Kenya-based GATHER Fellow Empowers Women

Senior Advisor, Communications and Development

Kenya-based GATHER alumnus Mariam Ali Famau has a special activity planned for International Women’s Day on March 8. Mariam lives and works in Majengo, an impoverished but resilient community on the outskirts of Nairobi, where she has launched many innovative projects designed to empower women who are at risk for recruitment into violent foreign extremist organizations.

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In recent months, Mariam worked closely with Arigatou International, a longtime partner of the Goldin Institute, to recruit more than 110 women and girls for “Women of Faith in Action: Building Family Resilience.” Hosted by Arigatou International and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, “Women of Faith in Action” provided participants in Nairobi and Mombasa with practical training in entrepreneurship and the other aspects of business development. Women in Majengo and similar communities face dire poverty and a lack of opportunity that leave them vulnerable to enticements from foreign terrorists based in nearby Somalia. Christians as well as Muslims are at risk for radicalization because of their economic desperation.

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Mariam is a single mother with limited resources, but she is deeply committed to changing the lives of the young women she works with. Her efforts are always inter-generational, reaching both children and adults, and she regularly draws large groups to her gatherings.

“We want to have an impact on our community,” she said in a recent phone interview.

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To support the women who have already completed the training programs and are starting their businesses, Mariam is launching an open consultancy that will provide advanced guidance and other services. One group of former graduates are opening a car wash, and Mariam has already helped them open bank accounts, and write a business plan.

“Women washing cars – it’s unique,” she said. “It hasn’t been seen in the whole country.”

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As the first enterprise of this kind to be created by women, Mariam is certain the car wash will make a big impact. But three other groups have opened accounts, and two others have written business plans. The consultancy will grow along with these businesses and as more women are inspired to try to realize their financial dreams.

“Our first priority will be transparency,” she explained.

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Mariam has big plans for International Women’s Day on March 8, when she and other volunteers will visit an area orphanage. The orphanage houses both Christian and Muslim children who have lost their parents through a variety of circumstances, and Mariam plans on donating clothing and hosting a sizeable feast. As always, the need is greater than the funds she has available, but Mariam trusts that she will find what she needs.
“Instead of celebrating, we will do a visit to the nearby orphans,” she said.

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