nairobi. “I had nothing except God.”

She learned of Jamii Bora from other members and was encouraged to join. She started with a loan equivalent to US$25, and planting peas and beans and maize, and she did clothes-washing for paying customers. Now, seven years and 11 loans later, Joyce and her sons have built up a “business empire” in the slum of Soweto Kayole. Joyce and her sons are running a successful video show nicely organized as a cinema, and two restaurants. They have also established a mobile catering service distributing lunches to schools, and the latest family business is a production of soft drinks.

The family is earning good money and has 62 employees from the community.  Joyce has encouraged and inspired hundreds of desperate people to join Jamii Bora and get out of poverty.

Esther Wanjiku
Esther is industrious and has worked at hard jobs her entire life.  She came to Nairobi after a family conflict, and has raised her three children, and, when her sister died in a traffic accident, her three nieces, in Kibera.  Esther became a member of Jamii Bora and successfully managed her loans. She has since joined the staff of Jamii Bora as a promoter, and now works with many members in Kibera, meeting with them at least once/week, helping them strategize ways to best manage their loans. Esther has managed to educate all her children, and is most proud of the values that they display. When her nieces came to live with them, suddenly expanding the household to seven, Esther’s oldest daughter suggested that these new ones should have the bed, since they had lost so much already. Even though Esther’s income is very, very modest, she continually does acts of kindness for her neighbors in Kibera, out of her small budget. Her passion for paying forward what she sees as her good fortune is an inspiration.

Wilson Maina
Wilson was born in the slum of Mathare. At age seven, he saw that people were dying, either a slow death from starvation, or a quick death from a life of crime. At that young age, he determined that his would be a quick death, because he did not want to starve, and Wilson began snatching watches, purses, and other items from his neighbors and from visitors to Mathare. He became one of the most notorious thieves in the slum. Eventually, an old friend who was not an account manager with Jamii Bora convinced him that there was another way to earn a living.  She explained about the requirement to start a savings account first, and further stipulated that Jamii Bora would not accept stolen money in that savings account. Wilson decided to give an honest life a try.  He saved, and he and his mother took out a small loan to start a grocery business. Through very hard work and perseverance, Wilson’s business succeeded. He since has qualified for a home loan and has moved to Kaputei Town into a house with four rooms, indoor plumbing, tile roof, and glass windows. Wilson has become a spokesperson for Jamii Bora and has traveled as far as Norway to share his story and the story of Jamii Bora.