The Fall newsletter is here! Lots of pictures from my trip!

The Fall newsletter is here! Lots of pictures from my trip!
The 2017 Fall/Winter Spirit in Action newsletter is here! You can view a PDF version here and hard copies will be in the mail next week!

Blessing a pig that the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members are giving to an orphan in the community.

In this newsletter we feature:

  • The time I blessed a pig in Malawi, as part of a community “Sharing the Gift” ceremony
  • Girls Empowerment Workshops in Kenya teach girls about their wholness
  • A poem of gratitude to SIA from Matthews Mahowe in Manyamula, Malawi
  • Photo collage of the people we met in Kenya and Malawi this spring!

Read the full newsletter and donate now to support the work of Spirit in Action. Your support helps empower more families and communities in Africa!

SIA Team and Small Business Fund Coordinators visiting business groups in Malawi. Coordinators from three countries came to Malawi for training and program evaluation.

P.S. If you’re in Toronto tomorrow, Wednesday, October 18th, join us for a discussion on risk and social change, and a celebration of the launch of Smart Risks: How Small Grants are Helping to Solve the World’s Biggest Problems, featuring Spirit in Action. Read more details and RSVP here!

Creating a more inclusive Uganda

Creating a more inclusive Uganda

How are Ugandans fostering a more loving and inclusive society? Universal Love Ministries (ULM) is hosting a series of workshops, supported in part by Spirit in Action, at schools in Uganda. Their team talks with students and teachers about life planning skills and human rights, particularly the rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) people. At the end of the workshop, students are encouraged to form “inclusive clubs” to defend human rights in their school.

Taremwa Kenneth is a Fine Arts teacher and deputy head teacher at Bitereko Vocational Secondary School, where ULM held a recent day-long workshop. In his many roles, he works closely with head teachers, and government and community leaders.

Kenneth sees that the Universal Love Ministries’ workshops are having great impact in his community in Mitooma District. LGBTI youth are safer and more confident. Youth are focusing on inclusion and standing up against hatred. After talking with youth who attended the workshops, Kenneth shared his findings.

Skits are common in Ugandan workshops. They are a more fun and accessible way to talk about social change.

Report from Kenneth, Deputy Head Teacher

“I attended two of the day-long ULM sessions, the one held at my school and another that was delivered at the Kitojo Secondary School. After ULM left Mitooma, the message they delivered in the workshops circulated around the district and reached community members and government officials. This happened by word of mouth as teachers and students who attended the ULM workshops retold what they had learned to others.

“Recently, I traveled to Kampala and spent a week of training at the ULM office. The training opened my inner eyes and ears. It helped me to start thinking in a different way: a way that seeks a constructive solution to the problems faced by people in our communities.

Samson Turinawe, director of ULM, leads a workshop session on human rights and life skills.

What have students learned about being inclusive?

“I talked with students, including those who attended the ULM workshops, as well as those who got word about what happened at the workshop through inclusive club members. Through this I learned how the previous ULM workshops helped the students and teachers who attended.

  1. They learned about human rights. They had heard about human right but they did not know exactly what human rights mean.
  2. Students came to know that one’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.
  3. They learned the difference between gender and sex.
  4. They learned that LGBTI people are not cursed nor are they agents of the devil, as they’ve been told by local religious leaders.
  5. LGBTI youth were happy to know that there is an organization which is educating people to accept them and include them in each and every activity in their communities.
  6. LGBTI students started believing in themselves and accepting who they are. It was their first time to hear someone affirm them. 
  7. Some LGBTI students who were in the closet are now coming out openly to their fellow students about their sexual orientation.
  8. Students now socialize in the inclusive club, which meets twice a month. In club meetings, they educate others on human rights, and to accept LGBTI.
  9. Students told me that they would love to have more training because they have more questions they need to ask, and that they are also asked many questions which do have answers.
  10. LGBTI students reported that they are no longer teased and bullied by their fellow students and that after the workshops some students approached and apologized to them. 

