Ileho Division is a rural area in western Kenya, on the eastern edge of the Kakamega Forest. The women in Ileho are traditionally dependent on their husbands’ incomes, most of which derive from agriculture. Taking the popular “merry-go-round” practice – where women meet at regular intervals to take turns in supporting each other – one step further, a group of women decided to take up income-generating activities to improve their livelihood and support their community. In October 2015, they registered the Ileho Poultry Group with the Kenyan government, and in December 2016 posted a call for volunteers via the UNV Online Volunteering service. They asked for online volunteers to guide the organization on developing an agricultural project.
Zuzana Filipova, a Czech national and development professional, was on a break between assignments and searched for volunteer opportunities to bridge the time. Having worked in Uganda and Tanzania before, she had learned Kiswahili and had grown fond of the region. Her experience in entrepreneurship and business plan development, including the management of poultry business, made her the perfect fit for the task.
Sarah Igobwah from the Lulu Ileho Poulty Group worked with Zuzana using email and WhatsApp for communication. Sarah gathered all the information Zuzana needed to develop a training curriculum on setting up a business plan. Working on a flexible schedule of one or two sessions per month, Sarah coordinated the training sessions for the women and documented their feedback, which she then shared with Zuzana. This two-way information flow, facilitated by Sarah, made Zuzana feel part of the group and enabled her to respond to the group’s emerging needs, such as developing petty cash vouchers for their record keeping.
Sometimes working with a 7-hour time difference from Zuzana’s then work assignment in Mongolia, Sarah says of the collaboration: “We went through 12 sessions that were very educative. We eventually had a business plan compiled. The project is now up and running and the members are selling eggs and chickens to the community. Our project is a role model in the village. The community has started to understand the benefits of working together.”
About her online volunteering experience with Zuzana, Sarah says: “I would advise any organization thinking of collaborating with online volunteers to go for it. There is a lot to learn from online volunteers – they are professionals and the results are amazing. Work with them closely and let them know exactly where your challenges are and where you need to be assisted. And keep on updating them on the progress.”