Am I too comfortable?

Am I too comfortable?

These are my own reflections and may not reflect the opinion of the SIA Board of Directors:

Sometimes praying for peace can seem like the easy way out. Picturing myself in the flow of life, as a Being of light, I feel the peace within me. But those prayers, I am increasingly realizing, are coming from a place of comfort, from a comfortable life.

Around New Year’s I was faced with a slightly unsettling question from Kayla McClurg in her inward/outward email reflection, “Will this be the year we move from ‘wishing for a nicer world’ to making intentional contributions and distributions of light?”

Is now the time to go from wishing and even praying towards making some concrete steps and intentional contributions to justice in the world?

That might be uncomfortable. It might shake me out of my peaceful prayer.

Philanthropy and charity can get pretty comfortable in its work to address the immediate needs of food, clothing, clean water. In that rush, it may never get to confronting the systems that are creating the poverty and inequality.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, writes about giving to charities during the holiday season, “I worry that through these acts of kindness, I absolve myself of asking deeper questions about injustice and inequality. We Americans are a remarkably bighearted people, but I believe the purpose of our philanthropy must not only be generosity, but justice.”

Justice might be uncomfortable. It might mean that I have to give up something. It might mean that I have to do more than just pray for peace and give money.

Source: OutFront Minnesota

Walker continues, “Philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.” We must ask: Why is it still so hard for people in rural Africa to access loans? Why is it still so dangerous for our local coordinator to visit the slum in Nairobi? How do we get more youth educated and then employed in stable jobs? And we will likely find that those answers take more than easy money.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was way more radical than the collective memory suggests. In a passionate lecture to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in 1966, King calls on those gathered to wake up to action. “One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.

There are the beginnings of a revolution now. A revolution of people demanding justice for black lives, demanding rights for women, demanding for their voices to be heard. Will this be our year to wake up and do more than throw money in the bucket, hoping for change, wishing for a nicer world?

*Pictured above: Working with local leaders in Malawi for economic justice through their savings and loans cooperative is part of SIA’s role in the revolution. Here I am pictured with the leadership of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Welcome another Small Business Fund coordinator team!

Spirit in Action is expanding and strengthening our Small Business Fund network!

I met Naomi Ayot when I was visiting Kampala, Uganda in 2014. She was working for Raising the Village at the time and I met with her to hear about an update on the Bucece sustainable agriculture grant. She also safely delivered me from a sketchy bus stop to my hotel, for which I will be forever grateful!

I was impressed with Naomi’s professionalism and passion for helping others, and so I am extremely pleased to be able to welcome her to the SIA SBF team! When I talked to Naomi, she knew immediately a village that could really benefit from our $150 grants and business training. Better still, she knew a local leader there that would work with her.

Naomi and Santa Enume reviewing the Small Business Fund materials.

Naomi and Santa Enume reviewing the Small Business Fund materials.

Santa Enume is a respected leader in the Akwiridiri village in northern Uganda, a midwife and community elder. This very rural village was heavily affected by the violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the last 20 years and as a result there are a lot of female-led households, widows, people living with HIV/AIDS, and orphaned children. Santa Enume is eager to work with these women and their families to help them start small businesses and improve their lives and the community in general.

This SBF Team model has been very successful in Nairobi, with Wambui and Josephine. Wambui is my direct contact and she works with Josephine who lives in the Koch slum where we give the grants. Josephine provides the hyper-local knowledge necessary to make the SBF work for the women, and Wambui helps prepare the reports and keep me updated.

Women from 8 SBF groups in Korogocho slum. Wambui, the local coordinator stands behind Tanya. Josephine is pictured left of Tanya.

Women from 8 SBF groups in Korogocho slum. Wambui, the local coordinator stands behind Tanya. Josephine is pictured left of Tanya.

The closest computer to Santa Enume is about 20 miles away. Clearly, it would be difficult for me to communicate directly with her. However, with cell phones ubiquitous throughout Africa, Naomi can easily keep in touch with her and relay information to me. Del would be impressed with all that is possible with technology these days!

In December, Santa Enume made the long journey to be with Naomi, so that they could review the SBF materials, report forms, and training tools. They also took time for prayer together. Last month we sent the funds for the first three new small businesses to a newly established SBF bank account. I’ll keep you updated as these new businesses get off the ground! In the meantime, please give Naomi and Santa Enuma a warm welcome!

Inspire Your Heart With Art!

Inspire Your Heart With Art!

This Sunday, January 31st, is Inspire Your Heart With Art Day! It’s a day to appreciate the beauty and creativity around us all the time. Looking at a beautiful painting and listening to music often fill my heart to overflowing. And from that point of joyful saturation I find it more easy to believe in a better future, miraculous healing, and harmony among all people.

Pictures of Home

Flowers lovingly placed in the windowsill of a newly constructed home in Eldoret, Kenya.

