Binta Yahaya is a member of the Women of Vision Development Initiative (WVDI), an NGO active in grassroots entrepreneurship, community mobilization and environmental advocacy in Lere Local Government, a rural town in Kaduna State, Nigeria. She was part of a team that successfully led women to advocate for changes to land inheritance laws and campaigned for political inclusion of women in wards and village councils. She also promoted tree planting for erosion control and anti-desertification campaigns, trained women to use organic manure for fertilizing farmlands to mitigate the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers, and advocated for household sanitation and personal hygiene among women in rural areas as a means of controlling the spread of communicable diseases.
Binta primarily used a traditional firewood stove for all her cooking needs but became interested in our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training Program when she began to recognize her cooking fuel must be toxic. She said “on the top part of the stove, there is accumulated soot”, which she imagined was “dangerous to inhale.” She became aware of the health, environmental, and livelihood problems such as air pollution, illness and disproportionate negative impacts on girls and women in her community stemming from this traditional method of cooking and wanted to bring home a solution.
Upon being selected to participate in our Clean Cookstoves Training, Binta received technical and entrepreneurship skills training, a seed grant, ongoing peer support, and access to a global network of women leaders like herself. After the first week of capacity-building training, Binta was inspired by the life-saving importance of the clean cookstove technology and immediately started selling. She returned to her community with greater knowledge of the health, safety and security risks associated with cooking with firewood and gained credibility in clean energy, clean cookstove options and utilization. By the time Binta returned for the second week of training, she had already sold 70 clean cookstoves to her local community!
Despite losing her father shortly after the second week of training, Binta managed to channel her grief and energy into becoming the first woman entrepreneur in our program to reach our target of 120 clean cookstoves sold within five months. One of Binta’s customers used to spend 200 Naira ($0.55 USD) on firewood every day but, since buying a clean cookstove, she repurposes the 150 Naira she saves every day to buy fabric for her new clothing enterprise. Another customer was frequently treated for eye irritation from prolonged exposure to smoke. Since buying a clean cookstove from Binta, her eyes are no longer irritated and she is able to save the money she previously spent on medicine.
But Binta didn’t stop there! After recognizing the primary market in her community was made up of artisanal farmers, she embarked on a complementary business venture to produce and sell charcoal briquettes made from any unused agricultural waste, which can be used by households as a clean source of fuel for cooking and heating. With the $50-120 profit she earns from selling clean cookstoves each month, she has been able to invest in new machinery for mixing, molding and cutting to help streamline the charcoal briquette making process. For perspective on the success of her business, one of these machines costs roughly $800-1,000 USD. Binta now has her own growing business and has become recognized as a leader and role model for young girls by both women and men in her community. This is especially significant in a society where women rarely hold such accolades.
Binta has also designed her own version of a clean cookstove, modeled after one of the current cookstoves on the market (Nenu cookstove). The dimensions of the stove are a bit smaller and, uniquely, has two compartments instead of one. This extra, lower compartment gives a woman the added flexibility to bake bread or dry fish in the compartment while she is cooking. She had a prototype made by a local artisan, which she is currently testing with the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (NACC). She gifted the first prototype to our partner, WISE (Women’s Initiative to Sustainable Environment), as a sign of gratitude. “You have already changed my life but you don’t know it…because If I had to pay for what I learned from you, I don’t think I could afford it. I have no words to say thank you.”
Our Seeds of Resilience project has been underway for almost a year now and we are excited to share the progress being made to date in Southern India! This project, in partnership with Vanastree, aims to build communities’ seed and food sovereignty, catalyze intergenerational traditional knowledge sharing and strengthen women’s leadership, especially in the face of chemical-based agriculture’s influence on the Western Ghats region and mounting threats of climate change.
Organic Home Gardening and Seed Saving
“Women lead their communities in intergenerational knowledge transfer advocacy and behavior change for small scale food systems.” -Sunita, Founder of Vanastree
The project began with a series of trainings, gatherings and projects that brought a select group of 20 women farmers from Karnataka, India together to gain new home-scale food production skills, micro-finance management skills,leadership skills, and self-empowerment skills. More recently, the gatherings for seed saving practices and gardening skills have taken the shape of communal knowledge sharing spaces, where experienced master gardeners share the skills they have accumulated throughout their tenure with those women farmers who are newly learning. This element of the project has been extremely successful in transferring knowledge between women and keeping these intergenerational traditional practices alive!
From the start of the project, the women farmers and seed savers were also encouraged to maintain home garden journals to help them know the plants they are growing in their gardens, what they eat from there, what problems they face and how they can improve their food gardens. This tool has been so successful that the women plan to continue keeping a new journal in the coming year.
Micro-Enterprises and Financial Management
A core aspect of the trainings has been building the micro-enterprise and financial management capacity of the women participants. Trainings focused on helping women become more cognizant of the financial demands of running a profitable seed saving business, a concept the women found challenging to master. A recent refresher training shed light on their struggles and led to Vanastree’s decision to provide ongoing support to the women to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.
