5 things making me happy this week

A round-up of some of the exciting things to cross my desk in the last week:

1. SIA Business Groups Receive Reinvestment Grant – Dennis Kiprop, the Small Business Fund Coordinator in Kenya, sent me this photo of himself with 4 of the newest SBF businesses in his area. He met with each of them this week and gave them the $50 reinvestment grant, which comes three months after their initial $100 business grant.

2. Offertory Prayer – I really appreciated this prayer at my church last week and I think it’s appropriate for my daily work with SIA:

O God, through the offering of these gifts, may we become more open people:
open-minded in heeding your wisdom,
open-hearted in healing a broken world,
open-handed in responding to your call for cherity and justice.
With thanks for all good gifts, we dedicate these offerings today.

3. Cellphones for Health – A long and interesting article about technology start up companies in Kenya. One new business created a system for automated text reminders to go to patients reminding them to take HIV/AIDS medications or to get maternal health check-ups. So cool what cellphones can be used for in Kenya!

4. Doing it Differently – The blog How Matters recognized Spirit in Action as an organization “doing aid differently” on her Pinterest Board! How Matters is dedicated to discussing the ethics, complexity, and importance of community involvement in international aid. (Don’t know about Pinterest? It’s a new media-sharing tool, and another thing making me happy this week!)

5. Monday Morning Inspiration – “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson (via http://www.dailygood.org)

Let me know what’s inspiring you this week!

Gardening for the Long Term

Watching the presentation about tree seedlings and reforestation.

SIA SBF Coordinators watch a presentation about tree seedlings and reforestation.

Spring is in the air all over the USA this week! To celebrate the rain and the warmer temperatures, I am reposting this discussion of agro-forestry from last April on Spirit in Action’s blog.


Our international partners working in Kenya have long recognized the value of agroecology. This type of farming system, also called bio-intensive agriculture, uses techniques that help to replenish the nutrients in the soil and uses minimal amounts of chemical fertilizers and other inputs to grow vegetables and fruits. Agroecology methods bring greater crop yields while using much less space, water and energy, than conventional, high input methods.

In Africa there is great hope for the widespread embrace of agroecology technologies, especially because it benefits “small farmers who must be able to farm in ways that are less expensive and more productive.”

“But, [agro-ecology] benefits all of us,” says a NY Times op-ed, quoting a UN Human Rights Council Report, “because it decelerates global warming and ecological destruction.”

The UN Report shows that “small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods” including compost, double digging, and relying on beneficial plants, animals, and insects for pest management. Indeed, Olivier De Schutter, author of the UN report, said that “Malawi is now implementing agro-ecology, benefiting more than 1.3 million of the poorest people, with maize yields increasing from 1 ton/hectare to 2-3 tons/hectare.”

Agroforestry training in Kenya

Samuel Teimuge talks to a group about agroforestry to combat deforestation in Kenya.

Samuel Teimuge, who worked with SIA to start his Ukweli Training Center many years ago, teaches bio-intensive methods and has seen how they can increase production while having a minimal affect on the environment. He also leads workshops to help reforestation efforts in the Rift Valley. Trees are important for slowing erosion on the steep slopes.

Mark Bittman from the NY Times urges us to consider agriculture from a global perspective, understanding food as a human right and sustainable agriculture as a high-priority for the world.

In addition to supporting bio-intensive agriculture training in Kenya, it is just as important to support small-scale farmers here in the US, like these young farmers in Oregon.

Do you use bio-intensive methods in your own garden or farm? Share your stories in the comments section!


Related posts:

Positive Change in Uganda

Did you catch the hype and fury around the KONY 2012 video about Uganda last week? The video, by Invisible Children, Inc. told about the violence in Uganda in the recent past. However, many people in Uganda are presenting their own responses to the video.

“How do you tell the story of Africans?” asks Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger, “because if you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless… you shouldn’t be telling my story if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is going on.”

Ugandan Coordinator trains new business members

Godfrey shares the growth of SIA in his community.

How people and organizations present their work is as important as the work itself. Is the grant recipient downcast, child-like, and dirty? Or are they smiling, confident, encouraged?

Meeting all our Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinators last summer in Kenya confirmed for me that THEY are the work of Spirit in Action. Our coordinators are not voiceless or hopeless – they are leaders working to make their communities better places to live.

Today I want to share some excerpts from my interview with Godfrey Matovu, SBF Coordinator in Uganda, about his work to uplift and empower his fellow community members. I hope that listening to him tell his story will also confirm for you that Godfrey, and all of our SIA partners, have the power to change their communities.

Godfrey Matovu:
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: One time a local leader asked and I had to explain about Spirit in Action and what it is doing. I explained to him: SIA is bringing people together in Uganda.

