How do we get news from Africa?

Stories about Africa aren’t always in our mainstream news. Yet, I still like to keep informed about where we are working, so today I share some of the great alternative news sources with stories from Africa.

1. Kenyan Elections

Important Kenyan elections are coming up on March 4th! Since the violent response to the last presidential elections, many organizations have been working to ensure a peaceful process this time.

You can read helpful updates about the coming election here: http://kenyanelections2013.org.

The website is an initiative of the African Great Lakes Initiative, which “promotes peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda).” Let’s keep praying for a peaceful election on March 4th.

post-election violence workshop

Post-election violence and reconciliation workshop in Eldoret, 2010.

2. Food Shortage in Malawi

The United Nations Department of Public Information recently published an informative article about the current food crisis in Malawi.

I asked Canaan Gondwe, our partner in Malawi, for his view of the situation: “Yes, there is hunger in the southern regions of Malawi and the president is everyday on the roads distributing maize to thousands of people. Subsidy program seem to have flopped. Farmers can get coupons to buy fertilizer but you can sometimes hardly find the fertilizer on the market.

 

Malawian farm with corn

My visit to Kubadwa Tembo’s farm in Manyamula in July 2011.

“The past 3-4 years we had our food basket full but in the last year it has been empty. WHY? Lack of political will to agriculture programs and a “top down” approach to agriculture production. There is a need to involve and hear from people at grassroots level.

“In the north of Malawi, we are better off. A lot of food is transferred south from us. Manyamula is not very bad. Most of the members from the MAVISALO cooperative are entrepreneurs and their economy is stable. Most of them are Small Business Fund beneficiaries and this makes me happy and at ease. This shows that the SIA project is positively assisting the people.”

3. Africa Today

For people who like to listen to their news instead of read it, there is the short and eclectic Africa Today podcast from the BBC. (You can listen to the news stories on your computer, or transfer it to a iPod/iPad.)

Yesterday’s episode had a news update about the clashes in Mali, opposition in Egypt, and a beautiful story about Malian musicians singing for peace. It’s a good mix of culture, continental politics, and local stories from many countries across Africa – all with a African perspective.

**And after you’ve read the news, I invite you to experience a moment of prayer, with this, from Del, about how we can influence the world:

We can, in balance, rhythm, and alignment with God, and in working with others, open ourselves as instruments for God’s symphony, prayer-soaked members with hearts open wide to be used by God, instruments of love and caring.

I’ve seen how small groups can achieve great things

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

I never doubted that the small group of thoughtful, committed people who came together two years ago to form the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans (MAVISALO) group in Malawi could change their community.

In explaining how small groups can achieve big things, author Henry Hemming looks to the power of giving. “Groups that last longer consist of members who make an equal contribution, creating fellowship, camaraderie and value.” With everyone giving, people can achieve more together than they can on their own.

Collective action to achieve a greater good was the reason for starting MAVISALO.

 

Pet shows us his farm

Pet shows us his farm, which he was able to expand with a small MAVISALO loan. (Malawi, 2011)

One of the great needs in Manyamula Village was access to capital; money to start and improve businesses and farms, money to pay for school and medical fees. The most common way of addressing this need, commercial micro-finance with high interest rates, is usually counterproductive.

Instead, people in Manyamula were ready with their own solution: a locally managed and collectively run savings and loans group. SIA responded to this enthusiasm with an initial grant for an income-generating poultry project and information about starting the cooperative.

Two years later MAVISALO is growing, thriving, and learning. They are continually improving access to credit, encouraging savings, serving others in the community, and creating fellowship among group members.

Improving Individual Lives

 

treasurer with chicken feed

MAVISALO Treasurer with chicken feed for poultry project

Canaan Gondwe, in his annual report of MAVISALO’s progress, shared some of the “eminent and noticeable successes and impacts on livelihood” among individual group members:

  • Easy access to financial services
  • Creation of self-employment among members
  • Increased asset creation (i.e. better houses, motorcycles, bicycles, livestock)
  • Food secure households
  • Members afford medical bills in private clinics
  • Members support their children with school fees

Business Investments

 

group uniform

Tanya with MAVISALO group members in 2011 – all wearing the MAVISALO cloth uniform.

The group has also made a collective investment in a cloth project as another way to increase their loan fund. Together they agreed on a cloth to buy and then purchased the fabric in bulk at a wholesale discount. Cloth pieces were sold to members at retail price with profit going back into the group’s loan fund.

Through this process they increased the amount available to loan to group members and also created a de facto uniform for group members!

Audit

Always looking at ways to improve and be transparent, MAVISALO hosted two officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the COMSIP Cooperative Union to audit their books.

Canaan reports that, “it was quite an enriching encounter for us for the first time to have auditors and look at our records in a comprehensive way. Their remark after a review was an impressive one, such that at national level they want us at the MAVISALO Cooperative to train many other community groups in effective and transparent recording. 

