Different paths toward empowerment

The question “what does Spirit in Action do?” has many different answers. The thing is, Spirit in Action has two distinct approaches to empowering others.

Small Business Fund


Hastings and Ruth started a brick-making business in Malawi.

On one hand is the Small Business Fund (SBF). Started in 2005, the Small Business Fund is a SIA-specific program where all grantees, whether they are in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, or Nigeria, go through the same training program of business and communication skill development. The local coordinators work closely with me and consult with each other as they implement this program in their communities.

In the SBF, we are directly giving $150 to families to help them take on a new livelihood and improve their lives. (For more about how the SBF works, see these FAQs.)

Community Grants

On the other hand, Spirit in Action is also a traditional grant-maker, like a community foundation or a family foundation, giving grants to grassroots organizations throughout the world that will implement their own programs.

These grassroots organizations (also called “community-based organizations”) are already working to eliminate poverty, grow more food, or stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc. in their community. Think of these groups as similar to your local PTA, community gardening association, local health clinic, or save the shore kind of group. They are concerned citizens who want to make things better for their neighbors and for the community as a whole.

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house.

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house in Kitale, Kenya.

The small grants, ranging from $500-4,000, support a wide variety of local solutions for the challenges that each community faces. Past SIA grants have start community gardens and collaborative farming efforts, poultry projects, bio-intensive garden trainings, girl’s empowerment workshops, and a savings and loans cooperative.

Why don’t we just fund one type of project, like building wells? Because we’ve seen that 1) solutions brought forth from the community are more effective and quickly gain community buy-in; and 2) empowerment is about trusting communities to know what will best address their problems.

Sometimes a well might be the answer, other times the answer might be water tanks to catch rainwater.

Of course, we don’t just fund every proposal that comes in; I take time to review proposals, develop relationships, give feedback, ask questions, and pray for guidance. (Read more about choosing partners here.)

Common Principle

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Even though we have two methods of serving communities in Africa, one principle brings the two techniques together, and that is Sharing the Gift. This pay-it-forward initiative is key to both the Small Business Fund and community grants. It’s implemented in different ways: for example, tithing business profits in the Small Business Fund, or creating an emergency relief fund by a Community Grant group. In both, the idea of blessing others as we have been blessed and giving generously to others is central to SIA’s vision of change.

If you have more questions about what we do or how we do it, leave a comment or email me (Tanya) at admin@godsspiritinaction.org!

Next time, before you worry…

I bet you never feel overwhelmed, right? Taxes, exams, deadlines are greeted with ease? The great need in your family, your community, and our world seems manageable? Right! Just last week, there was a day – a cold, cloudy day – when I felt like I could never possibly do enough in the world.

“It’s all too exhausting to keep up with Joneses,” I wrote in my journal, contemplating another organization’s fancy new website and celebrity endorsers, “and what’s it all for anyway?”

Then my pencil took on a mind of it’s own: “Seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” Refreshing! “That’s all that God, and I believe, our SIA Board and supporters, require of me.”

So, I spent some time to take stock on how I’m living up to my requirements.

Seek Justice

  • This one’s pretty easy, because seeking justice is a part of all programs we support.
  • MAVISALO, the local micro-loans group in Malawi is all about providing access to small loans for farmers and entrepreneurs in Manyamula village. Rather than let neighbors take out loans from the institutional lenders at sky-high interest rates, people came together for financial justice in their town.
  • Our Small Business Fund grants give $150 to the poorest people in villages, giving people who have been overlooked and turned away in the past a chance to start a business and learn financial management skills.
  • The CIFORD Kenya program seeks justice for girls in their district, informing them about their rights and teaching them about women’s health and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Love Kindness

  • I feel a warm, kind heart within me when I connect with you – our supporters, partners, and Facebook friends, especially when I get to write thank you notes, and when I get a really great grant proposal and I get to engage with the person and ask more questions.
  • I also practice this in my daily life: greeting neighbors as we pass, helping to push a car out of the snow; sharing cookies with our downstairs neighbor, writing letters to friends.
  • I try to be kind to myself too by giving myself permission to read a good book, and sipping tea in bed in the mornings.

Walk Humbly

  • I know I can do more with humility than with ego. Ego keeps me thinking about myself, my “legacy,” my impact, rather than think about the people I am serving.
  • Keeping my practice of daily contemplation, prayer, and reading of Del’s writings.
  • Responding to each email request with honesty and humility, honoring each person’s effort to improve their community and seek assistance
  • Graciously thank all our volunteer Small Business Fund coordinators, who give their time to do the real work of SIA on the ground.

When I’m striving after things, when I have a day when I’m feeling small, can I stop and see if the things I’m worried about fit into my requirements or not?

Whatever happened to those businesses in Uganda?

Remember in January 2012 when I posted about five new small businesses in Uganda? Nalu Prossy, a SIA Small Business Coordinator in Uganda, had just trained the new groups and we gave a warm welcome to the new entrepreneurs.

