Securing local authority support for our pregnancy support groups

Posted on
04th Oct 2019
by Ellie Dawes

The creation of our pregnancy support groups programme is well under way, and at the moment that means a lot of meetings! Here's how all those meetings are going to lead to better support for mums...

It's vitally important that the Team Mum Pregnancy Support Groups form part of a joined-up healthcare journey for new mums. We always want to work in partnership with existing health services to support and strengthen them - not undermine or seek to replace them! Here's a little update into how our team have been working to achieve that over the past couple of weeks...

Last week, Cherio ( Programme Manager) and Margaret Ikeira (the brilliant leader of CIFORD, our local partner organisation) met with Minister for Health (CEC) Mr Mutuma and local ministry officials. The result of this meeting was that Meru County gave official support to our activities in Meru! This means we will be able to access health facilities to strengthen the referral pathways for women from the community to health facilities. The county also offered human resource support to help run our activities in rural communities. 

Following this, and CIFORD held a meeting this week with the Igembe Central Sub-County Health Management Team. Igembe Central is the project implementation site for our pregnancy support groups. It was a very fruitful meeting that saw the team pledging their support to all of our activities which would help improve the maternal health indicators in the sub-county.

They promised that through them, community health volunteers would work very closely with the project team to ensure that pregnant women in Igembe Central will have access to maternal health services in all the sub-county health facilities. They were even kind enough to offer our project team office space and free wifi, to ensure an even closer working relationship! We are so excited about this partnership that has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of pregnant women and their newborns in Igembe Central, Meru County.


Our pregnancy support group programme in Meru was funded by the incredible supporters who donated to our Team Mum Campaign earlier this year, and the UK government who matched their donations through UK Aid Match.

If you're impressed by what we do, please fund more work like this by joining Team Mum Monthly!

Reaching the end of my Charity Fast-Track content placement

Posted on
08th Oct 2018
by Millie_Shoebridge

Today is my last day in Nairobi, I can hear the city weeping at my departure already.

Perhaps there will not be so dramatic a reaction, but I for one will be sad to leave this clanging, frightening, kind and laid-back city. Looking back at what has been one of the most tightly packed two weeks of my life, I have seen, heard, smelt, tasted and touched many an experience that I will do well to remember long into the future.

Starting my first day with the Nairobi team, Doreen and I headed to Westlands Health Centre where we picked up the Baby Boxes, on the way carrying what was only a small pile of blankets, I managed to trip and fall down some steps. Determined to carry on I shuffled my way around work for the best part of the day before begrudgingly accepting that perhaps some ibuprofen and a support sock might be in order. Returning home later that evening and putting my foot up to rest I realised that the damage was more than just mild. On doctor's orders (I happened to be sharing an Airbnb with one) I spent the next two days recuperating in bed, literally crawling to the bathroom at one point. I told myself it can only get better from here.

Which it did! Now I had the gift of mobility restored to me, I headed out to the Kangemi settlements where Doreen and I met mothers who were three months in to using their Baby Boxes. Doreen carried out her survey on the usage and effectiveness of the box whilst I interviewed the mothers on their experience of motherhood, personal history and collected advice for our Team Mum campaign. Chris, the community health volunteer who took us around, was an undeniably great help, someone trusted by the mothers and who was on hand to answer any post-natal questions.

Over my first weekend I frequented the national museum and to my absolute delight met three lovely cats who had nothing to do with the museum, but it was probably the best part of that day, that sounds terrible I know.

Starting my second week, Doreen and I (we are quite the power couple by this point) headed off to Meru at 5 AM on Tuesday, arriving sooner than we thought due to our driver’s high concern for the speed limit. Our work here was to conduct interviews and photograph women from the agricultural groups and new mothers partaking in the nutritional seminars.

Margaret, who heads the CIFORD office in Meru explained the programmes' work, how they are implemented and what form she hopes they will take in the future. She took us to meet groups at different stages of their agricultural training and they showed us around their kitchen gardens, explained to us their new initiatives of saving water by re-using what they washed their clothes and utensils in and proudly displayed their kales, tomatoes and potatoes.

Many had goats, cows and rabbits which is made possible through the micro-finance scheme that runs within the agricultural groups. Women can borrow and lend money to one another through a collection pool that occurs weekly, many spoke highly of the scheme and hoped in the future to use it to purchase more animals and farming equipment.  

