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In their own words: “What have you always wanted, just name it right now!”

The second family I visited on my trip to Kenya last month, after speaking with Jane and James, was Janet, Dennis, and their two children. Cindy, my GiveDirectly colleague, and I met Janet at the door of her boarding house. With Cindy translating, we sat in the living room and spoke with Janet, while the children played outside. Dennis came in later, laughing and introducing himself.

The largest project in this family’s life is their almost-complete six-room house they kept referencing throughout our conversation. By the standards of the village it’s a very large structure, but as they explained, the size is necessary to comfortably fit seven family members all together. This new house isn’t visible from their rented home, but it’s clearly at the forefront of their minds.

Janet, age 23, and Dennis, age 30, and their two children.

At the end of our 30 minute conversation, we walked five minutes down a dirt path to where their new house will stand. Unlike many families, Janet and Dennis are moving from rented rooms in a metal-roofed house to their own home, not from a thatched-roof home to a metal-roofed one. Because of this difference, explanations of rate of return on metal-roofed homes may not strictly apply, though it’s likely Janet and Dennis may see returns from no longer paying rent.

Standing at the doorway, under an exposed wooden framework and half-covered roof, it was difficult to imagine a fully completed structure, but it was quite easy to see this young family’s pride in being able to build their own home.

Can you tell me about your family?

Janet: The family where I am married is down here. But since we never had a place to build in that homestead – we were given a piece of land just behind here, where I’ll show you – we started building. We’ve already placed the iron sheets on the other side. It’s almost complete.

Who else is in your family, besides you?

Janet: I stay with my husband. I have two kids. I also stay with my brother, and two of my husband’s brothers. So there’s seven of us, all together.

How do you make money? Who is working in your family?

Janet: My husband is the main provider. He’s a welder. He works at the center, and he has a shop there.

What do you do during the day? Do you take care of your children?

Janet: I opened up my own business. I sell plastic sandals. I have a shop in the same center. It’s lucky that you found me washing clothes this morning. The shop is closed now, this morning.

How much were you making in your business before the transfer, and how much after?

[Janet]: Previously I used to make a profit of 1,000 KES [$10] before GiveDirectly came, but after GiveDirectly came I am sure of a profit of 3,000 to 4,000 KES [$30-40] every month.

[Dennis, Janet’s husband enters.]

Dennis: I was briefed you were going to come yesterday, but unfortunately you couldn’t make it. I was told in the evening you were coming today. So I didn’t leave, I was expecting you. But unfortunately I was expecting you with only one banana.

Janet: I can use the profits I get on school fees, at times, or maybe buy food for around the house, small stuff for around the house, it’s a big family!

Dennis: This rent-house belongs to my grandmother. I come from a polygamous family. My father started building another house, but the funds ran out before I could finish. But that’s what I’m continuing with now. Before the transfers came, I had in mind to find some land and position my family somewhere. When GiveDirectly came in, at least it helped me boost myself to get my family somewhere.

Next time when you visit me, you won’t have to visit me here in the rent-house, but in my own house. Right now, I am taking the last steps in clearing the house. Since I’m a welder, I’m in a position to weld the windows well. Plastering the floor and everything else, I’ll do when I’m inside the house.

Janet and Dennis’s new house.

Has your daily life changed in any way? Things you do every day, are they different?

Dennis: Life without a vision is like living in darkness. My first daughter is joining class one next year. And maybe people might envision being in class one or nursery school doesn’t take a lot. It takes a little bit, and over time, it takes a lot by the end of the year if you calculate it. I really appreciate when GiveDirectly came in because at least I got in some light, and I have a vision ahead. And I’m sure by next month I’ll be in my own house, and when you come back you’ll find I have big stomach, I won’t be as thin as I am now. I’ll be so relaxed, I won’t even have to think about rent.

Do you have a different vision for your children or the future of the family?

Dennis: In life, a vision is important. When you have a child you have to teach them the steps, as they grow up. The steps and the way, that’s what GiveDirectly gave me. I really appreciate that GiveDirectly gave me the steps to stand up and start working. Now I’m able to work – the first thing that was on my mind mainly was the house. I’m sure by next month I’ll be in my house.

From there, I can start looking for ways to boost my wife’s business, and my business. To some extent, I could create employment for other people to boost themselves. So their children can grow up knowing it’s not such a big struggle.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about this?

Dennis: I really appreciate GiveDirectly, and I hope GiveDirectly continues to give. I can’t demand for something that is not mine. Here there are people who felt bad they never got.

But the people who did felt good at least that a miracle came to their lives.

What do you think about the fact that there are no conditions on the transfer? Would it be better if there were conditions?

Dennis: The first transfer came to us when we were at church at Luanda. After prayers, I was looking at my phone, and said, “ah, there’s some 7,000 KES [$70] in my phone! Oh, this one is from a customer.” Then I went on reading, and it said “from GiveDirectly.”

I didn’t talk to anyone, I just went straight to my wife, and I asked her, “what have you always wanted, just name it right now!” I was so excited.

My wife started naming thing: plates, a mattress, household items. I said, “you can shop, just pick.” So I took her to the shop and told her, “now just pick: whatever mattress, whatever plates.” I was just standing there like the boss.

You know, women are different from men. Men want the big things. Maybe one man can want a car, a TV. Women would say, no, I want good chairs, I want good cups. So that is the priority – first give to my wife when the money came. So I took her out and told her just do your shopping, get whatever you want. We shopped that day to an extent we spent almost 6,000 KES [$60]. I was left with 1,000 KES [$10]. When we got home I told my wife, I only have 1,000 KES [$10] left so let me also go out and I can buy myself something.

I’d also like to take you to the house I’m building, so that you can look at my progress.