Inclusive club members. At their meetings they talk to others about human rights and help people accept LGBTI students.

ULM fills the knowledge gap

“They all thanked ULM for the good work. I want to personally thank the ULM team and Samson for the good work that ULM is doing for issues that affect our country. I did not know how to handle these issues beforehand. Many professionals still do not know how to handle these issues. ULM is there to fill the gap. I am committed to use the knowledge I gained at ULM along with my connections and my network of friends to see that ULM’s work and teachings reach many people, directly and indirectly.”

Ripples of success even when a project “fails”

Ripples of success even when a project “fails”

Mbwenu is not satisfied with the status quo. He is always looking at new ways of doing things. After visiting Mbwenu in 2014, I wrote about how Mbwenu was bringing new irrigation and solar power technologies to the rural areas about the rural town of Manyamula Village in Malawi. He was also starting a new bio-gas project to use manure to produce energy.

Last May, I visited Mbwenu again. He again showed me the structure of the bio-gas contraption. “This is a failed project,” he said without no trace of despair. He had started this project to try to combat climate change and deforestation. In the end, the project required the expertise of a professional to finish the container. They couldn’t persuade the professional to come all the way out to this far-off farm, and so the project is uncompleted.

Mbwenu, in the white shirt, talks to us about why the bio-gas project failed.

The innovation mantra is “fail fast.” Try something and if it doesn’t work, move on. Following this mindset, Mbwenu’s entrepreneurial spirit is not broken by this setback. “We invested in another way. We hired someone to care for the cow. Now we get milk and sell 15 liters a day. Our boys can go to school.”

ABE: Always be expanding

The entrepreneurial mindset of the SIA Small Business Fund teaches people to diversify. Always be looking for new opportunities to invest and expand. Mbwenu’s family also has a side project of raising goats. They have a grocery kiosk in town, where they can sell the milk. And like any rural resident in Malawi, they also farm. One failure definitely didn’t stop this family from succeeding!

Goats in their pen, which is off the ground to keep them healthy and safe.

Sharing the Gift

Before I had a chance to ask Mbwenu about how he’s Sharing the Gift, he volunteered the information. (When people receive our grants we ask them to pay-it-forward to someone else in need, so that the blessing ripples out in the community.)

Mbwenu told us that one of the ways he is Sharing the Gift is through training others. He has a model garden with drip irrigation – a great innovation in an area where water for crops is hauled by hand. (More on irrigation in another post!)

Mbwenu is not only Sharing the Gift by training, he also shared the entire Sharing the Gift concept with his church! The church members pooled resources to purchase ten pigs. They are raising them together and sharing the piglets with different families in the congregation. So far 17 families have received piglets – a great asset in Malawi!

I look forward to my next visit to Malawi and to seeing what new projects Mbwenu is exploring!

Mbwenu, with one his sons, in front of their home.

Human Chain of Love

Human Chain of Love

Today, I am sharing a sermon that has inspired me recently. It’s by Rev. Shawn Newton of First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto and it’s about how to show love by reaching out to those in need.

**********************

All summer, I’ve been reflecting on an image—the one pictured below.

The photo was taken on July 8th, in Panama City, Florida. What you can’t see is that one hundred yards off shore, ten people – including a family of six – are fighting for their lives, as a strong riptide saps all of their energy, and makes it impossible to swim to safety.

It started with the two boys in the family getting pulled along first. And then others went out to help them, but caught swept up in the riptide, too. With no life guards on duty, and no rescue equipment at hand, the people on the beach looked on in horror, until someone had the idea that they form a human chain.

Beachgoers form a human chain to save a family from drowning in at Panama City Beach in Florida. (Photo: Leona Garrett)

A woman named Jessica Simmons described her resolve, saying that in the heat of the moment, she was determined that, “These people are not drowning today. It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”

The effort started on the beach, with the human chain forming with, at first, a small handful of volunteers that grew and grew, and then moved steadily into the churning surf. In the end, there were some 80 people stretched out into the ocean.

