Gymnastics, Swimming Lessons & Savings Groups

Gymnastics, Swimming Lessons & Savings Groups

Readers who know me know that I love to travel but dread the loneliness of hotel living, especially where I know no one who might invite me to dinner or come to the hotel for a drink. So it is here where the very nice Mt. Meru hotel is my home for two+ weeks. This Saturday morning with no place I had to be, I slept late and had to rush in order to not to miss breakfast. Drinking coffee on the hotel terrace overlooking an expansive lawn, a group of women caught my eye.

 They were running between two trees spaced 30 yards apart and collapsing in laughter once they finished their lap. It is not common to see women running in Africa, particularly stout middle age women. So I started my own voyage around the garden perimeter with my binos to check out the bird life and by the time I reached the runners they had moved on to awkward hand stands and yes, headstands too, both producing peals of laughter. I approached them and said, “You ladies are having too much fun!”. Their reply? “You want to race?!” I said, What do you mean, race? They pointed to the other tree, and against my better judgement I took off my binos and sandals and for the first time since knee surgery 3 years ago, I took off with six fatter-than-me ladies running our hearts out, around the tree and back. I lost. We all laughed. Then they returned to the handstands; I couldn’t resist, I demonstrated my still, pushing 60, nearly perfect cartwheel. And they all tried one!

Then one said, Can you show us this? She made motions backward as if she was heading towards a backbend. I quickly said NO, but try this….and showed them a ‘bridge’ starting with back on the ground, knees up and pushing oneself up into a back-bend. That was a little much. One of them said something about abs, so I showed them a plank and had all of them doing one to the count of 5, then 10, until one smartalec kept counting until 20, showing up her friends. More laughter.

As we lay on the grass, I learned they were from Nairobi and here on vacation. I was surprised. Really? What have you done here? Nothing! We came to relax. We are going swimming later. Really, I said. Who knows how to swim? No one did. Only one of us knows, she learned in the river as young girl, but she is not well today.  You want to teach us? I said, You don’t want me to teach you. If I do, I will make you put your whole head in the waterReally, they said. The whole head???

Later, on the terrace again, praying to the god of wireless, the girls appeared at the pool all sporting shower caps. They got in the water and splashed about and called out to each other and laughed a lot. I tried to resist, but couldn’t. When they saw meapproaching the pool, one eager learner took off her shower cap and dunked her head. We all clapped. I taught her to breathe out with her face in the water and turn her head to take air in. And the flutter kick. She made it across the short width of the pool, and exhausted herself. So we sat chatting. I asked how their husbands felt about them going on vacation and leaving them. When they said they all gave their permission, I asked where they found such husbands. Oh my dear, you know, in Africa things are changing. I wanted to ask how they paid for the trip but didn’t dare. They told me anyway. It turns out, these ladies are a group of 12, all business women in Nairobi – wholesalers of auto parts, electronics, etc. all borrowers with Equity, Standard Charter and Cooperative Bank – and members of a ‘chama’. A ‘chama’ is a merry-go-round, a common informal financial tool in Africa whereby a group meets monthly to contribute a fixed amount of money to the pot, and each month the collected sum is given to one member. But this chama had evolved to a function like a sophisticated Savings Group; the 12 members each contribute 7,000 shillings/month which is banked until they have enough to make loans. Each month several members borrow 200,000 shillings for 3 months at 2% interest. They used to share out at the end of the year, but this year, they used their profits to pay for this trip. Next year they are thinking about going to Israel. When I explained that I support the same model for women in villages, they were so stunned. Oh! My mother needs this. I said, So go teach her how to do it. Don’t expect them to save 7,000 a month, but they can start at whatever level they are comfortable with.

Saving, kidogo kidogo is so powerful.  It might get you doing cartwheels!



Reader Comments (3)

This is such a charming tale. Its quirkiness underscores its deep truths. How lovely and amazing these fun-loving, competitive, serious, joyful women were all part of a group and that somehow they pulled you into the fray, kicking and screaming. Thank you for such a good story.

Thu, October 24, 2013 | Kim Wilson

Dear Candace,

You won't believe this. I came to this website looking for Paul as I have just finished chapter 3 of this powerful book you put together. And tomorrow, I am reading Kim's chapter 4, and here comes the comment from KIM( Kim, I adore you; you write powerfully well). And then, here you are, describing the Nairobi "chama" women in such a side splitting way. This is so hilarious you have no idea Candace( especially the swimming part. I am still laughing!). I wish you got the contact for the ladies you direct them to this story they read and laugh heartly.

Kim, I can't wait to read your chapter tomorrow. I thank Susan Johnson for the book Savings Groups at the Frontier. I may be lucky to meet her next week and will ask her to read this interesting story from Candace.

Now, back to what brought me here. Paul, where are you? I have some 367 SHG all registered. I have a CBO that they are all affiliated to and I think they can enjoy SG model alongside their Self help component. The 367 groups are spread across Kandara District in Murang'a county. I got hold of them when I was piloting a model I call Village Empowerment Centres(VEC) where I take a village as the last frontier for financial services. The 367 groups have a population of 6,480 majority being women, with an average savings per month of ksh 2.5M.

Paul, you are the grandmaster of Savings Groups and that is why I am knocking at your door. I can send you the model concept note you see how I can get help in introducing the SG component to these groups and many more( I picked the 367 for pilot otherwise some 2,000 similar groups can be reached within the district.

Candace, when you next come to Nairobi, I will be honoured to meet you and plan how you can go visit some of these groups as we discuss the so much I have read from you and Monique( maximum respect for the mother of financial education, I adore her!).

Paul, I am sure you could be in London wrapping up the FI2010 and may this be a good coincidence that you could pass by Nairobi I swing you a cup of coffee after such an engaging conference that Beth ( I call her our mum) put together.

My email is

John Gitau

Wed, October 30, 2013 | John Gitau

Every beginner must go through this entire details to enrich their knowledge about gymnastics. Thank you so much for providing this valuable details.

Wed, January 29, 2014 | Zoe Smith

Note: This article was originally published in October of 2013, however the date was changed to move it up higher on our feed, because we really think it's worth a read. 

 Self-Replication of Savings Groups in Western Kenya

Self-Replication of Savings Groups in Western Kenya

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