What if, just by drinking a nice, hot cup of tea, you could be showing your support for the education and financial independence of the women who harvested the leaves to make it?
When you’re drinking specially marked boxes of Lipton® tea, that’s exactly what’s happening.
The leaves that go into your tea bags are harvested by thousands of women tea farmers in Kenya. They spend a large part of their day in the arid climate that is perfect for growing tea, combing through miles of verdant bushes on the tea farms, many of which are right by their houses.
Tea farmers in Kenya. All photos via Upworthy.
When it rains — almost every late afternoon to early evening — the area is steeped in rich smells of the tea leaves as well as jasmine and eucalyptus. It may sound like a refreshingly simple life, but many of the women are looking for just a little bit more.
The women take pride in their work and are interested in how they can use and grow their earnings to support their children, the next generation. Thankfully, almost 20 years ago, WE Charity — a nonprofit that partners with underserved communities to provide the financial literacy tools they need to create change — started to work with people in the Maasai Mara region and is expanding in order to partner with tea farmers and Lipton® to give them just that.
Maasai Mara, also known as simply “The Mara” to locals, is in Narok County, Kenya. It connects to the Serengeti National Park in the Mara Region of Tanzania, and is home to a wide spectrum of wildlife including lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, hippos, wildebeests, spotted hyenas, and over 500 species of birds.
The people in Maasai Mara depend on its fecund environment as much as the animals living there, but, thanks to groups like WE, they’ve got more than that to sustain them.
WE focuses on reinvigorating the five pillars a community needs to thrive — education, water, food, health, and opportunity.
They built schools for local children to attend. They established a nearby hospital. They created community farms and provided workshops to help train farmers in new planting techniques that would improve their yields. And they built water kiosks so women didn’t have to spend hours of their day walking back and forth from a well.
However, potentially the greatest impact WE has delivered to communities is through the opportunity pillar.
“We believe that by empowering women, you empower the community,” says Zeddy Kosgei, a spokeswoman for WE.
That’s why when WE partnered with Lipton®, whose Unilever farms span across Kenya, bolstering these women became one of their main goals.
The first step on the road to empowerment for these women is more financial education, which means learning how to leverage their profits in more lucrative ways. While that may sound complicated, It’s really as simple as learning to prioritize what to save, and where to spend; and learning how to gain access to start-ups funds so that they can invest in things that have a more lasting return — like livestock.
While some already have chickens and goats, getting to a point where they can purchase a cow, or more than one cow if they already had one, can give these families enough financial leverage to send their kids to higher education institutions in Kenya.
And this sort of financial prowess isn’t a far-off goal — many Kenyan women from WE partner communities are a testament to that, as they’ve broken new ground to realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
But these women aren’t just moving the needle forward in their own communities. They’re helping encourage the other 80,000 tea farmers in Kenya to follow suit.
Here’s a look at just a few of them.
Mama Jane (left) talking to Mama Nancy (right).
Known as the CEO of the Maasai Mara, Mama Jane was one of the first women to dive into the WE opportunity program and, as such, is now a mentor to many others. 10 years ago, she was living in a tiny house with her husband and six children, and they had no money to send the children to school. So, she decided to stop taking sugar in her tea so she could save 50 shillings a week.
Initially a maize farmer, and with a Grade 3 education, that was the beginning of her taking control of her financial future. With WE’s help, she formed a savings and loan group with other women in the Maasai Mara region. Over time, they began pooling their funds and buying livestock to help supplement their income from tea farming. Eventually, these investments allowed Mama Jane to put her kids through school, and one daughter is currently in college. She was even able to build a bigger house for her family.
“I wanted to show women that the small savings we were putting aside could do big things,” says Mama Jane. “We can do big things just like anyone else.”
Currently, WE has helped women cultivate over 70 savings and loan groups in the Maasai Mara region, and, Mama Jane is acting ambassador to show what is possible.
Helen has been selling tea since 1995, when she married her husband. They have eight children, all of whom are now in school. She founded a savings and loan group (which the women call a merry-go-round) because she wanted to be less reliant on her crops, which can sometimes be unpredictable in their yield due to changing weather.
“I will use the training to improve myself and my family and I will also use it to teach other women,” Helen says.
Helen hopes the training her community receives will help their merry-go-round grow so they can eventually buy a cow and a bigger home, and perhaps one day, she can even start her own shoe business.
Caroline always dreamed of being a doctor, but her parents, who were both tea farmers, couldn’t afford to send her to school. She started farming back in 1999 and now has four children, two in high school and two in primary school. Caroline is part of a merry-go-round in her community, but she’s never received formal financial training before.
She says she’d love to understand money and business better so she can start a business selling fruit and vegetables from her garden as well as give back to those in need in her community.
Gladys was actually a maize farmer until 2004, when she switched to tea because it was more profitable. A strong believer in the power of a good education, she pushes her kids to excel in school. Case in point, her daughter, who just graduated high school, is studying to become an engineer.
“The greatest thing I have been able to achieve as a tea farmer is the education of my children,” Gladys says.
After recent talks with WE and their ambassadors, like Mama Jane, Gladys is eager to learn how to better manage her money so she can one day start a clothing business. However for her, it all comes back to how far her children have come thanks to her efforts.
“I think having success in life is looking at where you’ve come from and seeing where your children are,” she says.
These women are proof that no matter where you live or what you do, you can change the status quo with a little help from your friends.
Just ask Mama Jane, who recognizes she could never have achieved all she has without a supportive group of women standing behind her.
“We achieve great things when women stand together,” Mama Jane says.
And now, everyone who buys their tea can have a hand in that. So the next time you look down at your cup of Lipton®, know that you too could be a part of some pretty amazing accomplishments.
To learn more about the tea farms and these incredible women, check out this video:
To see how your purchase supports women in tea farming communities, look for specially marked boxes of Lipton® Tea and enter the code on we.org/Lipton.