“…I no longer sleep hungry. Even without the Kenyan money, I still have Bangla Pesa. I will survive one more day. This money never ends…” Awour, Bangla Pesa user.
This inspiring statement keeps ringing in my mind. When I visited Bangladesh for a research visit for my studies at the University of Nairobi, I also sought to understand how the Bangla Pesa works as I intend to be part of the Nairobi Bangla Pesa’s in Kangemi and Kawangware.
Bangladesh is not your typical slum. The happy children, vibrant roadside businesses and the optimism within the community is enough to overshadow that the poor infrastructure, lack of land rights, poor sanitation among other problems that face this community. Emma Onyango, the BBN secretary gave me an all round tour of this village, where at the tip of it all, lies a scenic breath-taking view of the ocean. That said, I got to meet the BBN chair: Paul Mwololo, the BBN treasurer: Titus Mangenda and other users of Bangla Pesa, such as Clement Ochieng, Awour among others.
Bangla Pesa is used almost anywhere-shops, churches, schools, roadside businesses, salons and it buys almost anything. During the day its usage is a bit low, but in the evening, it picks up as people shop for food and other supplies. The least amount used daily is about 20BPs while the highest went to about 160BPs. While most people understood how the Bangla Pesa works, a few people could be saving while others refuse to accept it despite being BBN members. These cases are however too few to affect the volumes of Bangla Pesa in circulation. The local businesses are the biggest users and beneficiaries of the BP’s but the currency also takes care of the unemployed youth through the community fund kitty. This is not free money though. The youth have to provide an community duty such as clean ups to earn from this kitty. They in turn use the BPs in local business to purchase day today needs.
The Bangla Pesa Network has allowed the members to network to know each other, learn from each other, boost community security, participate in merry go rounds. Individually, the members get to save the Kenyan shilling while purchasing day to day supplies using the Bangla Pesa.
The Bangla Visit gave me hope, given that despite all the hurdles Mombasa the Bangla Pesa went through it has survived to see that the poor in have options and are not pre-determined to live poverty. With the Nairobi Bangla Pesa receiving favorable government support, a bright future is in the offing.