What’s one “small thing” I can do for peace?

Mother Teresa quoteWambui Nguyo began her latest report from Nairobi with one of my favorite quotes: We can do no great things, only small things with great love.  

She continues, “These are words of Mother Teresa and they have an applicable meaning with the people of Korogocho slum who benefitted from the SIA Small Business Fund. What one may call small/little, is a treasure to another.”

Learn Together, Pray Together

“The three families that benefitted from this SIA fund have a story to tell. They even looked different from the last time I saw them.”

Since receiving their initial $100 grants in August, these three groups have been learning together about improving their businesses. But the talk is about more than just marketing and sales.

“They meet for fellowship and have been able to rotate the leadership of the group among those comfortable to lead. Among them they have three people who are Muslims and we agreed from the beginning to make sure all are comfortable and respect each other’s religion. This has not been a problem with this group. I had left them some print outs of developing prayer/ sharing groups and they have been using them. They actually keep meeting minutes and are very committed to put God first in whatever they do. They also use this space to share on how their businesses are doing and share on the challenges if any.”

Building Peace

This praying together, across faiths, is an important part of SIA’s mission. We are here in part to encourage each person’s spiritual development, with the understanding that faith takes many forms. In 2012, I wrote a post about the importance of diversity for building peace and creating a better world for all. “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.”

And Wambui is well-positioned to encourage this diversity. In addition to volunteering her time with SIA she works for Alternatives to Violence Project, Kenya, which helps people heal from conflict and violence and also trains people in conflict resolution and reconciliation tools.

Sometimes doing “a small thing with great love” is as simple as listening to someone with a different worldview, or praying with someone who uses different words in their prayers. Creating space for sharing between Christians in Muslims in Kenya is one step towards building larger spaces of peace. And now SIA is part of this peacebuilding!

*Next week I’ll share the stories and photos from these business groups in Kenya! Stay tuned.

When it’s hard to save; but that might be okay.

Vestor with the car he bought with a grant and low-interest loan from the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative.

Vestor with the car he bought with a grant and low-interest loan from the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative.

I’ve often read that the importance of women’s savings and loans cooperatives or savings circles in Africa is that they address two challenges:

  1. These women are unable to access formal savings services at banks because of distance, access, or minimum requirements;
  2. Saving at home is difficult, especially when extended family members live nearby. Women who are known to have savings are often expected to loan money to extended family for their needs – whether medical, burial, business, or basic needs.

Savings circles address both of these issues by providing a safe, formal place to store savings and disincentivizing withdrawals outside of the normal schedule. The result is a system that effectively helps  women reach their own savings goals.

This is all very neat and makes a lot of sense. But real life is not always so clear cut.

Recently, a close friend of ours, I’ll call her Hazel, asked to borrow some money. Hazel’s car was on its last leg and she needs this car to take her daughter to daycare and get herself to work. She needed something better right away.

But, Hazel had lent her meager savings to another friend who had needed to replace her totaled car last summer. Neither woman had real access to credit and both were smart enough not to use any usury quick-loans. The loan is being paid back slowly, but Hazel needed the full balance now; so she turned to us with the request. Luckily, we were able to lend her the money, with the understanding that she’ll pay it back with her tax return.

The moral of the story is not as simple as wishing Hazel had been part of a savings circle so that she could’ve saved the money for her own car needs. Though it is important to recognize the need, both here and abroad, for people to be able to save and to access low-interest loans.

Really, this story is about celebrating the fact that when a friend needs help friends reach out to offer what they can. Even when they themselves don’t have much to give.

And it is about recognizing that saving money is hard when we are generous. But that this sharing the gift – even when it’s our savings – is a good thing in the world and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of, in my own life and through Spirit in Action.

Related posts:

Making me happy: Savings Groups, Moringa, & the Unexpected

I started my morning today with one of the things making me happy this week: Moringa Green Tea! And from there I read a great article about local leadership in Liberia and then received an encouraging update from the new savings and loans group in Zambia.

I guess you can say that there are a lot of SIA-related things making me happy this week. Here’s a taste to share with you:

1. Savings and Loans in Zambia

Chickens in a coop at a school campus in Kitale, Kenya.

Chickens in a coop at a school campus in Kitale, Kenya.

