Mary Katoni

Business Trainer | Kenya

Before Hand in Hand there was Barclays Bank Kenya, where Mary Katoni worked as a client manager. Before that, a degree at Nairobi University. But in all her life, says Mary, speaking during a rare break between Self-Help Group meetings, she’s never been as fulfilled as she is now. “I love working with people and something to change their lives.”

Mary is a Hand in Hand trainer in Tala, a town of 200,000 just an hour’s drive east of Nairobi. Deforestation has led to the gradual erosion of the area’s terrain, and dry, terraced fields cover the hills. Although subsistence farming is the biggest game in town, arid conditions means that crops often fail. Famine looms with every new season.

“Changing people’s habits is my biggest challenge,” says Mary, who supports about 650 Self-Help Group members. “People can very set in their ways. For example, if we try and encourage them to diversify their crops into more profitable ones, they might ask, ‘If my mother grew maize, and her mother grew maize, why should I grow another crop?’”

Poor education is another impediment. To help overcome widespread illiteracy in English, for example, Mary has adapted Hand in Hand’s training materials to teach simple record-keeping in Kikamba, the local language. But above else, says the 30-year-old, instilling a culture of saving is key. “The day you learn to put some money aside is the day you are ready to grow.”

Looking ahead, Mary hopes to boost her clients’ fortunes even further by introducing them to more advanced and innovative marketing techniques. “The modernity of Nairobi is something that is so near and yet so far for my clients,” she says. Thanks to all her hard work, it’s getting closer all the time.

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