Generosity is Catching

Sharing the Gift of piglets

These healthy piglets were raised by recent high school graduates, who received SIA grants. They are now ready to be shared to widows in the community.

Last week I heard another story of pay-it-forward generosity. A chain of 457 people each offered to pay for the drink of the person behind them at the Florida Starbucks drive-thru. There’s something about generosity. When we see other people giving we also want to give. My Facebook feed has been flooded (no pun intended) with buckets of ice water showing just how contagious and fun giving can be. When we see people who give, it creates a good kind of peer-pressure: the pressure to do good.

It is just this truth that underlies our “Sharing the Gift” initiative (or “Spread the Blessing” as one partner in Uganda called it). Families who receive SIA’s $150 Small Business Fund grants are receiving a huge act of generosity. I know our local coordinators are met with questions from the grant recipients about why people half-way across the world and from a country so different from their own would want to give them money to start a business.

It’s pretty amazing, really. Imagine getting a (legitimate) email in your inbox from someone – someone you didn’t know – who wanted to give you money. You might have questions, rightly so. Our Small Business Fund coordinators explain that SIA gives because we see potential in them and we feel compelled to help them improve their lives – to lead more stable and prosperous lives. The best grant recipients see and recognize this generosity and our honest intentions.

Winkly and his wife invited us in their home to tell how they both received and gave piglets through Sharing the Gift. They are proud of their brick house.

Winkly and his wife invited us in their home to tell how they both received and gave piglets through Sharing the Gift. They are proud of their brick house.

And so Sharing the Gift is a way for them to respond to that generosity. They have received. One year after receiving the grant, they are asked to also give.

That’s all a big preamble to say that Sharing the Gift – just like other acts of generosity – is contagious. When Small Business Fund families see other people giving, they also want to give.

Culture of Giving in Malawi

Years ago, Winkly Mahowe received a “Sharing the Gift” gift of a piglet from a neighbor. That was the start of Winkly’s SIA journey towards building a new house, expanding his piggery unit, investing in poultry. He has a life now that he is proud of. In July, with a twinkle in his eye and a huge smile on his face, Winkly told us how he has also Shared the Gift of a piglet to another family, who is starting their own piggery. He knows deeply what an honor and opportunity it is to receive a piglet through SIA Sharing the Gift, and he was so pleased to be able to pay-it-forward to another person.

Hi there piggy!

Hi there, piggy!

SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) in Malawi is full of Sharing the Gift moments. Visiting over 50 small businesses in Manyamula Village this summer I saw that there was a real culture of generosity in the community. People were proud to be able to share and give to others. And that pride was contagious. As Fikire Chima told us about sharing the gift of a piglet to a widow who lived nearby, she added solemly, “It is all thanks to Canaan [the SIA SBF Coordinator] who models generosity for us. If he was greedy, I would not have considered Sharing the Gift.” 

So there you go. When we see someone give, we want to give. When we have received a gift, we want to also share gifts. Perhaps this is a call to make your giving show, and to recognize the call to give when you see others giving. Maybe the next viral charity challenge will be to call on friends to live without electricity for 24 hours, or to hand wash your clothes – and then to support a SIA family with a small grant so that they won’t have to do those things anymore.

Read more stories of SIA generosity in Malawi:

Donate to SIA Small Business Fund here.

How do you improve education in Nairobi slums?

I left our meeting with the grassroots organization Progressive Volunteers feeling very optimistic. As I sat in their office in Nairobi, Kenya in July, they told me that the name Progressive Volunteers doesn’t just reflects that the local volunteers (including the PV staff) are helping other people progress. It’s also because “when you are making change in someone else’s life, it is also progressing you,” as Jeremiah Mzee, the group’s chairman, explained .

Since 2007 PV has recruited almost 100 young adults from Nairobi to volunteer to make their city – and especially its slums – a better, more peaceful place. This week, Meshack and Vaida from PV’s communication team share about their work in Nairobi’s informal schools.

Every child has a right to education. Education is life. It helps equip one with the necessary tools to face life’s challenges. Education also opens doors to opportunities that are otherwise impossible.

A school in Korogocho, one of the slums in Nairobi where Progressive Volunteers mentors work.

A school in Korogocho, one of the slums in Nairobi where Progressive Volunteers mentors work.