One master home gardener and seed saver, Suvarna (photo below), has a nursery from which she sells her very well-known dahlia flowers. The Seeds of Resilience trainings have taught her how to maintain accurate financial records of how much is going into maintaining and growing her nursery as well as what she is receiving for her life’s work.
“The finance management and micro-enterprise training workshop made me think for the first time about money and resources that go into producing something. I learnt how to cost expenses, and to track profit and loss. It will take practice and time, but I can see how much more careful and aware I have become now.” -Suvarna, master gardener and seed saver
Kusuma, another woman participant, has also been keeping financial records in order to help inform decisions on how to grow her enterprise of bamboo curios (earrings and things).
Growth and Leadership at Home and in Community
One of the most important things we believe at WEA is the power of women to become influential leaders in their communities. Our Seeds of Resilience training included a leadership workshop that was organized and facilitated by Vanastree. After leaving the workshop, the women participants had a new understanding of what characteristics make up a leader:
“A leader is someone who is capable of listening to everyone’s joys and sorrows, melding it together, and taking people forward as one group, hands entwined.” -Vinoda Naik, woman farmer and trainee
“A leader is someone who inspires courage in people, gets them to boldly cross thresholds they have not crossed before…who wants progress for all, regardless of their caste or religion.” -Vasumati Bhat, woman farmer and trainee
In fact, one of the most powerful drivers emerging from this project is that although the women enjoy their time in their gardens, growing various things and sharing what they grow and learn in their communities, they have become even more motivated by the leadership skills they have acquired and wish to share with other women.
One woman, Gayathri, who grows a lot of vegetables in her home garden, told our partner — “I never left my home alone”. Her daughter did brilliantly in her high school and was admitted to an engineering college 100km away. Post-leadership workshop, Gayathri felt empowered to be solely responsible for accompanying her daughter to this new town, pay her daughter’s college fees, find and settle her daughter into a hostel, and then return home. She said “If you told me this last year…that I could do this… I would not have believed it!”
We are so excited to how these women grow their seed businesses and home gardens. We also want to say a big thank you to our partner Vanastree for all the amazing work they are doing in this region!
For more on WEA’s work with women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.
In 2010, Monica Ayomah was one of the eight local women trainers in the West African Women and Water Trainings in Ghana. We were thrilled to hear from Monica this month and learn how her leadership has unfolded over the years. Today she is a WASH trainer in Ghana, touching the lives of countless more women and spreading critical water and sanitation technologies to many.
Here’s a short clip of Monica during the training, reflecting on her role as a woman trainer and how important representation is for women in technology.
“They were thinking it was only men who can do construction, it was only men who can work on water for women to use.”
The West African Women and Water Training, hosted by the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) — an initiative co-founded by WEA, A Single Drop, and Crabgrass — supported women to become entrepreneurial leaders in the WASH sector through workshops on capacity building, business development, and technical training in a range of WASH development projects. The training program also served as a platform from which women trainers could expand their training reach and capacity.
Monica trained the 15 teams on how to set up rainwater harvesting systems. Taking on that kind of leadership role, Monica said, she saw concrete ways her work could have lasting and far-reaching positive impact for other women and their communities.
“It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop,” she said, “that I realized I was empowered as a woman to empower other women to be leaders.” She explained that participating in the trainings connected her with a network of grassroots change-makers. This network helped her see how WASH intervention had the potential to empower more and more women. She saw how she could positively impact communities by providing education around safe water practices.
Monica came away from the 2010 Women and Water Trainings emboldened to carry her knowledge forward and help others gain skills, tools and confidence to realize those goals.
So, Monica started her own civil engineering firm!
Shifting professionally from masonry in private homes, Monica started a civil engineering firm and named it Won-Nyeya, meaning “God has seen” in the Builsa language. The firm works with WaterAid Ghana as a WASH construction partner and has five employees: a project officer, monitoring and evaluation officer, engineer, community development educator and a secretary. In the last few years Won-Nyeya has worked in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Volta regions of Ghana to implement Water Sanitation and Hygiene services to underserved communities, schools and clinics.
Sometimes, Won-Nyeya’s work involves constructing or improving infrastructure like wells, rain harvesting systems and latrines. The firm may also be called upon to train Sanitation Management Teams or conduct WASH trainings at schools and health clubs.
Monica credits the 2010 Women and Water Training for helping her see ways to build Won-Nyeya as a firm with an effective engagement model that puts women at the center of their own community’s progress.
“Before implementing any WASH project we ensure that women are actively involved at the awareness creation and community level planning,” Monica explains, describing strategies Won-Nyeya uses that are clear and concrete while staying flexible enough to use effectively in various communities with different needs. In fact, water and sanitation management teams that are formed have at least three women occupying executive positions, training women as pump mechanics so that they are “actively involved in community decision making.”
And she is just getting started! In the future Monica hopes to develop construction and engineering programs specifically for women and girls in technical and vocational schools, as well as continue to increase access to potable water and sanitation services in underserved communities.