Story of a rural chama: From grass thatched mud houses, to timber, corrugated iron houses

Joyce Waigwa shows off her water tank outside her house in Burguret, Laikipia County. She was one of the first beneficiaries of a water tank project run by her group  Kwiyaka micro-saving society in 2006. 

Photo credit: Esther Nyandoro | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Their story starts in 2002, before registering in 2005.
  • Water is a  challenge in Burguret, a semi-arid area and the women have bought a water tank for each member.
  • In 2020, the chama received a loan of Sh100,000  from Women Enterprise Fund, which helped them survive the impacts of drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the last 20 years, rural women from Burguret in Laikipia County, have pooled their savings through a micro-saving society to raise their living standards.

Through their chama known as Kwiyaka, the women have managed to educate their children and make small-scale investments like buying livestock and improving their homes.

Kwiyaka is a kikuyu word, which translates to ‘building oneself’. Today, the chama comprises of 20 women and men of between 22 and 65.

They meet once a month. Aside from the economic impact, members access psycho-social support in times of sickness, bereavement and for weddings.

Their story starts in 2002 when the chairperson Margaret Waigwa, approached a friend Ann Wanjohi and asked if she would be interested in joining her merry-go-round savings group.

Soon enough, their number had grown to 10, then to 30. Most of the women in the Burguret area were either unemployed, small-scale farmers, or casual labourers at nearby flower farms. 

The minimum contribution when they started was Sh10. The money collected went into buying basic household items, which were shared among members. Three years later, their number dropped to 15 after some relocated while others defaulted on payments.

“Having eliminated non-committed members, we decided to register the group in 2005 at Naru Moro town social services office,” recalls Ms Waigwa.

“We then increased the minimum contribution to Sh100 and opened a savings account with Taifa Sacco.”

Water is a big challenge in Burguret, a semi-arid area. With no piped water, it takes the women more than two hours to get to the river and back. That is why their first project in 2006, was purchasing water tanks.

“We started by buying three tanks in each cycle, when the loans were fully repaid we would move to the next three until everyone had a tank. The project improved our quality of living and we decided to increase our contribution to Sh200 so that we could do more,” says Agnes Muchemi, the group secretary.

Margaret Waigwa with her pigs at her home in Burguret, Laikipia County. She says she took a loan to buy the pigs at Sh4,000 each.

Photo credit: Esther Nyandoro | Nation Media Group

In 2013, they did their second collective project where each member received an adult dairy goat or sheep. This project, she says, boosted their income streams as they were able to sell goat milk, others bred their animals and sold their offspring for profit.

In 2020, the chama received a loan of Sh100,000 for 10 members from Women Enterprise Fund, which helped them survive the impacts of drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Managing the chama

Keeping the chama alive for 17 years is no small feat. Kwiyaka members have instituted measures to keep the group grounded. They have a constitution, which has maintained order in the group and prevented leadership wrangles from arising. Elections are held every two years in the presence of the local chief, to ensure the process is free and fair.

“We are very secretive with matters involving the chama. Many groups fail because of gossip, which we really discourage. Whether you have the money to pay or not, that remains a secret between the member, secretary and the accountant,” states Ms Waigwa.

Ms Wanjohi who describes herself as the discipline master of the group, adds that members must be cordial.

“I always ensure that conflicts caused by livestock straying and destroying crops, which arise outside the group between members are not dragged into the chama. Though I haven’t faced any serious issues yet, I take it upon myself to mediate conflicts before they escalate,” she says.

The group only allows in new members after they have been properly vetted.  Elizabeth Mwangi, a retired teacher, was allowed to join the group in 2018 after paying goodwill of Sh3,000.  Prior to that, she was part of a different group which collapsed.

“It was easy to accept her because her former chama used to meet at this same location and over the years, we had become well acquainted,” shares Ms Waigwa.

All other new members are children or close relatives of the original members. Ms Muchemi says that since most of them are getting old if they do not involve the young generation, the chama may not survive.  

James Mwangi joined Kwiyaka in 2020 after the death of his grandmother who was a long time member. Her shares were transferred to him after he opted to remain in the group.

Ann Wanjohi outside her Indian toilet in Laikipia County. She upgraded from a pit latrine in 2019, after getting a low interest loan from Kwiyaka Micro-saving Society.

Photo credit: Esther Nyandoro | Nation Media Group

“I went to school courtesy of this group. After she died, I felt it was not right to leave. But even before her death, she would bring me along and so, I was always a part of the group,” he states.

Aside from the monthly contribution, which goes into buying shares, there is a non-mandatory education saving scheme, which can only be accessed once a year in January. 

A fine of Sh1,000 is imposed on members who opt to leave the group before the end of the year to discourage exiting the chama without a good reason.


In 2015, when the chama turned 10, the members decided to conduct home visits to get to know each other.

“We had suffered an incident where one member disappeared with a loan of Sh7,000. The home visits gave us the opportunity to know each other beyond the weekly meetings, and to prevent future loss of money,” reveals Ms Muchemi.

Ms Waigwa says another challenge they face is drought because most of them depend on farming to get money for the chama.

“Seeing the greenery now, it may be difficult to believe, but just a month ago, we were shredding cactus to feed our livestock.  Ms Wanjohi lost five sheep to the drought last year and has remained with only three,” she adds.

“When crops fail and livestock die, it is difficult for most of us to meet our monthly contributions.”

For Ms Wanjohi, a lack of access to knowledge has slowed the development of the chama.

“Most of us are semi-literate, if we were able to acquire skills like baking and soap making, I believe we will be more empowered and would grow faster, “she says. 

Despite the challenges, the members are grateful for the far they have come.

Since the chama began, none of them lives under a grass thatched mud house. They have all upgraded to timber or corrugated iron houses with cemented floors.

Ms Wanjohi, in 2019, managed to build an Indian toilet something she had desired for a long time.

“I took out a loan of Sh20,000 to boost my savings, which helped me to complete my Sh50,000 project with ease,” she states with pride.

Mr Mwangi took a loan to rent out a house for himself after he was kicked out from his father’s home following his grandmother’s death.

“With this group, I don’t feel alone. My friends always wonder where I get the money to do my little projects but that is my secret,” he says.

“In the future, with the support of the chama, I plan to take myself through music school.”