Leila’s grocery store


Dutch version

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Leila Lentifia Odhiambo (33) lost her only income. Like many other mothers in Siaya County (Kenya), she was worried about feeding her children. Our Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Project (YEEP) enabled Leila to set up her own business and build up an independent livelihood. This is her story:

“My name is Leila Lentifia Odhiambo and I’m 33 years old. I’m married and I have four children aged: 19, 15, 13 and 5 years old. When I was seven years old my parents died and me and my siblings were then left with an abusive uncle who mistreated us. I didn’t complete my basic education and, as I was the first born, I got married at the age of 13. I thought my new husband would also support my siblings. My uncle kept coming to my new home demanding my bride price. One day my uncle came and demanded I leave my husband. My husband couldn’t stand it anymore and he attacked my uncle with a knife. This landed him in jail for 30 years. He is still in prison today.

Now I live at home with my children in our small house in Bondo community. In my community, people are generally good but some have developed a negative attitude towards me because they think of me as a criminal’s wife. They discriminate against women here. It is hard to raise my children on my own. Some people have stopped visiting me or even talking to me.

When COVID-19 came, prices went up and things were very expensive, including food. I struggled to provide for my family. Sometimes I felt depressed by everything. I felt very unfortunate and unlucky, but I needed to push on as a mother – I didn’t want to give up and I shall not.

Life was hard before I came in to contact with VSO. It was hard to feed my children because of the pandemic and the increasing prices. I struggled to get food every day. Before the pandemic I would also do household chores for other people to make money, but all this stopped due to COVID regulations. I wanted to set up a grocery shop, where I would sell vegetables like kale, tomatoes and onions. But I did not have the means to start one. I didn’t get support from my community in terms of accessing information or decision making. They left me out of small community gatherings as I was considered vulnerable.

VSO gave me 10,000 Kenya Shillings (about 77 euros) and I was able to open a small grocery shop. Now I can at least afford some basic food and necessities for my family. Also, people in the community now come to my place because I provide a service that people need. The village elders use my grocery walls to stick up posters with social information, like the recent mosquito net distribution. I can now contribute to the community and I am very happy to be included.

Now my self-esteem has been boosted and I feel worthy. I have gained skills on saving and budgeting – now I budget before spending my money and have built up some savings. I save my money in an account rather than keep my money in my house, like I did before. I have changed - before the grocery I didn’t have any savings since we consumed every amount I got, but now I can save some surplus. I feel okay, I feel a bit relieved.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is still here and continues to affect our lives. More people stay at home now and grow their own vegetables, so I have less customers. My greatest fear is paying my children’s school fees. I hope that everything will be okay and that my children will be able to complete their education. Also, I hope I can grow my business and this will help me to provide fully for my family. I think that I can achieve this by working hard, being proactive and knocking on every door – pushing myself to be the best.

Youth Employment and Entrepreneurschip Project (YEEP)

In Siaya county, western Kenya, VSO is supporting young mothers to access an income and be able to feed their children. Many of these mothers are single and HIV positive. They struggle to make ends meet and their situation only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as food prices soared and informal work disappeared. VSO has provided each woman with a cash voucher to start up a small business, such as a roadside vegetable stall. National volunteer Janet Okach is there to pass on business knowledge and skills, such as how to buy wholesale, sell at a profit, save and invest for the future. Janet has also shown them how to establish their own kitchen gardens to grow fresh fruit and vegetables for their families. Brought together in groups, these women now have a safe space to discuss the challenges they meet as young businesswomen and to support each other.

Written by: Onkar Sing
Translated and edited by: VSO Netherlands
Photos: VSO/Obscura Media