5 Things Making Me Happy

I hope everyone is having a good Tuesday! Here’s a round-up of some things making me happy this week….

1. Micro-finance in the U.S.A. 

Small loans for entrepreneurs aren’t just in Africa. Yesterday, a New York Times article highlighted Grameen America’s program for micro-loans (plus: support groups and training) for small business people here in the US. Loans can be just a few thousand dollars, are low interest, and help people build their credit history. It’s encouraging to see a wider range of financial options for people all over the world, including the US. Read the article here.

2. This quote

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” From Marian Wright Edelman

bawo boardgame in malawi3. Board Games in Malawi

I smiled when I came across this photo from our 2011 trip to Malawi. Alan and Paul are play Bawo (the Malawian name for Mancala) on a huge hand-carved board. I used to play this with my sister when we were kids. Our board was travel-sized though!

4. Missing goats

I laughed when I heard a story about a high school prank where students painted the numbers 1, 2 and 4 on the sides of three goats and turned them loose in the school.

Administrators closed the school while frantically searching for goat #3, not knowing it didn’t exist. Moral of the story? Sometimes the thing we are desperately searching for is an illusion. 

5. A chance to share (and learn)

I’m excitedly preparing to speak at Illinois College (Jacksonville, IL) next Monday on the topic of micro-finance. My talk is titled “Doughnuts, Haircuts, and Dried Fish: Entrepreneurs and Micro-Finance in Africa.” I look forward to sharing about the potential of micro-grants and hearing their thoughts about what this generation can do to create a better world.

Why we take time to listen

Malawian farm with corn

Listening to Kubadwa Tembo in Malawi tell us about being a farmer in Malawi. Visiting and listening helps us understand the context of the work there.

Are you surprised that what many people really want is to be listened to? How are we really going to understand people and interact compassionately and effectively if we don’t really know the other person?

We recognize that listening is essential for international aid. Spirit in Action focuses on creating lasting partnerships and we don’t want to send money without a true connection and sharing on each side. And that requires listening.

The authors of “Time to Listen” asked over 6,000 people who have received international aid “how do you perceive aid?” Then they listened. (Read the full ebook here.)

Hearing Another Perspective

The answers were perhaps surprising, perhaps expected. Many of the beneficiaries responded that they didn’t want to be just receivers. “If aid wasn’t just given, but if there was a program that was much more of a give and take, it would be more beneficial for the whole community,” was one response from Karen, a local leader near the Thai-Burma border. A farmer in Mali wanted to be asked about his priority needs, rather than be given something that someone else thinks he needs.

Using What We Hear

These types of answers reinforce the importance of SIA’s flexibility in our grant-giving. We allow the new small business groups to choose the business that will fit their skills and the needs of their community. We encourage communities to come together and propose (and act on) their own solutions for empowerment and prosperity. These solutions come about by our asking questions, listening, giving advice, then listening again. This give and take sometimes happens over years before we find something that fits everyone’s needs and priorities.

Listening, writing, and sharing were essential to Del Anderson. (Read what he wrote about Listening here.) SIA was an official way to give money after many years of questions and answers with a friend had passed. And so, in part, our flexibility in funding comes from his legacy.

But flexibility also comes as a gift from our donors. They not only share resources with us, they give us their trust to pursue these conversations, to do this period of listening, and to develop relationships so that we arrive at a place where a grant really benefits a whole community and where our grant partners are really part of the process.

If you have ideas or questions, I’m always here to listen! Thank you.

Joy, when you need it most

My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. — James 1:2

Sometimes it's the photos that are blurry and candid that capture the most joy. Here I am with SBF Coordinator Dennis Kiprop in 2011.

Sometimes it’s the photos that are blurry and candid that capture the most joy. Here I am with SBF Coordinator Dennis Kiprop in 2011.

What does joy feel like? For me, it is a feeling of expanse and effortlessness, an emotion that fills my heart and soul. Joy opens me to experience something that feels bigger than I alone.

Thinking about these positive emotions of joy, it is difficult to believe that the tests in my life should be moments of joy. James calls us to feel happy even in the midst of challenge, when we are most tempted to ignore God and ignore the joy of the Lord.

The song reminds me that, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” And it is in times of test that I need that internal strength.

joy_nastee_nevThis may be an easier idea to read than to put into practice. When I feel unsafe on the road, or when I experience sickness, I don’t naturally think to consider joy.