Flowers lovingly placed in the windowsill of a newly constructed home in Eldoret, Kenya.

Song of Gratitude

I heard Tusubira Eve sing this song at her church in Uganda and later asked her if I could record her singing, “Thank you, My Lord. Thank you, for what you’ve done.” At the church service Eve led a group of children, singing loudly and dancing together, which mesmerized me.

 

Painting on Location

I love staring at landscape paintings and allowing my heart to imagine myself into the scene. Looking at this painting of Lake Malawi (now hanging on my wall) I can almost feel the cool morning air and the calm water, listening for the distance voices of the fisherman in their wood boats.

A painting of Lake Malawi. Purchased at Nkhotakota, July 2011.

A painting of Lake Malawi. Purchased in Nkhotakota, Malawi, July 2011.

Song of Joy

I am transfixed as I listened to these powerful voices and the joyful words, “The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!”

My heart is fluttering with inspiration and joy as I share this post with you!

(Pictured at the top: Natural Beauty Alert: Sunset over Manyamula Village, July 2014.)

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative – a truly locally-led savings and loans organization – has long been a fixture in this rural village in Malawi.The low-interest loans and safe savings have allowed its 180 members to invest in their future and prosper. Now they are building a meeting room (they will not have to pay rent anymore!) and an attached training center to teach people to run similar cooperatives in other villages.

“Apart from the social and economic impacts, the infrastructural image of buildings being erected at the Cooperative premises is the talk of the community,” reports Canaan Gondwe, long-time SIA partner and Manyamula COMSIP Coordinator. “This construction of the Training centre has completely changed the appearance and growth of Manyamula community.”

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

And it’s not just the talk of the village! Word is spreading: “The District Assembly of Mzimba which comprises of Government departmental leaders, Members of Parliament and Councilors paid a visit to the cooperative in their routine inspection of development projects. They were greatly amazed at the project in progress. We highlighted of our contributions and also of SIA as our partners.”

COMSIP Cooperative members have contributed all the bricks, lime and sand for the construction, in addition to two grants from the SIA Community Grants Fund.

One of their biggest challenges is that the Malawian currency keeps being devalued, increasing the prices of imported items like cement. The cooperative is planning to set aside savings each quarter to pay for future repairs, “to sustain our beautiful buildings.”

One of the shops in Mzimba - the larger town nearby - where they bought cement for the flooring.

One of the shops in Mzimba – the larger town nearby – where they bought cement for the flooring.

Canaan concludes: “The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in true partnership with Spirit in Action, is in the business of changing lives and communities. Manyamula community is indeed grateful to God for this abundant Grace.” We are honored to be in partnership with such a dynamic and impactful community organization!

See past construction updates here and read more about construction and electrification here.

A candid moment before the "snap" (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

A candid moment before the “snap” (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

 

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Small Business Success in Kenya!

Small Business Success in Kenya!

Five small family businesses received $100 initial grants from Spirit in Action in March, 2015. These families live in Korogocho*, one of Nairobi’s informal settlements, under very marginal conditions. With their profits they are paying for school fees, rent, and buying more food for their families. 

Wambui Nguyo, the local SIA mentor and Small Business Fund Coordinator, send the following reports from three of these businesses:

Mwangaza (Light) Group – Cooked Maize

Ann, (pictured above) has bought a jiko (portable, charcoal burning stove) since her first grant and increased the amount of food she cooked per day. Currently, she is able to pay schools fees for her daughter who is in High School. Before this grant, she could buy maize floor in packets of 2-3 kilos, and she can now afford to buy dozens of kilos as a time. The only drawback to her business was that her structure was destroyed by some people who they felt she was doing better than them. In her own words, she said she felt ‘uplifted’ from her former status. During this meeting, she was called with news that her daughter-in-law was going into labour and she was needed. This was because her family depended on her financially to help them in every way she could.

photos quote wambuiNeema (Grace) Group – Tailoring Services

The leader of the group, Pheris has already bought a new sewing machine, just like she promised she would after her first grant. She can afford to pay rent and buy food, which was a challenge earlier on.

Ebenezer (Stone of Help) Group – Cooked Food

Pamela had done a survey on the schools around her area that did not offer lunch but where parents gave some money to their children for lunch. This was her target area and she has already got an informal contract with two schools to provide rice and beans during lunch time. She does not borrow anymore and is able to return her kid to school that had been sent away due to lack of fees. She can also provide her two children with some snacks which was a luxury in the past! Her challenge so far was that since she sells from the roadside, her structure that she used to do her business on was taken away during a construction of the road that was being extended. But she said, she can afford to buy another.

*More trivia! According to Wikipedia: Korogocho is one of the largest slum neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya. Home to 150,000 to 200,000 people pressed into 1.5 square kilometers.

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