A Shared Heritage Across Borders

Tags: heritage, mweria, refugees, Red Cross, UNHCR


In the heart of Kiriba village near where I live, an ancient tradition is breathing new life into our community. Mweria, a practice of mutual service, communal effort and commitment pooling, is making a significant comeback, thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Mama Bahati. This revival is not just a nostalgic nod to the past but a practical solution to contemporary challenges, particularly in fostering community resilience and economic stability.

Each week, neighbors here contribute their Community Asset Vouchers, known as RIBA, to support the next person hosting a Mweria event. These vouchers circulate within the community, creating a cycle of support and cooperation. On her designated turn, Mama Bahati amassed over 4,000 Ksh worth of RIBA vouchers. She used this support to build a protective fence around her agroforestry plot, safeguarding it from wandering cows and goats.


The impact of these gatherings is profound. When I arrived at Bahati’s farm, albeit late, I witnessed a collective effort that had already prepared five planting beds for syntropic agroforestry. Though I had to pay a fine in vouchers for my tardiness, it was heartening to see the tangible results of our shared labor. After the work, we enjoyed chai together, and Bahati compensated us with vouchers for our work, which we then passed on to the next host, Rachel. This system ensures that even those who cannot attend still contribute, either through fines or subsequent exchanges, creating a robust and inclusive community economy.

Scaling Mweria Beyond Kilifi Villages

This revival isn’t confined to our village alone. Similar dynamics are spreading across over 80 communites across Kenya, including refugee camps. (In academia we call these practices Rotating Labor Associations or ROLA) In refugee camps like Kalobeyei and Kakuma, the collaboration between the Kenya Red Cross and Grassroots Economics has been a beacon of hope for over half a decade. By formalizing commitment pooling with Community Asset Vouchers, these groups have not only strengthened social cohesion but also achieved remarkable entrepreneurial milestones.

  • Mafanikio Group: Poultry farming
  • Maendeleo Group: Tailoring services
  • Marbe Group: Bakery and muffin business
  • La-Paix Group: Barber shop and training school
  • Mavuno Group: Posho mill operations
  • Hot Farm: Syntropic agroforestry farming

These success stories are a testament to the power of collective effort and the innovative use of traditional practices. For instance, George, a facilitator and trainer, can convert RIBA vouchers into cUSD through a Commitment Pool and then into Kenyan Shillings via the Valora Wallet. This system not only sustains local initiatives but also integrates them into broader economic frameworks.

A Future Rooted in Tradition

To further expand this initiative, Denis Were from the Kenya Red Cross organized a stakeholder meeting in Kakuma, bringing together potential partners like SNV Netherlands, Boma, UNHCR, GIZ DRC, local organizations, and chamas. The evidence of success presented by the communities has inspired stakeholders to consider supporting existing groups and creating new pools. This collaborative approach promises to regenerate economies through sustainable and formalized commitments.

We owe a debt of gratitude to KRCS and UNHCR for their unwavering support, including logistical assistance like flights through the UNHAS. Their partnership has been instrumental in scaling these efforts and demonstrating the transformative potential of Commitment Pooling.

The tradition of Mweria is not just a Kenyan phenomenon. It resonates across tribes and borders, finding relevance in Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda. Even in the adversity of refugee camps, this practice helps build resilient economies and forge strong communal bonds.

Living near Kiriba village and witnessing this transformation firsthand has been a profound experience. The resurgence of Mweria is a powerful reminder of our shared heritage and the enduring strength of community. Together, we are not just preserving a tradition but adapting it to meet modern needs, fostering an inclusive and sustainable future for all.