A Future Full of Potential

The Success Story of Munters Cheril

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Munters Cheril is a volunteer at the Ramala Women Group (RWG), a community-based Kenyan organisation dedicated to combating poverty, which has been supported by Sight and Life. She is the author of ‘Nutrition and School Performance’, featured in the Sight and Life magazine, Focus on Food Culture edition. The article shares her extraordinary story and that of RWG.

At age 17, Ms Cheril has just won a place on the prestigious and highly competitive Bachelor in Journalism course at Maasai Mara University, in Narok, Kenya.

When Sight and Life spoke with Ms. Cheril, she said that, above all, her experience with RWG has made her passionate about working with the poorest of the poor, and about giving a voice to the voiceless.

Sight and Life magazine (SAL): Please explain the foundation of the Ramala Women Group.

Munters Cheril (MC): Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat, wrote “study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”. RWG is that tool for the development of women, households, families and communities in Kenya and the world. In 2000, RWG was founded by seven people who were touched by the ever-growing atrocities of poverty in all forms; the rampant abuse of vulnerable women, youths, and children’s inalienable rights; the high prevalence of malnutrition and micronutrients deficiencies (hidden hunger) among children; the effects of HIV/AIDS; and poor living condition among vulnerable communities.

This community-based organisation (CBO) is dedicated to fighting poverty by enhancing, fostering, promoting, and strengthening psychosocial and economic opportunities for women and children in underserved, vulnerable, and marginalized communities in Migori and neighboring counties in Kenya.

Munters teaches children healthy eating habits and basic hygiene such as hand washing.

RWG envisages a prosperous, resilient, and improved quality of life for households in underprivileged communities and an increased proactive involvement of women in holistic developmental initiatives at local, regional, national, and international levels. The group is committed to enhancing households’ socio-economic opportunities by providing hope, restoring, and promoting women’s pride – not only in Kenya, but also throughout the world. This should enable women to be self-reliant and self-sufficient, with households and communities, which are empowered to prioritize and respond proactively and in a timely fashion to their needs.            

SAL: What are RWG’s overall goals and core values?

MC: The organization’s overall mission is to enhance, foster, promote, and strengthen households’ socio-economic opportunities for sustainable development. RWG seeks to harness locally available resources and materials and put them into effective, efficient, constructive, and meaningful use. It aims to partner with likeminded groups or organizations in order to prepare the impoverished communities to be conscious of their challenges, and respond intelligently to the same with the noble goal of improving their living conditions and thus mitigating poverty within households, families, and communities.

RWG endeavors to increase access to secure and sustainable dignified livelihoods and economic opportunities, through integrated and participatory community development, capacity building, advocacy, and socio-economic empowerment.

It sees development as a process, not as an end: ‘to develop is to become not to have.’ Community proactive involvement is the only sure vehicle through which the process of development can be achieved.                                              

The group would like, insofar as it is possible, to achieve households’ prosperity and resilience. It encourages proactive and transformative community involvement in support of effective and efficient project design, policy formulation, and implementation of applied programs aimed at mitigating poverty in all forms among rural households, families, and communities.  

SAL: Why is it a women’s group, and how successful has it been to date?

MC: In Kenya, women represent over 72 percent of those living on less than 2 USD per day. Women suffer inequitably from the chronic effects of poor nutrition, insufficient healthcare, and limited educational opportunity. Women contribute to 67 percent of the world’s work and receive less than 10 percent of the pay. They spend 90 percent of their income on their families, while men typically spend less than 35 percent alone. In addition, women who contribute to family finances have greater decision-making power resulting in better nutrition, health, and education for their children. When family needs are met, women are more likely to then invest in their communities.

In sixteen years, RWG membership has grown to 983 (based on 2016 figures). Sight and Life has supported the group’s initiatives, with the aim of improving the welfare of children by mitigating the dangers associated with vitamin A deficiencies, since 2001 and by 2006 the focus was scaled up to include deficiencies of micronutrients and other vital vitamins. Through this initiative and partnership, over 60,000 children and 25,000 women respectively have benefited directly from Sight and Life’s support. Additionally, it is believed that over 0.72 million people have benefited indirectly. 

SAL: What is your personal experience with RWG?

MC: As a vulnerable child in 2003, I was recruited and enrolled into RWG’s Food and Nutrition program due to my nutrition and health conditions. By the time I was taken in by RWG, through the actions of a social worker, I was four years old, severely malnourished, and on the brink of death.

As a result of proper food and a nutrition intervention implemented by RWG with the support of Sight and Life, my holistic (intellectual and volitional) health significantly improved. I became more active and playful. I was then enrolled into a pre-school program at Rongo Baptist Kindergarten by RWG where my self-esteem improved and I became more confident than ever before. This impressed my teachers who encouraged me to take part in school functions. In church, my public speaking and presentation skills improved too, I sang in the children’s choir.

SAL: How many MixMeTM packets/meals did you receive? And until what age did you go?

MC: Through the program I took foods enriched with MixMeTM powder provided by Sight and Life on a daily basis from the first day I was enrolled into the program by RWG. I was on MixMeTM for over four years and I stopped in 2007 when I was seven years old.

Today, I am a RWG volunteer. My main role is to visit households and schools introducing people to the values of proper nutrition and micronutrients and the dangers associated with deficiencies of the same. My ambition is to educate the masses on nutrition and micronutrients by sharing information and educating children, households, and communities. As a journalist, I hope to focus on the welfare of women and children by sharing their stories and finding how their livelihoods can be improved for the better.

SAL: How did RWG help in other ways?

MC: I was enrolled into a pre-school program at Rongo Baptist Kindergarten by RWG, where I started my schooling. The group supported me through my elementary and high school education until the fourth form. A group of women with big hearts paid my school fees and provided the things I needed during high school. After that, they said they could not continue to support me through my college education as they were supporting other children through their primary and high school education. To date, the group is still supporting me.

As a way of reciprocating the hope and promise of a bright future they have given to me, I have dedicated my voluntary service to the group. I wish to contribute significantly towards the welfare of women and vulnerable children. My hope is that I can help restore someone’s hope as Sight and Life through RWG restored mine seventeen years ago. I want to put a smile on someone’s face as Sight and Life through RWG did for me. The group has been with me through thick and thin and I have committed myself to giving back to the community and the group in any way I can.

I am seeking partners such as Sight and Life to help me walk my talk. Through my journalistic skills, I am confident that I will be able to do it through collaboration with likeminded partners.

SAL: Why did you choose journalism for your studies?  

MC: Henry Anatole Grunwald, an Austrian-born American journalist and diplomat perhaps best known for his position as managing editor of TIME magazine and editor in chief of Time, Inc., said:

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”

There is, quite simply, always a need for journalists in our world and in our communities, especially now, where it seems a sad, negative event occurs daily. Journalists are passionate about sharing stories, and provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible informed decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. 

I am extremely passionate about working with destitute communities, providing educational opportunities for vulnerable children, and underserved and marginalized communities. I have always loved writing. I have always loved reading what others write. I love how people can sometimes feel how someone else feels by reading their stories.

Studying journalism will give me a chance to build important skills, such as researching, writing, interviewing, and thinking critically and creatively. I will be able to learn about people and their communities, and suggest the best possible action plan for improving people’s living conditions. As a journalist, I am to be a voice to the voiceless, so that those who are in power can hear silent voices through the stories I share.