It was only as I was going through a stack of files recently that I realized I hadn’t followed up with you yet! Read on to see how they’re doing:

Brick Making and Pottery – This group used the $85 they earned in the first few months to pay for school fees for their children. See the photos below of the group firing their bricks. They make the bricks out of earth, stack them in a circle, cover them with wet grass, and build a hot fire in the middle of the circle to fire the bricks. “Burned” bricks last longer than the less-expensive adobe bricks.

burning bricks in Uganda
UGA_NP_24_brooms2Mat Making – Monic Namulindwa and her group reinvested $20 in purchasing more dye colors and additional palm leaves. They used the profit for medicine for one of the members. To the left is a photo of them carrying the brooms they also have for sale to market.

Chicken Rearing – This family business has benefited all 8 family members by helping them build a new roof on their home. They report that their greatest success has been the high demand for their chickens! They used some of the profit to buy more vaccines to keep the new  chicks healthy.

Mat Making –  Although this group had “less buyers than we expected” they still were able to buy some necessary medicine for a family member and better clothes for the children.

Tailoring and Sewing – Nalu Prossy reports that these are “hard working people” – and it’s paid off! The group earned $26 in profit (after reinvesting in more cloth for future projects), which was enough to pay for school fees for their children last year.

Nalu in Uganda

Nalu Prossy, in the Christmas outfit she sewed for herself, with the camera from SIA.

Thank you to Nalu for her dedication in guiding each of these groups as they learn and grow into their new enterprises. I know that the regular encouragement from the coordinators is vital for the success of our Small Business Fund program! Soon, Nalu will be sending in the One-Year Report for each of these groups and I’ll try to remember to update you promptly this time.

A special thank you to the 3 donors who each donated $150 this month to start similar new businesses in 2013! Isn’t it amazing what can come from a small grant, a mentor, and dedication?

For more about the Small Business Fund, read the SBF FAQs.

Add The First Grader to your movie list!

It could have been a scene from my own visit to in Kenya in 2011 – the dusty roads, the matatus (taxi vans) with hawkers hanging out of the windows, children singing and dancing with glee – but actually, it was just the setting of the beautiful, uplifting film, The First Grader.

dusty roads in Kenya

Stunning scenery in Meru National Park in Kenya.

The movie, from 2011, is based on the true story of Kimani Maruge, an 84-year old man who hears in 2003 that the Kenyan government is now offering “free primary education for all” and decides to take them up on the offer!

See, Maruge has an important letter from the Office of the President and he wants to learn to read so that he can read it himself. And he overcomes many challenges from the community and haunting memories to keep studying and learning.

Throughout the film we see flashbacks to a traumatic past when Maruge was held in the British Detention Camps along with other members of the Mau Mau movement, who fought against the British in 1952-60. (This is a complicated history! For more about the Mau Mau Uprisings, read the Wikipedia page.)

Seeing Kenya


Hens in Rose’s chicken coup. She bought 6 chickens with her SIA grant and now has over 60!

The movie, filmed in Kenya with local school children acting as Maruge’s classmates, shows so many typical scenes from the country.

You see the use of cell phones (which are very common throughout Kenya, and are now helping people transfer cash electronically; read more HERE), and the ubiquitous chickens, goats, and dogs running around people’s houses. There’s also the mandatory reference to Obama, the Kenyan who moved into the White House.

We also see a wide variety of homes, from huts with inside cooking fires and no electricity, to brick houses with tin roofs and barred windows, to middle-class apartments in Nairobi.

Valuing Teachers

Samro School, Eldoret

A mural on the Samro School, run by Rhoda Teimuge, in Eldoret.

The First Grader shows the teacher Jane being frustrated with lack of desks. But it also shows her being able to achieve teaching with few materials and in a wooden building. Sometimes it’s not the infrastructure that matters most with schools, it’s the teachers. Jane is engaged, passionate, loves the children, and gives generously.

Sometimes, with the enthusiasm for building schools in Kenya, we forget the importance and centrality of teacher training, pay, and good working conditions.

Accessing “Free” Education

For me, the movie was an important reminder of the value placed on education in Kenya and the barriers to even access the “free” primary education. Students must buy uniforms and shoes and bring pencils and other supplies. They may either have to walk long distances or pay for a bus or bike ride to school.

So, it’s understandable that many families who receive Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grants to start a business, use their first profits to send children back to school.

In Kenya, we visited Rose Ayabei, who received a SIA Small Business Fund $150 grant in 2009 to start a poultry business. In 2011 she had over 60 chickens! She told us that she dedicated to keeping the business working so that she can pay for her children to continue attending school. The boys walk 2km on muddy roads to attend school.

Maruge knew the importance of education, and overcame prejudice and ignorance, and his past struggles, to patiently learn to read and share that importance of learning with the other children in the class. Let’s help more families send their children – boys and girls – to school, making a better future for Kenya.


Rose Ayabei’s children

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