What it means to turn 16

Do you remember your 16th birthday? For me, it was an important milestone – a transition from having to ask for rides to the freedom of driving my own car. Flying down the freeway in my yellow ’76 VW Bug with the engine roaring, gave me a sense of joy and excitement. (Don’t worry; the car maxed out at 65 mph!)

Tanya in her VW Bug

Tanya Cothran at 16 years old in her VW Bug!

But the car also brought responsibilities. My sister and I had to learn how to push start the car from second gear and figure out how it was going to pass the smog check. It was worth it, though!

On May 5th, Spirit in Action will celebrate its 16th anniversary and I think it will also bring the same mixed sense of joy and responsibility. We have the sense of moving forward – the wind in our hair, so to speak – the excitement of really changing lives and communities in Africa. Meeting SIA change-makers and community organizers last summer was a real thrill. At the anniversary event, I’ll share about Canaan Gondwe, who is one of SIA’s great role models effecting change in his village in rural Malawi.

Our “sweet sixteen” birthday also brings responsibility for Spirit in Action. We must figure out how to stay true to Del’s dream and innovate to provide the best support to our worldwide partners. I’ll be moving to Toronto, Canada this summer and we’ll have to work out some details regarding that change. I’ll keep you posted as we settle into these new situations.

Sharing the Gift

The motivation for the silent auction part of this celebration came after Boyd and I met with the Small Business Fund Coordinators in Kenya last summer. We were showered with beautiful gifts from our SIA partners and rather than keep them all for ourselves (as tempting as that was!) we recognized the chance to share the gift! Each of these items are an opportunity to take a bit of SIA home with you and also support more SIA craft businesses. Click here to see the full list of auction items. Here is a taste of our unique auction offerings (click on image for larger copy):

Handmade briefcase

Handmade briefcase by SIA partners in DR Congo. Wonderful leather work. Boyd has his eye on this one!

Clay pot

Clay pot made by SIA Small Business craftspeople in Uganda. Safely brought back in our suitcases.

Decorative carved wood

Decorative carved wood from SIA craftspeople in Malawi.

Necklace with wooden animal beads

Necklace with wooden animal beads made by orphans at Samuel Teimuge's school in Kenya.

Leather patchwork purse from SIA partners in DR Congo. Distinctive and beautiful.

P.S. I hope that you will be able to join us in the celebration! You can RSVP to me at admin@godsspiritinaction.org, or 831-227-1169. If you can’t be there and you want to put an initial bid on any of the items, email me and I’ll put your name on the list!

Local champions: Mobilizing local resources

A Day Without Dignity is a movement started last year as a counter-campaign to TOMs Shoes One Day Without Shoes event. The day is about honoring the dignity of each person and supporting aid projects that honor that dignity. This year’s focus is on local champions – those leading local projects to address local needs. At Spirit in Action, we know that local leaders are the heart of change and it is our role to support these already active leaders!

One champion I met last summer was Margaret Ikiara, of Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya). I was so inspired by the work she was doing in her community to support other women and people with HIV/AIDS and now SIA is proud to support this vibrant organization, doing good in their own community. I asked Margaret to tell us about their work in her own words:


Tanya Cothran with Margaret, guardian, and kids

(L to R ) Tanya, Guardian, Margaret, and children in guardian’s care

Encouraging and working with people affected by HIV/AIDS

In Kenya the HIV/AIDs was declared a national disaster. This is because we are all affected or infected. This pandemic has continued to impact on the lives of Kenyans both socially, psychologically and economically.

The people affected directly are the ones who suffer most. These are people living with HIV/AIDS, orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs) and the grandmothers caring for them. This is because the people who are dying of HIV are those who are in the productive age group. This has left the families and the whole country economically affected.

CIFORD Kenya is a community-based organisation working in Meru, in the north region of Kenya. CIFORD Kenya realised the challenges the people affected and infected by HIV/AIDS were facing in the society, including stigmatisation and discrimination. These people were left out in the community development agenda. This made most of the people lose hope and self-esteem.

