YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: Women’s Empowerment through Financial Literacy

Participants doing a group activity

By Shamsa Abdi Jele (YES 2014-2015, Kenya, placed by AYUSA in Atlanta, GA)

Greetings! I'm Shamsa Abdi Jele, a YES alumna from Mombasa, Kenya. My exchange year was an extraordinary, life-changing chapter in my journey. It helped shape me into the person I am today. Through the YES program, I learned the importance of giving back to my community. During my stay in the U.S., I immersed myself in community service activities. From visiting the elderly to assisting my host mom in teaching ballet classes to young children, I discovered the transformative power of volunteerism. These experiences left an indelible mark on me and taught me the value of service.

Coming back to Kenya, I was motivated to keep this spirit of volunteerism alive. I visited high schools in my hometown to tell students about the YES program, and I started visiting orphanages with friends.

One of the participants presenting while another is holding a poster with bullet points

Lack of financial literacy, especially among women, is a significant issue in my community. Growing up with a single mother, I witnessed the hardships she faced to make ends meet. A particular challenge for women is Mombasa’s rich Swahili culture, characterized by big weddings and intricate henna art. Women spend a significant portion of their income attending ceremonies, sometimes resorting to borrowing money from friends.

In 2022, I was fortunate to receive a YES Alumni Grant for a financial literacy project that brought about positive change in the lives of many women in my community. Some of my project participants established small businesses, and one recently shared that she is now debt-free.

This experience motivated me to apply for a second grant to empower even more women. We invited knowledgeable speakers, well-versed in financial literacy to share tips for attaining financial freedom. Topics included an introduction to personal finance, fostering a money mindset, saving, investing, budgeting, debt management, commercializing one’s skills, responsible spending, Village Savings and Loans Associations, increasing income, and having an emergency fund. Participants engaged in a variety of hands-on budgeting activities. Four participants from last year's workshop spoke to the group and shared their journeys. Our partner, the bank Stima Sacco, helped participants set up savings accounts and offered consultations to guide participants on their financial journey.

Our project’s 40 participants were women between the ages of 21 and 55. This demographic generally has a low level of financial literacy, leading to challenges if they become divorced or causing them to stay in unhealthy marriages because they cannot provide for themselves. We wanted to teach them how to make and manage an income to be independent. Participants were tasked with passing the knowledge on to two more women, building a community of 120 financially literate women who will also share this knowledge with their children.

YES Grantee Shamsa Jele presenting during the workshop on a speaking stand while participants are captured from the back

By the end of the project, we saw a clear shift in how participants viewed their finances, as reported through post-workshop evaluations and engagement in our WhatsApp group. Our social media posts attracted a lot of attention, including from men asking when it would be their turn to be financially empowered.

I hope to persuade additional organizations to conduct financial literacy workshops across the country. By recognizing the magnitude of this issue, collective community effort can bring about transformative change, shaping the lives of future generations as they overcome poverty and dependence on others for financial wellbeing.

Through this project, I learned that having a great team makes anything possible. I am also grateful that since last year's workshop, several organizations have asked me to speak or host their events. These financial literacy workshops have opened other doors for me and helped me grow as an individual.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the YES program, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and AFS-Kenya for giving me the opportunity to implement this project and make a great impact in my community. A huge thank you to all my partner organizations for the support they have provided to make this project a success. I am grateful to all my fellow alumni and volunteers, who have helped turn these ideas into something real.