One woman’s struggle to escape extreme poverty

DSC_0041Yala, Kenya  - The world’s leaders want to reduce extreme poverty to three percent by 2030. Mary Anyango would like to see progress now.

Getting to the overall target means halving the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by 2020 to nine percent, World Bank President Jim Kim said earlier this month.

“Our strategy calls for more investment in fragile states, and it also calls for working on a variety of fronts to combat climate change; and to improve health and education systems, especially for the benefit of girls and women,” said Kim at the Bank’s annual meeting.

But it is one thing to talk about lifting people above the $1.25 line; it is, of course, another thing to do it.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is an initiative aimed at showing how and it started in Sauri, Kenya in 2005. By providing a series of opportunities and interventions, the MVP was designed to meet some of the Millennium Development Goals and create an environment that would tackle problems like extreme poverty.

It has managed to help some improve their lives, but Mary Anyango still struggles. She has benefited from the assistance of the MVP, but her income continues to slide following the death of her husband in 2000. Getting her out of extreme poverty is proving to be difficult.

DSC_0049She build her current home by hand ten years ago. The mud structure shows some cracks around the edges, but features a metal roof. She and the four children that stay with her (two are hers and two are grandchildren) sleep under bednets provided by the MVP to protect against malaria.

The farm is the most significant drive of income for Anyango. She says she used to use local seeds and no fertilizer for her crops. At that time she could only count on one bag of maize per season. Now, thanks to improved seed and fertilizer, she has more than four bags sitting in her bedroom.

“I have benefited a bit from the program,” she said.

Beans are now grow on her two small plots to return nitrogen to the soil. When planting maize, Anyango follows the improved farming methods recommended by the MVP staff by planting two seeds every seventy-five centimeters.

Farmers used to be provided inputs for free by the MVP, but it weaned people in the cluster off slowly and transition them to microfinance loans. The poorest are provided the seed and fertilizer in exchange for one bag at harvest.

Two thousand woman in the MVP cluster, including Anyango, are considered indigent. They are the the most vulnerable and a majority are women who are widowed or abandoned by their husbands. Besides the MVP, Anyango received from the local Community Development Fund and FHI360.

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School fees for her children cost 53,000 KSH per year. A sum that Anyango cannot afford. NGO support reduces her annual fees to just 5,000 KSH each year. Without support from FHI360, her children would not be in school.

Some small sewing helps to bring in additional money, but most of it comes during the Christmas season. She uses a sewing machine provided by the MVP to also make school uniforms and other clothing.

The white skirt and blouse that she put on for our arrival was made by Anyango. She enjoys the sewing and wishes she could do more. However the resources to expand are not available.

DSC_0030“If I had a shop I could increase my machines and begin trainings,” she said.

Further support from the MVP is evident on the property. Aside from the farm, bednets and the sewing machine, there is a water pump. The program has helped Anyango and possibly kept her from the brink, but getting her out of poverty remains incredibly hard.

Earlier rains make it harder for Anyango’s crops to grow. A child who fell ill from a school deworming tablet adds another concern. However she remains hopeful.

One of her children, she says, dreams to be a lawyer and another a journalist. She never imagined her children would have such lofty goals. Describing it brings a visible sense of pride to her face.

“I leave it to God,” she says.

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About Author

Aid/Development Beat Reporter Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom found and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.

  • Joanne

    I’ve been told a million times that deworming is safe, and the rare side effects are minimal. Can you give more details on what happened to Anyango’s child?

  • Greg Gamble

    Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the International Economic Development community, because although this is only one case there are probably many others just like Ms. Anyango, who despite receiving aid are still in a poverty trap. Ms. Anyango benefitted from bed nets which help reduce the spread of malaria in her village; she also benefited from agriculture by way of improved seeds and fertilizer, and farming instruction; she benefited from microfinance loans to get seeds after free seeds were no longer available; she also received aid from the local community development fund; she received assistance from an NGO to help send her children to school; she received a sewing machine that allowed her to sell items for additional income, and also make clothes and uniforms for her children; and she also has a provided water pump on her farm. Sachs identified the many different types of capital that the poor lack, all of which Ms. Anyango was assisted with; it
    appears that all bases were covered. However, with all of this assistance Ms. Anyango still finds herself living in extreme poverty

    In The End of Poverty, author Jeffery Sachs detailed what a poverty trap was, and how best to break the cycle of poverty to allow aid recipient countries or individuals get on the first rung of the development ladder. He stated “that when poverty is very extreme, the poor do not have the ability, by themselves to get out of the mess”. His recommendation to get out of poverty traps were to help the extreme poor get on the first rung of the ladder, by providing enough aid, not to make them rich, but enough to allow them to get on the ladder. He also stated that all good things tend to move together at each rising rung. This sounded great, and he gave some great examples such as India and China, where this has worked. But as we can see from Ms. Anyango’s story, even getting on the first rung may not get you out of a poverty trap, or that we may not know what the first rung is, or what happens when even the first rung is too high.

    Maybe the next question for the development community is not whether poverty traps exist, but instead does the first rung exist?