 

mavisalo records book

A page out of the MAVISALO expenditure records book.

“They were satisfied with our member filing system, cash receipts, payment vouchers, reporting, photography, and development of relevant forms for use.”

Perhaps most importantly for the small groups potential to achieve great things, the auditors also, “were surprised at the unity of the members and the way the Cooperative provides its services to the community.” Yes!

Congratulations to MAVISALO for all your accomplishments in 2012! I am confident that this year will provide many more opportunities for your small (but growing) group to achieve big things and change the world.

Investing in Individuals

Sometimes all it takes to bring a dream to life is a bit of investment. And whether you dream of running a coffee shop, starting an organic farm, or maybe creating a new phone app, chances are you’ll need an investment. A small business loan, crowdsourced funds, or an angel investor, someone has to invest in you before you can seize your entrepreneurial ambitions and improve your community.

Should it surprise us then, that entrepreneurs in Malawi also need an investment to start and grow their businesses?

Tereza (Malawi) keeps a cell phone around her neck while she runs her market shop.

Tereza (Malawi) and her husband were able to build a brick storefront after receiving a SBF grant.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been working with some of these entrepreneurs, these “mom and pop” small business owners, in Manyamula Village, in rural Malawi. And I’ve seen how people like Hastings and Ruth Fuvu are leveraging the $150 Small Business Fund grant from Spirit in Action to improve their local economy, reduce poverty, and pay for more education for their children.

Hastings and Ruth were using their good marketing skills to buy and sell tomatoes at the local market. They would travel to farms outside of town, buy a small basket of tomatoes, and then turn around and sell them in the market. They had larger plans and the $150 grant helped them help themselves and grow their business. Now they can buy 5-6 baskets of tomatoes each trip, making the travel worthwhile and becoming known as tomato importers in their community.

Part of the strength of our program is that our grant recipients make their own decisions about what business to start based on the needs and opportunities in their area and they control the daily finances and investments.

Hastings and Ruth’s shop started off small – with long hours and great personal investment. After 3-months, though, they had made $133 in profit. They reinvested to make their operations larger and then they began making investments in their community.

Hastings selling tomatoes in the Manyamula market place.

Hastings selling tomatoes in the Manyamula market place

They bought more food and vegetables from their local market; Ruth bought school uniforms from the tailor so that Miness (age 12) and Pokani (age 10) could attend school; and they give back, training others in record-keeping skills and giving business advice to new business owners.

Spirit in Action is just a small nonprofit, making small investments in Malawi – but we know that this is enough to make an impact.

On a much larger scale, U.S. foreign aid, which is currently less than 1% of the federal budget, has the potential to reach many more communities and more families who are ready to seize their entrepreneurial dreams. And Hastings and Ruth, with additional investment, could employ another person, diversify their products, and generate more profit to stimulate their local economy.

Let’s keep funding U.S. foreign aid – especially aid that invests in individuals – it’s working, reaching that untapped entrepreneurial spirit around the world.

Read Oxfam America’s blog for more about how U.S. foreign aid is working.

Time to Review!

I had some grand dreams for 2012 and today I look back to see how we’ve done! (I’ve also included some of my favorite photos from 2012 throughout the post.)

Group members in sunflower

A group of new small business leaders in Kenya in their cooperative sunflower field. What amazing color!

Get youth involved: This is still a dream. I’ve talked to more youth and recent college graduates about their interest in social justice and international affairs and I hope to involve them in what we’re doing soon.

Expand Small Business Fund: This is in progress! We’re working with some new potential partners in Zambia and we’re so excited bring our business training and small grants program to another community in 2013.

Canaan Gondwe with a giant cucumber!

Canaan Gondwe (Malawi) with a giant cucumber! Grown with seeds sent from SIA. He was so surprised with how big it grew.

Dream Small (Savings and Loans): Grant proposals are in the works now to have Canaan Gondwe, the steller leader of the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans (MAVISALO) cooperative, to train new leaders to run a savings in loans group in their area! Keep watching the blog for new stories about this in the coming year.

Celebrate our 16th Anniversary: We certainly celebrated! Thanks to all who came to our celebration and silent auction last May. The event raised $1,800 which went to the MAVISALO cooperative for them to purchase a Maize Mill machine. (Two mills were purchased in November and they were installed last week!)

Thought-proving prayer from 2012: “Jesus, help us to live out the full implications of your prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our daily bread. Give us a renewed sense of common life. – from Martin B. Copenhaver

Coming up… The SIA Board heads on into 2013 excited about new opportunities for partnership and community development! Stay tuned and I’ll keep you updated throughout the year on all the great work being done by our partners.

Girls with a piglet in Uganda.

Girls with a piglet in Uganda.

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