This new savings and loans cooperative in Mfuwe, Zambia started just last summer after SIA-partner Canaan Gondwe held a training workshop there. Below the cooperative’s new leader, Mrs. Misozi Kadewele, tells us how the group is working together to succeed:

“The co-operative is doing well although we met less days in December as everyone was busy with their families. We have started giving out small amounts of Loans to individuals with security. The chickens are doing very very well. We have now 25 active members in the co-operative. We give each other turns to clean up the chicken houses and those who can not make time pay a small fee towards the cooperative.”

Money raised from the chicken sales goes to build the loan fund. The group is considering buying an incubator for the eggs, in order to speed up the process of production and hatching.

2. Moringa Green Tea

moringa tea

Moringa, the “miracle tree,” is one of the plants that Del encouraged people around the world to plant. In part, this was because its leaves are highly nutritious. It’s said that Moringa contains amino acids, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, and so much more. Wow!

I bought Moringa powder a few years ago and made some tea out of it, but I wasn’t wowed with the flavor. However, this week I bought some Moringa tea that’s blended with green tea. The result is a very nice, earthly green tea – and it’s good for me too!

The brand I got in Canada is RootAlive. You can also find it in the US through Grenera. I’d love to try the Moringa Apple Infusion sometime!

3. Respect for the Unexpected

One of my general New Year’s resolutions is to “go with the flow” more. To allow for the unexpected in life and welcome that unknown as a chance to grow. This quote from the Swiss philosopher and poet Henri Frédéric Amiel speaks to that:

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God.

Looking backwards and forwards

Lioness looks to a mountaintop in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya.

Lioness looks to a mountaintop in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya.

In some ways January is like standing on a high ridge line with vistas of two beautiful valleys.

The valley on one side is where we have been. We look down and remember intimately the challenge points and the places where we stopped and examined the flowers. The valley on the other side of the ridge is where we are going. In that valley we see a beautiful unknown and a place to anticipate exploring.

Are you there with me? Let me share what I see from up on this ridge of January 2014.

Heights reached in 2013:

  • Made strides in my 2012/13 resolution to reach more youth with our message for positive change in Africa. You can listen to the presentation about SIA’s grant program that I shared with a crowd of students at Illinois College in November. This generation is driven to figure out the best ways to serve the world!
  • I’ve mentioned it before, I know. I’m still just so excited that we partnered with the new Small Business Fund coordinator in Nairobi, Wambui Nguyo. It happened in an authentically SIA manner. We began with prayer. We met her through our extended SIA network. She was willing and able to serve others in need. And two other excellent SIA coordinators were able to orientate her to our way of working.
  • Reached our fundraising goal for 2013! Thank you to the 122 individuals and groups who generously supported SIA programs! We were so grateful to welcome support from 4 church groups last year.
  • Steady climbing by all our amazing African partner organizations (CIFORD Kenya, Samro Polytechnic School, Shape Lives Foundation, MAVISALO) and all the families who are starting businesses and diligently working toward prosperity. It is a privilege to witness their encouraging successes throughout the year.
Girls having fun at a CIFORD-Kenya sponsored empowerment workshop.

Girls having fun at a CIFORD-Kenya sponsored empowerment workshop.

The path before us in 2014:

  • Continued support of youth education. Marketable job skills help youth provide for themselves and their families. A new SIA Community Grant will support a sewing and tailoring school in Meru, Kenya, run by the excellent Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya). Look for updates in 2014!
  • How do we know what parts of our Small Business Fund really help families? And are the businesses successful in the long-run? This year we’ll look into new evaluation methods that will help us gather stories and information about what’s working.
  • We’re ready to add another new Small Business Fund Coordinator to help more families work their way to a more stable and prosperous life.
  • Visit SIA projects in Uganda, Malawi, and Kenya! Can you believe it’s been almost 3 years since I last visited our partners in Africa? I think it’s time again to meet with them and review the projects in person. Please keep this trip in your prayers.

Nice views down both valleys, huh? Thank you for joining Spirit in Action on this journey of action, faith, and growth. I look forward to walking the path with you in 2014!

View from the top of Dedza Mountain in southern Malawi.

View from the top of Dedza Mountain in southern Malawi.

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