Challenging the Next Generation

Gem Village, Kenya


Walking around most hotels and restaurants in the town of Isiolo, you cannot fail to notice Lemtoi, a 37-year-old woman from Gem Village. She is a well-known charcoal seller who has been in business for more than three years now. Commonly known as Mama Makaa, she solely depends on selling charcoal for a living. She is part of our Microentrepreneur Widows’ Group. Mama Makaa says she was introduced to the business by a colleague after she was given a soft loan from GHNI. She used this loan to buy her first bag of charcoal. “From that first bag, I was able to sell 10 tins of charcoal on the very first day. This was above what my expectations were,” she says. 


From one sack to five sacks, her business grew and she eventually became a major charcoal supplier in Isiolo. “As the business grew, I decided to stop selling the charcoal out in the open and looked for a kiosk where I set up my store and charcoal supply base,” she says. The business has been good to her and it has enabled her purchase two acres of land in the outskirts of Isiolo. It has also allowed her to send three of her sons to college and her lastborn to form four.  


Mama Makaa makes 1100 shillings from selling one sack of charcoal, earning her a profit of 500-550 shillings daily. For her business to remain successful, she says that she has had to make a lot of sacrifices, including rising very early each morning to ensure restaurants have the charcoal.  Mama Makaa also has to work in unsanitary conditions. “You have to sacrifice in life to get what you need. When I am on my chores, you do not expect me to be clean. Look at my hands. Some people will look down on you and they even begin to treat you poorly,” she says.


Accessing the charcoal is not a simple task and Mama Makaa has to move from one timberyard to the next. “Burning of charcoal is very expensive since there is a scarcity of trees and those who supply us with it sometimes inflate their prices, especially when they discover we are in dire need,” she says. Based on her experiences in the industry, Mama Makaa challenges women to avoid being dependent on their husbands and urges the youth to consider self-employment instead of waiting for white-collar jobs. 


GHNI National Field Leader