Ugandans learning how to weave baskets

Ugandans learning how to weave baskets

COMPASSIONATE WORK AT THE CROSSROADS: “I organize and I train [people] and people know they are welcome to learn or to work. So these things come through Spirit in Action. One of the local leaders said, “this thing that you are sharing, is very good. Why don’t you start over there [at the crossroads] – they are drunkards.” So we are targeting the youth at the crossroads. I started teaching them how to start a business; the handicraft work [like weaving, pottery, and brickmaking]. I tell them “you can make this, you can make this.” We started to gain respect. So far we have trained thirteen people. I am planning more small workshops, for the school dropouts, and those who have lost their parents to come and to start doing this quality work. So that is why I give.

ON DEL ANDERSON, SIA FOUNDER: “I tell people that Del Anderson came from a poor family. So he decided also to help the poor. I tell them and they understand.

HELPING THOSE WITH HIV/AIDS: “There are people who are not involved in these programs who are suffering. So what do I do? I just care and counsel them, just give them advice when they are sick or suffering with AIDS. What do I do? I just counsel them; tell them how to handle the sick.

DEALING WITH PREJUDICE: “Sometimes, most especially in Africa, when you are suffering from HIV/AIDS, some people they fear to touch you, they fear to be near you. So I go there and I am preaching the word of God. I again talk to them and the members who are around, tell them not to avoid him or her, just to get friendship with him.

Godfrey Matovu (Uganda) and Tanya Cothran in Kenya, August 2011

Godfrey and Tanya in Kenya, August 2011

DEFINING CARE: “I remember I went to one family and met with a man who was sick. He had skin that was [bad]. He was not doing much bathing or washing. So I started helping, that is what I call care.

GIVING THANKS“So I have to thank you for this brotherhood of workers. It is not easy but I am doing very good. They are doing very good. We have the groups there [in Uganda] and we are doing good.”

Thank you, Godfrey, and all SIA partners, for serving God by empowering others! We are honored to support these committed change-agents.

VOTE for Spirit in Action’s Story!

UPDATE: Here is the link to vote http://forums.techsoup.org/cs/p/tsdigs-2012-entervideo.aspx

Now through Sunday (3/11), you can show your support for Spirit in Action by watching and voting for our video in TechSoup’s Digital Storytelling Challenge.

The challenge is to tell a story about our work (in less than one minute) that ” inspires, motivates, and activates the people who believe in the good work you do.” What do you think? Here is our one-minute video entry about our Small Business Fund!

To vote for our story video, click here and search for “tanya c” (that’s me!): http://forums.techsoup.org/cs/p/tsdigs-2012-entervideo.aspx

This is also a great opportunity to share Spirit in Action’s story with your friends! Please use the buttons below to email or share about our good work! You can sign-up for regular SIA updates here.

Thank you for your support!

Who’s afraid of diversity?

Building peace means sometimes being uncomfortable. It requires listening to the other side with respect and being civil when telling others about your beliefs. Peace often means compromise, allowing differences to exist side by side. This can be uncomfortable and it can also be freeing and expansive.

Agree with Me

City of Toronto's Coat of Arms and MottoMany proverbs tell us that this diversity worth perusing: “united we stand, divided we fall” (Aesop); “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller); and “diversity our strength,” the motto of the City of Toronto (soon to be my home).

I was recently shaken by a discussion with someone about interdenominational Christian nonprofits. He works for a non-denominational organization but was concerned about working with Spirit in Action because I didn’t agree with his interpretation of a particular bible verse. That he wanted to limit his interactions based on beliefs, albeit sharing the foundation of our mutual Christian faith, shocked me.

I understood that for him, to “agree to disagree” on a point of faith would necessarily mean compromise and, therefore, loss; that this compromise of beliefs would make a group weaker. However, I have found that requiring everyone to agree on specific, narrow rules does not bring strength. Welcoming multiple views breeds flexibility and trust, rather than shutting conversation down with only one way to view things.

Diversity our Strength

SIA local coordinators from all over Africa sing together in Kenya

SIA local coordinators from all over Africa sing together in Kenya

The strength of Spirit in Action is bringing people together from many different traditions for a higher good overall rather than separating people along dogmatic lines.

In fact, our missions of compassion and social justice require us to see God in all people and to serve our neighbor as we serve God. This also frees us all to do our work of fostering prosperity, rather than spend energy forcing people to believe a specific doctrine. This openness then actively encourages personal exploration of each person’s relationship and path with God.

When I visited SIA partners in Malawi last summer, I asked about the variety of denominations represented in the group. “SIA is the one place where Catholics and Protestants come together,” was the answer I got from Canaan Gondwe, the local Small Business Fund Coordinator. This response brought a sense of pride. Inter-denominational collaboration allows each person to respond to the call to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God, rather than the call to shun those who are different.

Spirit in Action local coordinators; building peace

Similarly, Benoit Malenge, the Small Business Fund Coordinator in Rwanda, reported that people of many beliefs came together, “sharing a meal, without discrimination since they are all members of Spirit in Action, who came to share the gifts.” This place of openness brought a community together, beginning to build peace after years of war in the area.

In the end, let’s stay focused on our mission, remembering the words of John Comenius, a 17th century philosopher, “Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in consideration of language, nationality, or religion.” Can we be comfortable with this, and proceed as the peacemakers we were called to be?

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