The strongest two impromptu rescuers headed past each link in this human chain until they reached the ten swimmers stranded by the current. They first pulled the two boys to the end of the chain, and then moved them along that long strand of love passing the boys all the way to the beach.

Next came their mother, who was struggling to keep her head above the water. She was sure she was going to drown. By the time she made it to the beach, she had blacked out. When she came to, she heard that her mother, still in the water, was having a heart attack. As everyone in the chain was being battered by the waves, she told the rescuers “to just let her go” so they could save themselves.

The chain grew.

Anyone who could help was linking their legs and arms with their neighbours. In the end, after an hour of incredible effort, everyone, those rescued and each link of the chain, had made it back to the shore.

Not knowing what else to do, they began to applaud—each other and the overwhelming grace they all felt in that moment.

Links in the human chain in Kenya! The SIA team meeting with community organizers and helpers in Mumias. Our links are helping to pull people out of poverty.

Making Love Tangible

If you’ve been attentive to the news in recent days, amid all of the horrific scenes, you have also seen powerful images of people doing what they can to form human chains, to reach out, to rescue, to save and uphold life, wherever and whenever they can.

It is the covenant with life in action, on full display, with very human hands. The covenant that demonstrates the best of who we are, the best that we can be in the face of catastrophe. The covenant that makes tangible the love that will not let us go. With floods around the world, with the earthquake in Mexico, with fires blazing in British Columbia, we are living this morning in a world of hurt.

May we find our own ways to reach out and serve life, by playing whatever part we can in forming human chains of love, be it by providing emotional support to those who are suffering, be it by volunteering to help with the clean-up, be it by giving generously of your resources to aid the relief effort.

May we reach out, in times of natural disaster. May we reach out any time others are reeling from disaster, of whatever sort, that we may do our part to tend the fabric of life, knowing that our lives are interconnected with all of life, and trusting that the hand we extend to others in their time of need may return to us when we, ourselves, need it most.

So may it be. Amen.

A different way to keep girls in school

A different way to keep girls in school

When we listen to the needs and solutions of the community, instead of providing our own answers, we sometimes hear something we wouldn’t expect. Such was the case of Hope for Relief Organization in northern Malawi. They want to help more girls stay in school and instead of providing new classrooms or school fees, their solution is to provide girls with cloth feminine pads. Having the reusable pads means that the girls don’t miss school during their menstrual periods. A simple solution that I would not have considered a year ago!

Sarah Simwaka, age 13, is in 7th grade at Phalasito Primary School. She is one of 1,282 girls who have each received at least ten feminine pads (called “fem pads” in Malawi) from Hope for Relief.

An orientation at Phalasito primary school shows the girls how to use and wash the reusable fem pads.

The road has not been easy for Sarah. “I am a second-born daughter in a family of five. My father died when I was six years old and mother died when l was nine.” Sarah and her siblings are now being raised by her grandfather who provides food and a place to sleep but cannot afford their education costs. Sarah used to do small jobs to support herself. “Each time after classes, l used to go to the nearby forest and fetch firewood. l would sell that to get money for pads, school uniform, and school supplies. Thanks to Hope for Relief Organization, now I am free.” Sarah is now happily attending school.

She is one of 1,282 girls who have received fem pads from Hope for Relief.

In addition to the fem pads, Sarah also receives emotional support through Hope for Relief. She told one of the Hope for Relief counselors that her family was hoping to arrange a marriage for her, so that they could get the dowry. The legal age of marriage in Malawi is 18, so it would be illegal for her to marry now. The counselor encouraged Sarah to report any marriage arrangements or family challenges to the school leaders. The head teachers, who are respected and have influence with community members, have promised to watch out for Sarah.

SIA is very honored be part of this holistic support of girls in Malawi. By listening to community solutions, we are supporting simple and innovative ways of empowering girls.

Tanya admiring some of the fem pads made by Salome in Malawi.

Tanya meeting with Richard and Hastings, two leaders of Hope for Relief. The organization is youth-led!

 

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