What is an OFSP??

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Women proud of their sweet potato harvest, at CIFORD Kenya.

OFSP? Orange flesh sweet potato. Or, as I call them, those vegetables that are really tasty baked and topped with butter!

While I’m used to the orange variety of sweet potatoes in North America, in Africa the white or yellow sweet potatoes are much more common. They taste similar but the white and yellow varieties are not nearly as nutritious as the vitamin A/beta-carotene-rich orange ones. It’s only in the last few years that the UN and many others have begun promoting the OFSP as a way to combat malnutrition and disease especially among women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiencies. The food we ate in Africa this summer was high in starch, with a few vegetables depending on what was in season – I could see the need for more vitamin-rich foods.

That is why I am happy to report that SIA is working with two partners who are promoting OFSP growth in their communities.

CIFORD Kenya, in Meru, Kenya, has been holding workshops to train farmers in growing, managing, and preparing OFSP. This work in their rural community is designed to both improve food security (ex. people have enough to eat all year) and reduce the environmental degradation of the soil. The CIFORD trainings are include classroom time and also get-your-hands-dirty practical time with farmers being brought to the CIFORD training garden for demonstrations. The OFSP helps protect the soil because its big leaves cover the soil, which reduces run off and erosion.

Many parts of the sweet potato can be used:

  • Vines are used as animal feed
  • The leaves can be eaten as the leafy green
  • The potato root can be boiled, roasted or made into chips, French fries, or flour
Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo by Raising the Village)

Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo from Raising the Village)

Also, Raising the Village has just completed a round of trainings in Bucece Village, Uganda with farmers who wanted to plant the OFSP seeds. OFSP can sell for much higher prices in the market because it is still rare to see them and because people know they provide a health benefit to their diets. The hills around Bucece are very steep and so the OFSP will be important for keeping the soil from running down into the lake.

Hopefully, next time I’m in Uganda I’ll get to try the local OFSP, eating it alongside the steamed bananas, rice, and boiled kale, and peanut sauce. Yum!

What I’m grateful for this week

What I’m grateful for this week

Is anyone else having a week where there seems to be too much bad news in the world? Time to record some things I’m grateful for, to keep the focus on the positive things in my life…

(If you’re already feeling really positive this week, maybe you can share some good news in the comments below!)

Gloria singing!  (Photo by Steven Thrasher)

Gloria singing!
(Photo by Steven Thrasher)

1. I am grateful for the passionate and prayer-filled life of Gloria Knapstad, former SIA Board member and one of my “spiritual grandmas,” who passed away on July 29th. During SIA Board meetings, Gloria always encouraged us to stop and pray before continuing on with a difficult discussion. And usually that led us into consensus.

I am grateful for the many times we sang together at CFO/JFO camps and Board meetings. One of our favorites to sing together was “He Lives.” We’d belt out the last line, repeating it 3 times for emphasis and with joy!

There will be a Celebration of Life for her this Saturday in San Jose. You can read her obituary here.

2. I am grateful that I have TOO MANY good stories and photos to fit into the SIA Fall Newsletter. We had so many great, inspiring conversations with Small Business Fund families and our local coordinators in Africa this summer and Boyd did such a great job at capturing our adventures. Here’s one that still makes me smile:

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This was the end of a long day of walking on the dusty paths around rural Kasozi Village in Uganda. At our conference with Small Business Fund coordinators we spent half the day visiting groups and half the day reviewing our program. They were very busy days!

In this photo, Wambui (Nairobi, Kenya) and Dennis (Eldoret, Kenya) are taking advantage of the hour’s worth of electricity that we got from the generator each evening. Dennis is watching a TV show on his laptop, occasionally laughing out loud at lines of dialog that only he can hear. Wambui is charging her cell phone, which she used to text her sister who was taking care of her daughter in Nairobi. If you ever thought Africa was all mud huts and open-air cooking, you’re missing the cell phones and music videos played on laptops!

3. I am grateful for this encouraging message from Eileen Caddy, at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland:

“Remember first of all I drop the seed, the idea into your consciousness. Then it takes root and begins to grow, and finally it is manifested in form, perfect in every detail. A seed never has any doubts as to what it is going to grow into, therefore you must have no doubts whatsoever about the seed which I have planted into your consciousness. Simply know it will grow and flourish and will be perfect.”

Have a good, gratitude-filled week!

What’s in a smile?

The bright, sun-flooded room was filled with community members. They were excited to welcome us as visitors from the US to their rural village in northern Malawi. They sang; a guy played the keyboard and another a makeshift drum set. And then there sat the local traditional leaders of Manyamula Village. All looking bored and disaffected. I was introduced as the representative of Spirit in Action, which has helped fund the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, whose members sat before me. I smiled and waved. Then Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Cooperative, introduced the traditional leaders. They barely blinked their eyes in acknowledgement of the appreciation of their presence.

Julius and Mestina in front of their new home, without smiling.

Julius and Mestina in front of their new home, without smiling.

Later, I mentioned this stone-faced reaction to Boyd, my husband and fellow visitor. He suggested that perhaps it was the custom to let the respectful words fall on unmoved faces.

The next morning we went to visit a number of families who had received Spirit in Action’s Small Business Fund $150 grants. We heard and saw the evidence of the change in the lives of these families – people had been able to save and build houses with tin roofs and cement floors. Mestina Tembo told us about her successful donut and scone business. She sells at three markets a week, traveling as far as 32km to sell her baked goods. Through this and a little income from renting out their old house, they have been able to build a new house and invest in pigs. The new house, which has plastered walls on the inside, was described by our guides as, “not something a villager would have.” In other words, Mestina and Julius Tembo were thriving as a result of their business and the investment by SIA and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

Mestina told us this amazing story of success without cracking a smile. I realized that the lack of a smile made me question if the positive change was something to be endured rather than an achievement to be proud of.