The children who attend the informal schools (those public schools that do not receive any government money) in the slums of Nairobi face many challenges in trying to get an education.

These informal schools are severely under-resourced and under staffed. The teacher student ratio is typically 1:40. This ratio shows that although the children have access to an education, it is substandard. It’s not an odd thing to find 3-4 students sharing a desk. And you will often find a room partitioned into four classes, with 1st-4th grades all in the same space. You can only imagine the confusion that occurs when the classes are on. The very minimal supervision at the schools leads to many students missing classes. Most of the pupils see school as a chore. This has brought about a high drop-out rate especially at the beginning and at the end of each of three school terms.

Eric, a volunteer from PV, mentors students at Emmaus Educational Centre in Lucky summer Area in Nairobi.

Eric, a volunteer from PV, mentors students at Emmaus Educational Centre in Lucky summer Area in Nairobi.

The founders of Progressive volunteers saw the challenges that these pupils faced in getting a quality education. PV came in to try and remedy the situation. With help from partners such as Global Giving Foundation, the local administration of the Kenyan government, parents, community leaders, and other community-based organizations (CBOs), we have developed a mentorship programme that uses volunteer mentors to act as “big brothers and sisters” with the aim of guiding these students towards a constructive life.

The mentorship program places volunteer mentors from PV in one of the many informal schools once a week to holds sessions on different topics every week. The topics cover health issues, self-empowerment, drugs and alcohol abuse, academic issues, self-esteem, and awareness issues. We are also planting trees at some informal schools to increase shade and improve the environment.

[Tanya’s note: When we met with the PV team they stressed how important these local mentors were to the students. It is a big motivation when the students hear success stories from people who they can relate to and identify with.]

Jeremiah from PV gives a talk on Gender-based Violence at Precious Star High School in Mathare North Area.

Jeremiah from PV gives a talk on Gender-based Violence at Precious Star High School in Mathare North Area.

With this structure in place we hope to give each child in our district an opportunity to empower themselves.

When the standard of education goes up, the students start seeing things differently. They will in turn become ambassadors who champion for the right of a child to go to school. This will go a long way in empowering them and the community at large.

I highly recommend checking out PV’s blog!
To support PV directly, visit their campaign on Global Giving.

Boyd, Tanya, and the PV team meet to discuss the potential of local volunteers to improve Nairobi’s schools and environment. (July 2014)

Mbwenu, Innovator

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure.

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure.

Sometimes it’s not easy moving home. Once you’ve been out to see the world you look at home through a different lens. “We had a shock,” was the way that Mbwenu and Wangwa described it to me when I visited their home in rural Manyamula in northern Malawi. The couple had gone away to Swaziland to study at a bible college and when they decided to move back to their home village many things were not as they had been in Swaziland. Their four sons now had to learn to live without electricity, and Mbwenu lamented how “it was hard for the boys to get used to the dark.”

Hearing this history it is not surprising that when Mbwenu and Wangwa sought their first low-interest loan from the local Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (formerly called MAVISALO), they bought a solar-charged light battery and a full solar panel that they put on the roof.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening.

At this moment in his testimony, Mbwenu snapped on the small battery light for effect, “ahhhh” we all marveled! He became animated as he took us around the room showing the small TV and lights they could have now with the solar panel. There was also a cell phone charging station next to the solar panel battery. I could tell he was the kind of person who liked to figure out these technologies and show off his successful installations.

I was so inspired by my visit with Mbwenu and Wangwa, and it gave me three insights about what makes SIA so great:

1. SIA’s programs are diversified

Mbwenu and Wangwa’s house was nice. It had a cement floor, stable brick walls, and tin panels on the roof. They were clearly not the poorest family in the neighborhood. And because of that they had not received a SIA Small Business Fund grant, which are reserved for the poorest. Instead, they had joined the SIA-supported Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, which gives very low-interest loans and is open to ALL community members, regardless of wealth. There are different SIA tools for each family to benefit.

2. SIA empowers rural communities to thrive

The family is developing their farm and investing in cattle and goats. “The COMSIP Cooperative is a big help,” Mbwenu explained, “we couldn’t buy the solar changing system all at once on our own.” Yet, their small farming enterprises are steady enough to be able to pay back the loan in a timely manner. A solar panel TV and light might be seen as “luxuries” in areas where there is no running water. Yet, these things made it agreeable for the family to move back to their village. And this means that the whole rural community benefits.

Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure.

Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure. Canaan (left in purple), the SIA contact for the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, was so excited by Mbwenu’s enthusiasm for rural solutions.

3. SIA partners are innovative

The solar panel was just the tip of the innovative iceberg in Mbwenu and Wangwa’s household. He also showed us a bio-gas contraption that uses cow manure to make a cooking gas, and also creates a liquid compost by-product for the farm. At the end of the visit, surrounded by 10 COMSIP Cooperative on-lookers, a little boy, a rooster, and a brood of chicks Mbwenu demonstrated his prototype drip-irrigation garden. He’d seen the technique in Swaziland and was combining new technology with local supplies to create a system that allowed you to “attend a meeting while irrigating the crops.” At the thought of such multi-tasking ability, the group laughed and then began asking questions as they inspected the tubing and bucket.

It was exciting to witness these exciting developments from Mbwenu and Wangwa and see the many ways that SIA is serving and benefiting the people of Manyamula Village.

A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu's irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds.

A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu’s irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds.

Catch a glimpse: See their TV and laugh about watching the world cup in rural Malawi:

Travel Angels

*Update* The video is now working! Scroll down to see the Manyamula Band singing us a welcome song. (8/5/14)

Just before leaving for Africa I drove up to my grandma’s cottage in the Santa Cruz mountains for lunch. It was a time to reconnect and also to pray for the upcoming trip. At the end of the visit I picked some Angel Cards, as I often do when visiting Grandma. Angel Cards are little cards with a word describing a quality or charateristic and a sketch of an angel embodying that quality. For me, the Angel Cards are a way to focus on inviting these qualities – like love, tenderness, and openness – into my life. So I picked an Angel (okay, I picked 4 because I wanted an abundance of guidance and heavenly guards) to go along on the trip with me.

Minnows for sale in the Manyamula market. Ophanear Phiri, proprietor, received a SBF grant in 2008. Now they do 3 markets a week and are investing in livestock and pigs.

Minnows for sale in the Manyamula market. Ophanear Phiri, proprietor, and his family received a SBF grant in 2008. Now they do 3 markets a week and are investing in livestock and pigs.

The Angel of Adventure: A perfect angel for encountering a new culture! Two weeks we were in rural villages – without running water or electricity – where I really felt the spirit of adventure. In Malawi we ate boiled and fried minnow fish for lunch. That was a first for me! Crossing the border from Kenya into Uganda also was a great adventure – complete with long lines, unexpected visa fees, hustlers, and bananas and pancakes for lunch.

The Angel of Compassion: Each day brought new examples of the challenges that people face just to cover their basic needs. In the Nairobi slums there is no room for gardens or farms, so all food must be bought, all water must be hauled. I really saw that SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) grants are helping people meet their basic needs – food, medicine, shelter – through their own business success!

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative maize mill provides a local, low-cost option for grinding the staple food - maize corn.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative maize mill provides a local, low-cost option for grinding the staple food – maize corn.

 

Ruth (left) interprets as Rehema (right) tells us about the local savings group they have started in Kasozi Village, Uganda. They are learning from the successful savings group in Malawi - through the SIA network!

Ruth (left) interprets as Rehema (right) tells us about the local savings group they have started in Kasozi Village, Uganda. They are learning from the successful savings group in Malawi – through the SIA network!

The Angel of Communication: Where we were few people spoke fluent English. Those who did had learned it as their third language after their mother tongue and the national language (Swahili, Luganda, or Chichewa)! So we frequently relied on interpreters to convey our words of encouragement and to relay grantee stories of their businesses and the change in their lives. Thank you Ruth, Winkly, Matthews, and Gemma Rose for helping us communicate!

The Angel of Inspiration: The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (formerly MAVISALO) is a musically inspired group! We were welcomed with songs that had words written just for us. The band, which had used a Cooperative loan to purchase their instruments last year, sang “Feel Welcome.” Matthews, group secretary, led us in verses celebrating all they have accomplished with SIA’s help. “We have a maize mill, we have a motorcycle.” “We have built houses.” “You have done good to help us.”

“Feel Welcome” sings the band at the introductory celebration when we first arrived in Manyamula Village. SIA has been supporting families in Manyamula since 2004.

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