One Acre Fund is an agriculture nonprofit that offers asset-based microfinance to over 130,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi. This blog post, written by communications associate Hailey Tucker, describes one of One Acre Fund’s (OAF) field staff in Kenya.
Before the weekly facilitator’s meeting in Khalumuli, Kenya, farmers arrive early and begin to chat. They crowd around a tall, slender woman named Carolyn Wateka, who breaks her ear-to-ear grin only to laugh.
Most of those present seem to squeeze their way toward Carolyn and seek out her advice on one thing or another in their personal life. Even as she answers query after query, Carolyn smiles the entire time.
At 10 a.m., Carolyn promptly rises from her bench and steps in front of the assembly. The meeting begins with a song, and Carolyn’s voice soars.
Carolyn is a single mother and in her third year as a Field Officer for One Acre Fund. When Carolyn first took the job in 2010, she struggled with public speaking and with her communication skills. She says many of the older farmers were set in their ways, which would make her nervous and then she would have a difficult time explaining what benefits One Acre Fund had to offer.
Through One Acre Fund trainings, she says she has now learned all of the skills necessary to do her job. Carolyn has convinced much of her village to enroll in One Acre Fund and has strong personal relationships with many of her farmers. Farmers say they love her enthusiasm and sincerity.
Despite her initial difficulties with the position, Carolyn worked through them with her daughter Ester in mind. Carolyn’s husband passed four years ago, and soon after Carolyn lost her job as a pharmacist. Suddenly she was left in the role of being the sole provider for her child without a job.
Ester, now 8 years old, has dreams of being a doctor, and Carolyn says she will do whatever it takes to make that come true.
Seeing Carolyn lead a meeting now, it is impossible to know that she was ever intimidated by presenting. Her composure while speaking is striking, and she is able to explain confusing and difficult topics to the group with ease.
Carolyn says the trainings have also changed her life outside of work as well. She says she now feels confident and proud because she is able to clearly express her ideas. She also says she is happier now because she gets to see the impact she can have on her community.
“I feel proud because I realize farmers are now able to do great things like purchase livestock and build new structures; and I know I have helped them to do that,” Carolyn says.
For the new year, Carolyn hopes to work even harder and be considered for the position of a field manager.
With the income Carolyn makes as a field officer, she has set up a fund to go toward Ester’s education. If she remains a field officer, she fears that it will not be enough to support Ester through university. However, if Carolyn can become a field manager, she believes she will be able to save enough.
Carolyn also says she tries to support Ester by encouraging her as much as possible and helping Ester with her homework when she can.
The response Carolyn’s presence generates at weekly farmer meetings makes it seem that Carolyn is well on-track to becoming a field manager. She is able to act as a leader and to inspire farmers around the district of Webuye.
Like many of her 1,600 colleagues in East Africa, Carolyn embodies One Acre Fund’s mantra to put “Farmers First!”