Mestina with Tanya. Showing off the family's new kitchenware, with a smile.

Mestina with Tanya. Showing off the family’s new kitchenware, with a smile.

As we moved from her house to see the pigs out back, I mentioned this realization to our local interpreter, Winkly Mahowe. I told him that I noticed few people smiling as they told their stories and posed for pictures and that in the US we are always telling each other to smile; that we like to see smiles. Around the world, Americans are known for (and sometimes chided for) our excessive smiling.

We went back inside to take more photos of Mestina and Julius in their lovely home, and just before we took the “snap” (the word for photo in Manyamula), Winkly interupped and said something to the effect of, “oh yea, these crazy Americans said they like to see people smile in photos. Would you mind?” Everyone laughed and the couple obliged, showing all their teeth as they smiled for the camera.

Fikire and her daughter Iris, posing in front of their house-in-progress.

Fikire and her daughter Iris, posing in front of their house-in-progress.

I immediately noticed a shift in my perception of Spirit in Action’s impact on this family. The smile – even though I knew they had been asked to do it – signaled to me that their business and pigs were big accomplishments; that there was a feeling of pride and joy in the household.

After noticing the difference in myself when I listened to an unsmiling versus a smiling person, I kept that cultural touchstone in my mind. I realized that I hadn’t yet learned the full cultural significance of the smile/not smile in Manyamula.

A boy laughs as he jumps into Boyd's photo of a sack of maize.

A boy laughs as he jumps into Boyd’s photo of a sack of maize.

It’s not that people don’t smile in general in Manyamula. There were plenty of jokes and laughter – teasing about World Cup team picks, about how people used to live before things started to look up – among friends and family members. The stern look seemed to be especially reserved for important stories and photos.

Winkly told more people that day to smile for the camera. And I continued to smile during the rest of the visits, as fit my nature and my joy that day. But looking back through the photos of that visit, I noticed that Boyd had picked up his cue from the local traditional leaders. In the group photo with community members, he stared unsmilingly at the camera. Such is the cultural give and take of a site visit.

 

 

 

Boyd and Tanya with members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative. Pictured with the unsmiling traditional leaders.

Boyd and Tanya with members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative. Pictured with the unsmiling traditional leaders.

Meanly’s Family Farm

The crew of friends that joined us along the way during a day of site visits. Here they are enjoying a donut made by Meanly.

The crew of friends that joined us along the way during a day of site visits. Here they are enjoying a donut made by Meanly.

It was still morning on July 10th and we were already visiting our fourth Small Business Fund (SBF) family in Manyamula Village, Malawi. The morning started with me, Boyd (SIA Advisory Board member), and Canaan Gondwe (local SIA SBF Coordinator) in the truck, along with our driver, Mr. Mango. By the time we reached Chisomo Place, several more people had hopped in the back of the truck. Two more followed along on the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative motorbike.

The crew of our escorts and on-lookers created a festive atmosphere around the site visits. They were there to see their friends from the cooperative, experience the exciting atmosphere of an international visitor, and to make sure we caught everything on camera.

Meanly shows us a bucket of donuts. She sells in the markets and to the local World Vision training center./

Meanly shows us a bucket of donuts. She sells in the markets and to the local World Vision training center./

Meanly Mbeye, a widow, runs Chisomo Place farm with her siblings, children, and elderly mother, a practice common on African small farms. Also typical, Meanly has pieced together several small enterprises to provide for everyone. Receiving the $150 SIA grant in 2013 helped to revive the family dairy production. They had a cow, but it desperately needed vaccines and better food. The grant went toward these necessities and now the cow produces enough milk to sell to surrounding families and to the local World Vision center.

In addition to the milk, Meanly also bakes and sells donuts four days a week, earning up to $120 each week. To help her with this work, she has hired another woman to help with the baking. SIA SBF owners are job creators!

The family cows, enclosed in a pen to keep them safe from disease.

The family cows, enclosed in a pen to keep them safe from disease.

Last week I talked about passing along the joy of giving. Meanly has not only hired another person to help with the business, she has also trained another woman, named Joyce Banda (but not the Malawian past-president!) in baking and marketing donuts. Joyce also received the gift of a bag of flour for her first round of baking.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family's farm.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family’s farm.

Another piece of the family investment is a small – and growing – Moringa farm. Del Anderson (SIA Founder) was really interested in the potential benefits of Moringa. Canaan remembered that and has encouraged people in his community to plant these fast-growing trees with leaves that provide countless medicinal and nutritional benefits. Meanly proudly showed us the 35 Moringa seedlings and Winkly eagerly picked and ate a few of the leaves. I tried a few too – not too bad tasting, and they’re good for you!

Meanly was delighted to be able to show us her thriving homestead. Canaan was pleased to share the accomplishments of the family he has mentored. And I was impressed to see Menaly’s strength and perseverance in the face of the needs of her large family. They received the grant less than a year ago and already they are reinvesting to expand their farm and create sustainable businesses. And they are able to provide better food and medical care for the whole family.

As we left, Meanly sent us (and the crew that followed us) a basket of donuts and “minerals” (soda) for the next visit. One more display of gratitude and generosity for the road!

Meanly with her family, including her elderly mother in the pink sweater, who has many health challenges.

Meanly with her family, including her elderly mother in the pink sweater, who has many health challenges.

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