Imagine this -
You're an 18 year old girl living in a town in rural Kenya.
Your parents were farmers, but it's become harder and harder to compete with big international companies to get a good price for product. You grew up in extreme poverty.
You're one of 6 children and you were not able to attend school consistently; your parents are arranging your marriage because you're seen as a financial burden.
You get married to a man who comes from a similar context, and soon there's a baby on the way. There are no job opportunities in your rural town.
You move to the big city so that your husband can search for factory work. You settle in the urban slum that is home to 3 million other people whose stories are much like yours. Your new home is a 12x12 tin shack. It's not safe and the sanitation is horrible. Sometimes your husband is hired as a day laborer, but it's rare. He stays out longer and longer, and one day he just never returns. Overnight, you become a single parent.
Now, it's up to you to keep yourself and your child alive.
Your kind neighbor offers to watch your child so that you can go out looking for odd jobs - maybe someone will pay you to do their laundry. Your child is spending the days playing in the dirty back alleys where the sewage runs. He gets sick with cholera, a poverty-related illness, and you have to take him to the hospital to save his life.
You're faced with a hospital bill, and your rent is due. You don't have enough money for either.
You turn to a local loan shark who can get you access to that money quickly, but will be charging you exorbitant interest rates and will seize your property if you can't make payments.
There's no way that you can pay your rent, service your debt, feed your family, and send your child to school with no dependable income source. One day, you return home to find a lock on your apartment - your eviction notice.
You're homeless with your child in the dangerous slums. Sheer survival is your only focus at all times.
As you rock your child to sleep hidden under market stalls, you see other women in the same situation as you walking away with men and returning with small bits of food or money. You never imagined that prostitution would be your only means of survival, but that's the reality in which you have found yourself. Sometimes, the other girls never come back - you are at an extreme risk of being trapped in human trafficking.
One day, you pass a children's home and see kids being fed and educated there. You realize that if you give up your child at this orphanage, they will have access to the things that you are unable to provide. You begin devising a plan to surrender your child and accept your fate.
This story seems tragic and dramatic; believe it or not, this is an all-too-true reality for millions of families and young mothers around the world.
As you navigated yourself through this story, you found yourself vulnerable or affected by ALL of the following issues in a very short amount of time:
Lack of access to education
Lack of jobs and opportunity
Lack of safety
When we work with families affected by this kind of extreme poverty, it is so very important to realize that all of these issues are interconnected, and individuals are often vulnerable to all of them at the same time. We call this the web of vulnerability.
HOWEVER - the underlying factor that drives all of these vulnerabilities is a lack of income, resources, and opportunity. When we address this underlying driving factor, the web of vulnerability falls away.
Under the Same Tree has pioneered this concept of understanding issues related to extreme poverty as a web after years of participant observation and learning in countries representative of the populations we serve. We believe that this concept enables our programs to have a profound level of impact in preventing the families we serve from becoming entrapped in the web.
We identify parents - usually single mothers - who are vulnerable to being pulled down a path like the one outlined above. They are training in business skills, financial management, and life skills, and we provide startup capital to launch sustainable sources of income in the form of small businesses. We walk alongside these individuals to ensure their success, and provide a supplemental incentive that helps keep their children healthy and in school. We call this the path of empowerment.
When you partner with Under the Same Tree, you are stopping tragedy in its tracks, and replacing it with strength, growth, and opportunity.
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