Forty-five-year-old Caroline Korkoren is hunched over a fire at her food kiosk in Keben village, in Kenya’s Kericho County. It’s a small room, with a long bench in the middle and a table lining each wall. Outside, she’s set up another bench, for when she has too many customers to fit in the kiosk. At 10:00 a.m. it is quiet, but she assures us that in the next hour it will be so busy she won’t be able to talk to us.
True to her word, less than an hour later customers start streaming in. The majority are farmers, hauling tea from nearby farms to the weighing station next to Korkoren’s kiosk. The station is the tea collection point for factories, which buy tea from small-scale farmers in the area. The farmers order tea, porridge, eggs or chapati (an unleavened flatbread made from wheat flour that’s popular in Kenya) and Korkoren readily prepares their late-morning breakfast.
In between serving customers and adding wood to the fire, she tells us how her food kiosk came to be.
More than six years ago, she first opened a shop with her husband, to sell household items like sugar and tea leaves to earn extra income to support the education of their four children. Business was slow. Most residents preferred to purchase their goods from a larger market. She was forced to close and reopen the shop several times over the years, as she tried to make it profitable, while still maintaining her tea field.
In March 2019, a crowd that was gathered at the tea collection station next to her shop caught Korkoren’s attention. She walked over and discovered it was a financial literacy training workshop. “I asked around and was told that it was teaching women how to take care of their money,” Korkoren shares in the local language, Kipsigis. The training was organized by WE and Lipton as part of a financial literacy program launched in 2018 to empower 150,000 people in tea growing regions in Kenya. The organizers would train women on business concepts and basic finance as they waited for their tea to be weighed and picked up. Out of curiosity, she sat in on one of the classes. Her curiosity developed into interest as she realized the training was a practical guide to grow her business.
The class that stood out the most to her was on identifying new sources of income. She recalls the trainer telling them to find something no one else was offering. She had the idea of selling breakfast to tea farmers at the station. “Most of them wake up very early in the morning to go pick tea and bring it to the weighing and collection station by 11:00 a.m., when the factory trucks come to pick them up,” she says. She figured that few took breakfast at home before heading to the farms, and some would need a snack after all the hard work.
Her husband encouraged her idea—he knows what a good cook she is. Korkoren learned how to cook at an early age out of necessity. Her parents were both maize farmers who spent most of their day working at the farm. As the eldest at home, Korkoren’s mother taught her to cook so she could prepare meals for the younger siblings when her parents were away working. The more her cooking improved, the more she enjoyed it.
She decided she could use her culinary skills to start a business. She started with selling breakfast to tea farmers while they waited for the tea pickup.
In the first month she had so many customers that she ran out of food. She increased her food stock, then started making lunches too. She closed the small household shop to exclusively focus on her restaurant start-up. Her monthly income increased four times. With business booming, she employed two people to help at the tea farm so she could focus on cooking.
This new profit supplements the income from her tea farm and is helping to fund her children’s education. Two of her children are in university and her two younger ones are in Grades 7 and 8. She prepares some of the food in her house early in the morning as she gets her younger kids ready for school. When she heads to her kiosk to open for the day, she passes by farms and delivers food to the women working. Her dream is to be able to hire someone else at the kiosk so she can provide a food delivery service to more farmers.
Why did you attend the financial literacy training? My business wasn’t doing very well and the women that were attending the training told me that I might learn how to make it more successful. Every time I went, they taught something new and I knew it was going to help me.
Why are these trainings important to the women here? They help us with skills and knowledge that we can implement in our day-to-day so we can build our businesses and save money.
What are you hoping to achieve in the next few years? Right now, my priority is to educate my children. I want them to be able to get good jobs so they can become independent. I also want to expand this business, so it can become a big hotel.
This interview has been condensed and edited from a translation.
“Every time I went, they taught something new and I knew it was going to help me.”Caroline Korkoren, Trainee
“When women are successful, they can support their children, their husbands and the entire community.”Alice Korir, Trainee
“I saw what the women the trainers showed us had done and I thought that if they could do it, then I could do it too.”Magdalene Metei, Trainee
“Now when you see women, they have so much.”Mary Koech, Community Trainer
“Financial literacy training is important here because it helps people take care of the money they already have. It helps them see how else they can take care of their families.”Samson Langat, Community Trainer
Zeddy Kosgei is a multi-media content creator in Kenya with over three years’ experience as a broadcast journalist. She loves finding stories that matter and retelling them creatively and eloquently.