Support and Working Groups

Margaret talks with one of the support groups

Margaret (center) talks with one of the support groups

With my leadership, CIFORD Kenya mobilised the people affected by HIV/AIDS into working groups. These were formed into: People Living with HIV/AIDS, and Guardians caring for the orphans. CIFORD did not have any resources to support the women. We brought them together and started training them the importance of self-reliance. We committed our time to capacity building where we encouraged the members to come together to mobilise their own resources.

CIFORD Kenya believes that the communities have the solution to their problem and understand best way to address them; all they need is encouragement support and some resources.

For the people living with HIV, we embarked on training them on positive living, nutrition and antiretroviral treatment (ART) adherence.  We also trained them on gardening for better nutrition and increased household income. This has made these people change their lifestyle and have self-esteem and then they become leaders in the campaign on positive living.

Some of the guardians at their weekly meeting.

Some of the guardians at their weekly meeting.

Guardian Merry-Go-Round Loans

For guardians, (the elderly women who are caring for children), we are aware they have a burden of supplying basic needs for children and there was need to make the guardians come together and start “merry-go-round” and savings group. There is no other way they can help one another other than to bring their resources together. The women have been meeting every Monday at 3.00pm and they have been contributing 20 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) ($0.25), which is collected and given to one member. The impact of this money is clearly seen in the sense of relief of these women feel when it is their turn to get the collected amount.

The women have been starting small businesses with the money from the group to enable them support the vulnerable children they have welcomed in their households. The guardians are also trained on agriculture skills and livestock-keeping to improve their food security. The surplus food is sold to supplement the family income.

Through a gift, CIFORD Kenya brought in USD $24, to use as principal for loaning among the women at a 10% interest rate. The money has been of great value and many guardians have used the small loan to start small businesses. Most of them have been buying bananas and avocadoes to sell in the local market. The profits are used to support the family. After one year the $24 has grown to $66 as the interest is building on the principal. Women take loan for a maximum of $6 and as little as $0.60!

Solutions from Within the Community

The local problems in Africa cannot be addressed from the top but from within the community. The beneficiaries have to address their own problems in their best way possible. This is the only way that brings positive and sustainable change.  Little resources can mean a lot with full participation of the people in the problem.

There is need for partners to appreciate the inputs of the community members in the intervention strategy, in order to enable a sustainable development.


Visit CIFORD’s Facebook page for regular updates and more photos.

More posts about CIFORD: 

If you’re happy and you know it

Are people in Africa happy? Are people in the North America happy? Of course, the answer in both cases is: some people are; and some people aren’t. Whatever our situation, how we act and think can increase our happiness.

Recently, a good friend of mine sent me a blog post entitled, “12 Things Happy People Do Differently.” Always on the lookout for inspiration to send to SIA partners at home and abroad, I printed out several copies and sent one of them to Canaan Gondwe, our fantastic Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinator in Malawi. This sparked a great conversation between us, each sharing how we act to incorporate these “happy habits.”

Below is an except of Canaan’s response to five of the attributes.


Happy people! Ofonime Nkoko (SBF Coordinator, Nigeria) and Canaan Gondwe in Kenya.

Happy people! Ofonime Nkoko (SBF Coordinator, Nigeria) and Canaan Gondwe in Kenya.

Tanya, thank you very much for sharing this article with me. This will help me and the management and the whole MAVISALO to reflect on our conduct, character, and to move to things that happy people do in life. Sometimes we fail to increase our levels of happiness because we are harboring wrong views and attributes of ourselves.

1. Express gratitude

My college lecture once said and I quote “don’t despise your small beginnings but in them thank God in order to excel.” We usually tend to look down on our current state and think nothing is being done. As we do that, we lose a sense of gratitude and happiness.

2. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison

Very strong statement and advice. When one over-thinks and lives a life of social comparison, it has a negative impact in the way you look at things and this also cultivates poor social relations. When you embrace such values in life, you lose a sense of happiness. You easily burn out and lose balance. But it is good to have mentors in life. Make connections with people who have succeeded and employ good ideas from them and move. One mentor of mine said “walk your pace and vision, walk your talk and walk your level.” I saw this as avoiding social comparisons.

3. Practice acts of kindness

Kindness is one the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). This is God’s own fruit in us as human beings. God’s kindness is shown in giving and helping the helpless human beings. I see this being emulated in SIA in rolling out SBF to our communities. Is this not God’s own kindness? Is this not kindness in its fullest form? Are the sponsors and board members of SIA not celebrating in a sense, for bailing out one person from poverty, elsewhere in Africa? If Canaan can spend hours helping a less privileged person in this rural community, is this not an act of kindness? Very important attribute indeed.

Tanya and Canaan in the MAVISALO poultry house.

Tanya and Canaan in the MAVISALO poultry house.

4. Nurture social relationships

One person said, “a problem shared is half solved.” Man is a social being from creation. We need to be connected to other people and this brings balance as we share views, successes and challenges. We are molded holistically as one said and I quote, there is beauty in diversity.” In nurturing social relationships, we are able to understand our people better. This is very true in even in providing the leadership to our organization. As leaders we need to come down and listen to the people we lead. I have personally succeeded as a coordinator by nurturing relationships. I respect each and every person and relate deeply with them because they are God’s own creation.

5. Learn to forgive

Keeping hatred makes one feel low. Hatred spoils facial expressions. Truly, when you harbor hatred, you walk a sick person. We need to forgive those who wrong us. God forgave us and this is wanted even for us. Forgiveness brings healing to the forgiver and the one forgiven. We enter a new life indeed if this is done.

Tanya, I once more thank you for the 12 tips. I will share this with my friends. Send us more of these when you bump on them. They are fruitful indeed.

Unexpected Kindness in Malawi

unexpected kindness quoteAlan woke up one morning last July filled with gratitude. He was up early that market day to set up his bicycle repair business in the village center. He turned some bikes on their handlebars to replace missing peddles with pieces of wood. To other bikes he would affix new handles or fancy seats to the back for bike-taxi passengers. That morning, when Boyd and I met Alan in Manyamula village in Malawi, Alan thanked God for getting him through the night so that he could meet us and thank us.

Tanya, Alan, and Boyd at the Manyamula Market

Tanya, Alan, and Boyd at the Manyamula Market

He was thoughtful as he told us his story of receiving a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant and starting his repair business. He paused often to make sure we understood the impact that this had on his life: his son now attends high school; his wife started her own small grocery kiosk. And so he thanked us that day as representatives of Spirit in Action.

It was a short encounter and it left a strong impression on me. Maybe it was because he was the first shop we visited that day, but I think there was also something about his kindness and openness that impressed me.

That was not the last time we saw Alan during our short visit to Manyamula nor was it the last time we saw his kindness. The next day, we met up with him in one of the village churches. Alan’s short testimony told of how the church brought him out of the dark pit of alcoholism onto a road of light and faith. Then he showed his gratitude by giving his pledged tithe of maize to the church to be used to help others less fortunate than himself.

nsima spoonAfter church, Alan hung around outside, waiting while people took pictures with us. As the group thinned, he shyly approached us with a gift – a wooden spoon used for serving the local staple food, nsima. For a third time, his kindness was an unexpected blessing.

Alan’s gifts and kindness perfectly embody the sentiment of Sharing the Gift – realizing that we have received kindness and acting to share that kindness with others. As the quote by Bob Kerrey reminds us, kindness that comes at an unexpected time is the “most underrated agent of human change.” I have no doubt that we saw just a small sample of Alan’s kind actions and that even today he is helping more people know hope, joy, and gratitude.

How has a recent act of kindness changed you? What kindness will you share with others today?

More photos! Click here to see more photos of Alan and the other people we met that day in the Manyamula village.

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