We must offer our thanks to the Soroptimists of Great Britain and Ireland for their three-year long support of the Meru Women’s Garden Project. At the end of this month they have their annual conference, so we filmed a video of Margret with some of the women saying thanks, having a sing and a boogie.

When visiting the Nutritional groups, as well as the continuous voicing of appreciation of learning how to provide a balanced diet for themselves and their children, was the acknowledgment of the support gained from meeting other women in similar situations. Many opened up about how alone they felt in their pregnancies, all were 22 years or younger at the time and many fathers of the babies had left them. Having a safe place to communicate, laugh and lean on one another has increased their confidence, feelings of self-worth and hope for their future. An unmeasurable success.

Returning to Nairobi, I spent the Friday doing paperwork, a welcome respite from the long hot days spent in rural Kenya, the burn on my neck can vouch for the heat.

My last weekend was spent visiting the gorgeous if slightly slobbery giraffes at the sanctuary and mountain biking through Karura Forest with new friends. 

All in all, it has been such a thoroughly appreciated and fantastic placement. My heartfelt thanks go to all the team for making this happening but especially Ellie and the Nairobi office. Your advice, co-ordination, assistance and comradery for putting up with my unrelenting questions about the country from corruption, cultural taboos to religion. These conversations with you have offered me an insight into a country and a continent too often mis-portrayed back at home.

I recommend all future Charity Fast-Trackers to grab opportunities like this one. It may sometimes be difficult or feel strange but that is often quite the brilliance of it.


 If you want to train yourself for a fantastic charity career, you should apply for Charity Fast-Track 2019! Find details here on the Utopy website.




Live updates from the Meru Study Tour

Posted on
20th Apr 2018
by Ellie Dawes

This month, a group of intrepid Soroptimists headed to Meru to meet the women there and see the impact of all their hard work on the Meru Women's Garden Project.

The trip was organised by Amanjit and the group were accompanied by Cherio, Faith and Tyson, from our Nairobi office. Tyson is a new recruit to our Nairobi office, where he has been supporting on event logistics for Ride Africa. 

From the study tour, Tyson was tweeting some really lovely updates from the trip about what all the ladies (and some husbands, or "Soroptomisters"!) were up to. We decided to ask him to take over the main Twitter account for the week, so he could tell the story of the trip through live updates, direct from Kenya. In case you missed it, here are his tweets.


Meet the brilliant: Harriet.

Posted on
16th Mar 2018
by Ellie Dawes

Harriet is 59 and works six days a week farming and running her own shop, where she sells fruit and veg and other groceries.

Every Thursday, she goes to Kauria Self-Help Group meetings. The group is one of many that are supported by's partner organisation CIFORD. Women in Harriet's community meet together and receive vital training and support each other. 

Harriet speaks proudly about her involvement with the women's group. She says that the group provides vital basic assistance to vulnerable people in the community.

As an example, Harriet highlighted the importance of the group's weekly 'merry-go-round' scheme. This scheme, known as 'chama' in Kiswahili, is common across Kenya and acts as an informal saving group for members of the community. Members of the women's group contribute a small sum of money once a week during their meetings. Each week, this collection of money is paid to one of the members of the group. This allows the women to save their money informally and use the larger sums of money to pay for things like school fees and invest in farming tools. Harriet says that with the scheme, she's been able to increase the stock of her shop, maximising her income so that she can fund her children's school fees.

Hard working community-focussed women like Harriet are determined to lift their whole communities out of poverty. All they need is practical training and support.

Meet more of The Brilliant.

Meru Women’s Garden Project in 2018

Posted on
10th Jan 2018
by Amanjit Dhillon

It's going to be a big year for Meru! Here's a quick update with some highlights to look forward to this year.

The agricultural training that forms the core of The Meru Women's Garden Project of our women's groups is ongoing until graduation in April. A delegation of Soroptimists will be visiting the community in April to meet the women of Meru and attend the graduation, we're so excited to finally bring these amazing groups of women together. 

In June, we plan to begin mother’s nutritional training for the groups, giving new mums the training they've asked for that will help them keep their children well nourished and healthy. 

