Marciana's struggle, porridge and Bangla-Pesa

Marciana's husband died a long time ago, leaving her with 5 children to care for alone. Even though she is 64 now, and most of her children are grown, she still bears the burden for caring for her family. Her oldest son, who might have taken on this responsibility, also died, and her oldest daughter is disabled from a bout of TB. Her surviving son was trained as a driver, but he’s been unable to find work, so he, his wife, and his two children live with Marciana, along with Marciana’s disabled daughter and youngest daughter (17 years). Marciana didn’t have the money to send her youngest daughter to secondary school. And, although she received some training as a tailor, she is also unemployed. So, Marciana supports this household from the sale of porridge and a bean and maize soup. The porridge sells for 15ksh ($0.18) and soup for 10ksh ($0.12). She usually makes around 600ksh ($7) a day to feed a family of 7. Technically, this puts her above the international poverty line based on the lower cost of living in Kenya, but, as she leaned her forehead against a pole, looked down at her worn red flip flops and dust covered feet, and told us about her life, we could feel the exhaustion caused by her efforts to keep her family fed and housed, and some sadness at being unable to keep her daughters in school and in good health.

“When the market was closed, I was only working with Bangla-Pesa, because that was what people had.”

Things are improving for Marciana now. She became a member of Koru's Bangladesh Business Network in December and started trading the Bangla-Pesa voucher with fellow members. “I take 200 Bangla-Pesa every morning to buy sugar from Mwololo to make my porridge. When I get customers, I will buy fish and then that lady will come to buy my porridge. The same happens when I buy potatoes and water. They all come to get my porridge and I take from them their goods too.” All of these trades happen between members without Kenyan shillings, which means the money from trades which do use Kenyan shillings can be saved and used for other kinds of purchases. Further, when there are larger economic upheavals, the Bangla-Pesa can provide a buffer for the business community. In an effort reduce illegal hawking, and more comprehensively tax small businesses, the local government in Mombasa cleared out many shops in the central business district and in the market area. This left many businesses in Bangladesh without access to their stock, which they used to purchased from in now destroyed shops in the central market. In response to this disruption, Marciana and her customer used Bangla-Pesa to keep business going. “When the market was closed, I was only working with Bangla-Pesa, because that was what people had.” People couldn't buy stock as usual, had fewer products to sell, and so had very few Kenyan Shillings. But, they could still use Bangla-Pesa to buy some stock locally, sell the processed stock for Bangla-Pesa, buy food and necessities with the vouchers and maintain a basic standard of living until they adjusted to the changes in the central market.

“I used to be without food because we wouldn't have enough Kenyan Shillings, now I can eat even when I don’t have the Kenyan Shillings because I still have the Bangla-Pesa to use.”

When we spoke with her, Marciana had 400 Bangla-Pesa after a day of trading. The next morning, she would take half that to buy sugar and the rest to buy food and water for herself and her family. As soon as customers come to her, she will repeat the process of using Bangla-Pesa to meet whatever needs she has, “I get it [Bangla-Pesa], then I use it. I used to be without food because we wouldn't have enough Kenyan Shillings, now I can eat even when I don’t have the Kenyan Shillings because I still have the Bangla-Pesa to use.” Every day, businesses in Bangladesh close the business day with goods unsold (some of which will spoil) and services unsold because their fellow businesswomen and men lack the funds to purchase these services. Bangla-Pesa provides a way for businesses to trade this excess capacity among each other. Then, everyone can fully meet their demand for goods and services locally and save their Kenyan Shillings to access medical care and education. We are truly excited to hear more from Marciana and others about how their community currency is helping them raise their standard of living together.