Empowering communities one Esther at a time

Esther Chebet is a Community Knowledge Worker. She says, "It has made such a difference in my life. From a poor woman whom people say, 'Who is she?' to now, 'There is CKW!' I’m so proud to be a CKW and serve the community willingly."   Photo credit: Grameen Foundation

Esther Chebet is a Community Knowledge Worker. She says, “It has made such a difference in my life. From a poor woman whom people say, ‘Who is she?’ to now, ‘There is CKW!’ I’m so proud to be a CKW and serve the community willingly.”
All photos courtesy of: Grameen Foundation

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>>By Sabina Rogers, Communications and Relationships Manager

Esther Chebet is an inspiration to her neighbors. She is a valuable resource to her community, and they know it. Kids call out to her on the street: “CKW!” Men respect her knowledge and opinions. Women come to her for help fixing problems and resolving disputes.

With International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8th, I’d like to take this opportunity to appreciate Esther and many women like her — community health workers in India who are working with ESAF to screen their clients for high blood pressure and health professionals in the Philippines who volunteer their time for Community Health Fairs organized by CARD MRI — who are on the front lines in the fight to end extreme poverty.

This is Esther Chebet’s story: one woman who is making a huge difference in her community.

A farmer in rural Uganda, Esther received training as a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), from Grameen Foundation. She was the star of a webinar hosted by Grameen, telling her story and showing us how one woman can help create an economically empowered community.

She has multiple roles in her community in rural eastern Uganda: farmer, seamstress, volunteer domestic violence counselor, teacher and Grameen Foundation Community Knowledge Worker.

In her role as a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), Esther visits her neighbors — a large number of whom are women — and helps them solve problems with their crops and livestock. She uses her mobile phone to access an agricultural database with information on relevant, local best farming practices, weather forecasts and market price information. This enables her neighbors to treat diseases like banana wilt and to get better market prices for their produce. As a result of this support, farmers are able to earn on average 38 percent more money from their crops. [1]

Below follows my attempt to capture the Q&A from her video chat, though answers are paraphrased.

Does work as Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) empower women?

Yes, it empowers women. In our culture, men used to say women were property. As a CKW, I’m a women’s right activist. I train women on their rights and they’re now doing things they never could before.

For example, before, women couldn’t take coffee to market. She could grow it but not sell it. Now with my training, women are going and selling their coffee. They’re now so happy. They say, “We sell our coffee, we show a receipt of that transaction.” They grow their own crops and sell it!

What is a typical day as a CKW?

I wake early at 5 AM, then I prepare breakfast for family. At 7am I visit my banana plantation and then feed my animals. After doing my housework, from about 2 PM to 5 or 6 PM, I go visit the savings group members and other people, educating them on what they can get out of becoming a savings group member or answering people’s questions about their farms. Then I come back to prepare supper and rest.

Can you tell a difference in your farm from your work as a CKW?

Yes, after I went through the training, I started gathering manure and built a system of preserving water. Now my banana trees are always green because I always have water for them. Production is up.

Can you give an example of a woman you helped?

I helped a woman who came to me because her poultry were getting sick.

She said, “I hear you’ve got information.”

“Yes, I have; what is the problem?”

“My poultry are doing poorly and my hen is dying.”

I told her to use seltzer water and aloe vera; she did that and now the poultry is doing fine. Then she shared this information with other women who are planting aloe vera for their use.

One man asked me about spacing of coffee. We did a demonstration with him at his plantation. This year, he’s going to have so much coffee.

What is the problem you see most frequently on your neighbors’ farms?

The main thing is a banana bacteria wilt, but through my help as CKW, it’s improving. We, my community, worked together to cut down every affected plant, and now there is no more affected plant. Plus, every farmer knows that it if happens, if the bacteria comes back, it’ll be bad for him, so immediately, they cut down the affected banana tree.

How were you selected to be CKW?

I was elected by my neighbors. Three of us were nominated for election: 2 women and 1 man. We were sent out of the room so they could talk about us, and after about 5 or 10 minutes, they called us back in. They said, “We choose Esther.”

When I was elected, I was happy! They said, “We selected Esther because she is confident, she can speak to many people, and she is willing to serve the community.” Most of the time, I speak the truth. So that is why I was elected. Without knowing exactly what I’d be doing, I was so happy that I would be serving community members. Willingly!

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned as CKW?

I’ve learned the correct amount of manure to use as fertilizer. I’ve also learned how to make my own drugs for treating my animals, plants, and many other things. I make insecticide for my plants and vegetables using local ingredients.

Esther's daughter with avocado

Tell us about building a barn for your cow. You said you got a lot more milk when you built the barn.

Since I built the barn, the cow stays dry and warm when it rains. Since then, the milk production has increased to 5 L in the morning and in the evening 4 L. I sell each liter at 1,200 Ugandan shillings. I sell the morning milk, and my family drinks the milk from the evening.

What is your biggest challenge as a CKW?

Farmers don’t adapt to the message quickly. Among 20 farmers who saw example of a granary I built, only 6 started doing it. They ask for the information, but they see it is hard to use it and some don’t persevere. But, when farmers who keep at it and it works for them, they give testimony of it working and tell others to go talk to Esther

Also, sometimes people neglect you because you’re a woman. They say, this is information for men.

When you train men, do they ever resist information just because you’re a woman?

Esther's manThey like it, but mostly, the people who accept the information are women. Then women tell them, “This is good information from Esther.” Then the man or the husband can come and ask, “Is it true this information?” I say, “Yes, it’s true; I came to your home and talked to your lady.” Then the men ask for more information.

I’m now in my third year of being a CKW, and people are more accepting than they were at the beginning. Men are now coming to trust me; coming to me to ask for information.

How do other women in your community feel about you being a leader?

They feel good because of the information I can give them like women’s rights and creating a savings and credit group. Women have learned to save money and loan it to others in the group; some years from now these women are going to have happy families because they no longer have to ask their husbands, “Ah, please give me something with your money…haha” and so on. No. Now women are able to buy what they need with their own money.

I have nine savings groups that are operating strongly. They say thank you for this knowledge, and they’re sending their kids to school with money they’ve saved or profits earned from businesses financed by the group.

How has being a CKW improved your status in the community? Do people treat you differently now?

It’s changed my status from who I was then, a poor nobody, to who I am now three years later. Men are respecting me. Sometimes I’m a counselor; they call me in to help resolve a problem or counsel families. Kids call out to me, “CKW!” That’s how I’m known now, as “CKW.”

How has being a CKW changed your life?

It has made such a difference in my life. From a poor woman whom people say, “Who is she?” to now, “There is CKW!” I’m so proud to be a CKW and serve the community willingly.