In August we'll be running more forums designed to tackle the practice of femal genital multilation in the community - an alternative rights of passage session for girls, and an awareness session for boys. Having struggled with attendance at previous boys' forums in December, the team are already working closely with our partners at CIFORD to ensure attendance is high for both workshops this time around. It's clear to us that engaging young men is a vital part of tackling this damaging cultural practice. 

Following the fantastic success of the Soroptimists' recent fundraising, and problematic weather hitting the gardens of Meru hard this year, we hope to fund a borehole for the community. This would provide a reliable source of water at an up-front cost of around £25k, and we're currently investigating the optimum location. The borehole would have a transformative effect on the community's fortunes and we're all very excited about this addition to the programme!

We look forward to working with the inspirational women of Soroptimist UK and Meru Womens Groups, to achieve all this and more in 2018. As always, if you're planning some fundraising or would like some more info on Meru, I would like to hear from you (


Read more about the Meru Women's Garden Project.

Read about our plans for HealthStart in 2018.

Read about our plans for our brand new baby box programme in 2018.

Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland support, six months on

Posted on
15th Sep 2016
by Martina Gant

Meru Women's Garden Project is progressing and we're all learning from it

Last year, in November 2015, were elected as SIGBI’s Federation Project partner 2016-19 with our new partner CIFORD in Meru, Kenya. The project is an agricultural training programme for women called Meru Women’s Garden Project.

The project launched on International Women’s Day in March 2016 and since then, Soroptimists from all over the UK and beyond, have been engaging in fundraising activities. In the six months since the launch, SIGBI have raised well over £9,000 for and MWGP with lots more activities planned.

In Kenya, we’ve been working closely with CIFORD to prepare for expanding the project over the next three years. Before the end of 2016 we’ll be working with two women’s groups, preparing them with training and tools for improved agricultural practice, providing them with the means to support themselves and their families.  

In preparation for the women’s groups, we’ve used SIGBI funds to run a smaller-scale activity: in August 2016, we worked with CIFORD to host our first Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) to female circumcision for 35 girls in Meru.

The weekend session was designed to inform girls about the realities of FGM to enable them to make informed decisions about their health and their future. What was particularly interesting for us was to meet the girls and to learn that many girls in this community choose to be circumcised, rather than being forced by their families like in many other communities where FGM is common.  

In fact, out of the girls that attended the sessions, two out of three of them (67%) told us before the training began, that female circumcision is a necessary part of growing up. 31% of Meru women are circumcised, with over 50% of them being cut over the age of 15 years.

The purpose of the Alternative Rite of Passage weekend was to dispel myths around circumcision so that girls can make informed decisions about their health. When we asked the attendees again at the end of the weekend whether they believed that circumcision is a necessary part of growing up, the number that agreed had dropped to less than 6%. The number of girls that correctly answered that female circumcision can lead to complications in childbirth leapt by 32% (from 68% to 100%).

100% of the attendees of the ARP weekend told us that they would recommend it to their friends.  They told us:

"We had good teachers who taught us good things which will transform our lifes in future"

"I was very happy for these weekend because we teach us circumcision not good. I was happy for that."

"I was happy to be taught on the dangers of circumsision"

"This weekend changed my life"

For more detail on what the weekend involved, read this great blog by Anna Donaldson, Charity Apprentice, who was based with CIFORD for four weeks from July 2016.


CIFORD have hosted many similar ARP sessions in the past - what was new this time was the introduction of planning techniques, surveys and reviews prior to and during the event. These tools enable us ( and CIFORD) to assess the impact of the work and to iterate on the programme design with the intention of making each session more impactful than the last.

The weekend had many benefits; by using planning tools on a smaller scale project, we’re investing in the skills and processes at CIFORD, which can then be applied to all aspects of their work. We’re working closely with CIFORD founder and Executive Director, Margaret Ikiara, to develop the next programmatic steps and this month we’re redesigning and strengthening the agricultural training for women. We’re also planning new workshops for men and boys to ensure that lessons on female empowerment aren’t limited to women in the community.

It’s been a busy six months and it’s about to get busier! Thanks to all the Soroptimists that have been working hard to raise funds for Meru Women’s Garden Project.  We’re already changing lives with your donations, and we’ve only just begun.

If you want to help us to support more women in this community, you can by hosting a Supper Club in October.  For more details, visit

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