But when I remember, when I am able, to consider joy, then the darker thoughts get pushed to the side. I can cultivate joy in those tests by talking to a friend or loved one, by connecting with the larger world, by remembering a past moment of delight, by recalling a beautiful place where I’ve experienced joy, or by putting on a good song and dancing.

Del writes about feeling joy and the power of God in us: “In this quickening power, let me be aware of God’s divine grace activity with awe, wonder and expectancy. Thus the outer condition or negative relationship is dispelled in the light of Spirit. I will practice and exercise this being still, letting go and letting God be God in me, through me, as me.”

That power of God’s joy in us and that privilege to be co-creators with God are available to us when we turn occasions of trial – occasions that, in our human experience, seem despairing – into occasions for joy. 

Related blog posts:

Dream large, my soul, dream large

The Manyamula Savings and Loans group makes all decision through consensus.

The Manyamula Savings and Loans group makes all decision through consensus.

Dream large. Such a nice thought, and yet, it takes a conscious effort to look beyond the day-to-day operations of Spirit in Action and consider the big picture, the larger goal.

This week, I came across the dreaming large prompt, “What if, in five years, your organization was fully funded? What would the community where you work look like?”

Setting aside the nitty-gritty details of what fully funding all community organizations in Africa might look like, I took a walk this morning and thought about the vision I hold for SIA’s work. What would success look like?

Here are just a few of my large dreams:

  • Sustainability: Community organizations that we support are able to continue and expand their programs and businesses through reinvestment, grants from other organizations, and local support.
  • Spiritual development: Regardless of faith or creed, people in community come together to honor the Divine in each person and encourage each person’s spiritual journey.
  • Model success: Saving circles and village savings and loans cooperatives act as models for other communities wanting to start similar projects. Peer-to-peer learning and workshops spread ideas that work for reducing poverty and encouraging hope in each community.
  • Mother and daughter, co-creators with God, selling dried fish in the market in Malawi.

    Mother and daughter, co-creators with God, selling dried fish in the market in Malawi.

    Co-creators: From Del Anderson, “We are created as junior-partners, ambassadors, and co-creators with the Almighty. The work is not complete until we fulfill God’s divine plan and destiny in our lives by expressing and manifesting ‘God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.’”

  • Communications: People learn and share the concept of consensus decision-making. This spreads power, welcomes more voices, encourages discussion and listening, and builds solidarity.
  • Leading organization: SIA is as model for other organizations. We show that a small (and mighty) organization can make a positive impact by focusing on personal connections, compassionate encouragement, and fostering local leadership.
  • Peace: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Each action I take contributes to peace and harmony, rather than divisiveness and disunity.

How does all that sound? What else would you add to this vision for SIA and the world?

Thank God for Gandhi

Thank God for Mahatma Gandhi. His inspired saying, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” has motivated generations of volunteer, including me, to get active in shaping the world for the better.  We can envision change – a better world – and we are called to DO something about putting that change into place.

In case you’re wondering, we don’t hold board meetings in fancy hotels (ha!), instead members volunteer to host the group in their homes. All board members and advisory members graciously lend their time, insight, and prayerful consideration to fundraising, grant-making, and future visioning.

Confused that I moved to Canada last year and donation checks are still sent to Santa Cruz? Never fear – we have a lovely, tech-savvy volunteer (Stephanie Paureau) who regularly checks the PO Box and notifies me and the (volunteer) treasurer about each letter and donation.

Do we still send seeds? Indeed we do – thanks to the “Office Angels” BJ Boone and Aileen Gillem. They got the title of Office Angels from volunteering to “fly in” to Del’s delightfully chaotic office and help him with tasks and organizing.

Are they volunteers?

Let us now praise the good works and dedication of our Small Business Fund Coordinators! You may recognize these names but not know that they are volunteers: Canaan Gondwe (Malawi), Dennis Kiprop (Kenya), Godfrey Matovu (Uganda), Wambui Nguyo (Kenya), and Nalu Prossy (Uganda).

For the 15-20 hours a month they work for SIA – training, mentoring, reporting – they receive a stipend to cover expenses and the satisfaction of knowing they are part of a positive change in their communities.

All Conference attendees in Eldoret.

SIA partners and Small Business Fund Coordinators from many different countries gathered in Eldoert, Kenya in 2011.

Thank you to all these essential SIA supporters who are part of the spirit of action and change in the world! And thanks to the many more who pray for SIA, donate to our programs, talk about SIA with their friends, and like us on Facebook. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that last one!)

Has Gandhi’s saying inspired you to get involved in any change in your world? Would you like to volunteer with us?

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