To form a ‘chama’ with strangers or relatives?

To avoid disappointment if your family chama is new, lower your expectations, develop a sense of humour.

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What you need to know:

  • I have realised that there is more respect amongst people unrelated by blood. You tend to take one another seriously, especially where money is concerned

There is one particular chama I want to talk about today, but allow me to digress before I get down to the crux of the matter. You will see why.

I belong to a number of chamas. One is a neighbourhood gathering made up of over 20 women, young and older. We congregate in members’ homes twice every month, where the money contributed that day is handed to the host. I joined this get-together mainly as a way to get to know my neighbours.

This is after realising, as I grew older, that it is important to have diverse support systems. In some cases, immediate or extended family might be unable to offer you the kind of support you require for whatever reason — there’s also the fact that nowadays, most extended families are not as close as they should be. This is where these larger groups come in.

For instance, should you have a sick relative in hospital, or lose a loved one, such chamas usually offer collective financial support and visit to commiserate with you and offer a helping hand.

Another chama I belong to is one made up of women I went to high school with. The two purposes of this chama are to invest, the other to keep in touch.

When we were younger and less encumbered by responsibilities such as children, we would meet frequently, but now, we get together, say, once a year. The investment vehicle has also slowed down thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected us financially, but the chama still stands and isn’t about to die.

The third one I belong to is purely a merry-go-round group. We’re 10 of us, but we never meet, we simply send our contributions every month to a certain collection point after which the money is sent to one person. Out of the 10, I know only two members.

The most recent chama I joined is a ‘food chama’, where a number of us pool some money each week and use it to buy food stuff and other everyday items such as detergent and toiletries at wholesale price. With the ever rising cost of living, this chama has greatly come in handy.

Though quite different in terms of motivation, all these gatherings have one similarity: they are made up of strangers, strangers that got to know one another within these groups. Had they been made up of relatives, I strongly believe most would have fallen by the wayside, as it is, they have thrived and stood the test of time.

I have realised that there is more respect amongst people unrelated by blood. You tend to take one another seriously, especially where money is concerned. Think about it, you’d not think twice about calling the police on a neighbour you meet once a month should he or she swindle you, but you would probably do nothing if your sister borrowed you a million shillings and refused to pay you. With strangers, you feel inclined to follow the rules laid down in that particular chama, therefore you will keep time and give your contribution in time. And yes, pay up loans. Not so with formal groups made up of relatives.

I speak from experience. The membership of the last two chamas I belong to is made up of immediate family. These groups have been in existence for years, but they might as well be dead. Members contribute their monthly share when they feel like it, (guilty as charged!) while some have to be coaxed to repay loans that they borrow from the chama. This is not all, the meeting times are never adhered to, and there is never an occasion when all members have been present for a scheduled meeting.

And when we do meet, 90 per cent of the time allocated to the meeting is spent discussing issues that have nothing to do with the chama. We have also discussed multiple investment ideas that have never been actualised, leave alone taken off.

To avoid disappointment if your family chama is new, lower your expectations, develop a sense of humour and view the time wasted as time spent bonding with family. If yours has succeeded, congratulations, your family is rare!


The writer is editor, Society and Magazines, Daily Nation. Email: [email protected] ke.nationmedia.com

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