Women are the Backbone of Mt Kenya. An interview with Anastacia
When first meeting Anastacia Njoki Njgi, it's clear that there is something very special about her. There's a shine in her eyes and a power to her voice that speaks of an unshakable determination and vigour for life. On my recent trip to Kenya, I had the pleasure of interviewing her on her farm to learn more about her and how our Mt Kenya planting project with the International Tree Foundation (ITF) has impacted her life over the years.
Anastacia lives on a farm in Embu county with her four children, two grandchildren, and a variety of animals, including a cow, goats, and chickens. The farm is half a hectare and has over 400 trees, which Anastacia talks about with pride. She speaks about the symbiotic relationship between her and the trees, how they provide for her family's everyday needs, how they breathe in our carbon dioxide and give us oxygen, and how they replenish Kenya's water table.
"In Kenya, we rely on trees for firewood, fodder for our animals, fruit, and medicines - these are the responsibilities of Kenyan women. So women naturally have a special relationship with trees and the forests." In Kenya, there is a tradition of tree planting and cultivation within the rural communities of the highlands. Anastacia has done this beautifully, planting trees on her land for fruit, fuelwood, shade and construction materials. "My favourite tree is Grevillea which I love so much," she says with a smile, "especially, the leaves which fall from the Grevillea improve the soil of my farm".
When Anastacia's husband died years ago, Anastacia was making so little money from tea farming that she had to engage with other women and try to find activities to improve her family's living conditions. That's when she joined a self-help women's group called "the Wamiti Group", which operates the tree nursery funded by the International Tree Foundation and TreeSisters. She now earns an income from growing and planting tree seedlings for the Mt Kenya Forest Reserve forest restoration.
In addition to regular payments for her work planting trees, Anastacia has been able to buy a cow whose dairy provides an important source of income for her family. "My nickname means 'hard-working'," she tells me, which couldn't be more true. "I have to try my best! For my family." Like all mothers, she is determined to give her children the best life possible. "In Kenya today, women are working hard to find success in their children," she says. "As women, we will not let our children go without education."
Strength in Community
But this is not easy to achieve in rural Kenya, especially as a single mother. The Wamiti women's group also runs a "table banking scheme", which has allowed Anastacia to borrow a long-term loan from the group with a low-interest rate, so she can send one of her daughters to university. "The project is assisting us so much, especially women because we can give our children an education... I am stress-free and empowered because I have money that I can rely on to provide for my family. What else do you need?"
She also talks about the strong sense of community in the Wamiti group and how important this is. "If you find yourself alone, you will be desperate. When you come together, especially as women, you feel empowered because of the way we share. You feel uplifted; all your problems have been solved." The women's group meets every month, and they give what little extra money they have to the women who need it most. "Because of each other, we can make it."
Anastacia spoke about how she felt about women's empowerment in Kenya: "In Kenya today, women are very much appreciated because she is the backbone of their family and the community. We are free to learn from other women, collaborate, and speak up, and men realise this is important."
The Wamiti women's group
Throughout our conversation, it became clear that Anastacia held a great sense of empowerment and pride about her contribution to the reforestation of Mount Kenya. "The women in our community are very concerned about our environment. We are here to care for it and look after the Mt Kenya water tower so everybody in Kenya can have enough water."
Life for Anastacia has greatly improved since joining the women's group and becoming a tree planter, but there are still challenges. "My first daughter completed her education, but while trying to get into University, she suddenly became pregnant, so she didn't go. It was my goal to send her to university," she tells me with sadness. "It is my dream for all my children to be educated, to get a job, and have their earnings so they can live a successful life they can enjoy. I dream that all the women in the community realise that they are the only ones who can bring changes to their lives."
If you have been inspired by Anastacia's story and would like to contribute to the restoration of Mt Kenya's forests and support our other planting projects, you can step in as a monthly donor. Your donation directly contributes to tropical reforestation around the world through regenerative, ethical, community-led projects.