Embracing Diversity

Embracing Diversity

*In this moment of embracing diversity, I am reposting my words from March 2012, about the power of coming together in love.*

Building peace means sometimes being uncomfortable. It requires listening to the other side with respect and being civil when telling others about your beliefs. Peace often means compromise, allowing differences to exist side by side. This can be uncomfortable and it can also be freeing and expansive.

Agree with Me

City of Toronto's Coat of Arms and MottoMany proverbs tell us that it is worthwhile to come together with each our unique perspectives: “united we stand, divided we fall” (Aesop); “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller); and “diversity our strength,” the motto of the City of Toronto (my home of three years now).

I was recently shaken by a discussion with someone about interdenominational Christian nonprofits. He works for a non-denominational organization but was concerned about working with Spirit in Action because I didn’t agree with his interpretation of a particular bible verse. That he wanted to limit his interactions based on beliefs, albeit sharing the foundation of our mutual Christian faith, shocked me.

I understood that for him, to “agree to disagree” on a point of faith would necessarily mean compromise and, therefore, loss; that this compromise of beliefs would make a group weaker. However, I have found that requiring everyone to agree on specific, narrow rules does not bring strength. Welcoming multiple views breeds flexibility and trust, rather than shutting conversation down with only one way to view things.

Diversity our Strength

Women from many walks of life lead the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members in song at the beginning of our meeting. (Malawi, 2014)

Women from many walks of life lead the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members in song at the beginning of our meeting. (Malawi, 2014)

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.

In fact, our missions of compassion and social justice require us to see God in all people and to serve our neighbor as we serve God. This also frees us all to do our work of fostering prosperity, rather than spend energy forcing people to believe a specific doctrine. This openness then actively encourages personal exploration of each person’s relationship and path with the Divine.

When I visited SIA partners in Malawi in 2011, I asked about the variety of denominations represented in the group. “SIA is the one place where Catholics and Protestants come together,” was the answer I got from Canaan Gondwe, the local Small Business Fund Coordinator. This response brought a sense of pride. Inter-denominational collaboration allows each person to respond to the call to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God, rather than the call to shun those who are different.

Spirit in Action local coordinators; building peace

SIA Small Business Fund Conference, Kenya 2011

Similarly, Benoit Malenge, a former Small Business Fund Coordinator in Rwanda, reported that people of many beliefs came together, “sharing a meal, without discrimination since they are all members of Spirit in Action, who came to share the gifts.” This place of openness brought a community together, beginning to build peace after years of war in the area. 

In the words of Thomas Merton, the great Christian mystic, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” Can we embrace people who are different – who live and express themselves in different ways – and proceed as the peacemakers we were called to be?

How do their lives change?

How do their lives change?

Last week I highlighted the 5 most common businesses that Small Business Fund (SBF) grant recipients typically start. The groups received $150 and are mentored over the course of a year. This week I received a batch of final One-Year Reports from our two SBF local coordinators in Uganda. These are shorter reports that check in to see how each business is doing one year after receiving with grant. The report also asks how the lives of the groups members have improved and what they have used their profits to buy. Again, the responses seem to fall in 5 categories. These are the 5 basic needs that families are empowered to meet after starting an SBF business:

SCHOOL FEES

Paying for school fees is by far the most common goal and use of SBF profits in Uganda. There is supposed to be free universal education in Uganda, but the public schools quickly fill their limited spaces and the families must pay for private schools. School fees for the average private school near Kasozi Village, Uganda are about $12 per term for each student (with 3 terms per year). This adds up quickly with many children and with the additional costs of uniforms and school supplies!

Yuba Robert and his extended family show  us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator is seated on the right.

Yuba Robert (right, standing) and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator, is seated on the right. (Uganda)

MEDICINE

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

IMPROVED HOUSING

Before…

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

During…

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda and they are slowly building the house that will also be a storefront. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda. They are slowly building the house that will also have a storefront for their pottery. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

After!

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani started a business in photography and also selling vegetables. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in his house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani’s family has both a photography and a retail vegetable business. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in their house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

More stories about improved housing:

BETTER DIET

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

FURNITURE

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other families are able to buy beds and other simple, yet profound, dignities.

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other business groups have been able to buy beds and couches – simple, yet profound, dignities.

What kind of businesses do people start?

What kind of businesses do people start?

One of the unique parts of our SIA Small Business Fund program is that groups can start the business of their choice. We do not choose a business for them. Before they receive the initial $100 grant, the new business groups work with the local coordinator to evaluate their strengths, interests, skills, and current assets to help them decide on a business. They also look at market demand in the area. Sometimes the families already have a business that needs an injection of cash for it to flourish.

Once they decide, the group then fills out a Business Plan worksheet, which outlines initial costs, on-going expenses, expected sales, and defined roles for each group member. So, what kinds of businesses do people start with their SIA grant?

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY (Chickens, pigs, goats, etc.)

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This family started their poultry business in 2014. They are saving to pay for school fees for their children. “I am proud of my business,” says the woman. Her husband wants to build a bigger pen to keep the chickens safe. (Uganda)

KIOSK RETAIL SHOPS

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Chimwemwe buys stock from the city and resells it in Manyamula Village. She sells soap, shampoo, snacks, cooking oil, and other small items. (Malawi)

FARMING

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Kondwani stands in front of the harvest of maize from his family’s farm. (Malawi)

POTTERY / HANDICRAFTS (Mat making, basket weaving, etc.)

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Members of a Small Business Fund group in Uganda demonstrate how they make pots. They are sold to people who use them for cooking and storing water. (Uganda).

SERVICES (Baking, cooking, hair braiding, photography, etc.)

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

Read more about our Small Business Fund, including our FAQs, here.

Peace and “Soul Force”

Peace and “Soul Force”

In the swirling midst of on-going protest and the struggle for justice, I am reposting an essay I wrote for Memorial Day in 2010 about the power of nonviolent peace-building. I still believe peace is possible and worth striving for.

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I have long been intrigued by the connection between peace and prosperity. When people are safe and free I believe they are better able to participate in their local communities and economies. As they become involved, they create prosperity and security for themselves and those around them. It all starts with peace.

Del Anderson, Spirit in Action’s founder, wrote often about finding peace within oneself and sharing it with others. In 2002 Del wrote, “Being and expressing this peace and participating with God in bringing peace here on earth as it is in heaven is an activity of being a co-creator with GodBringing peace on earth is being in God’s grace activity and also brings forth a flow of health to mind and body.” In other words peace brings empowerment.

How do we begin to think about peace in a world so full of conflict? Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea starts by exploring the concept of nonviolence – choosing to explain nonviolence as not merely opposition to violence but also as a positive action towards social change and equality. This is similar to what Martin Luther King, Jr. is advocating for when he says in his “I Have a Dream” speech“Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Oftentimes a violent person expects the victim to react with violence, however, if one can react by standing firm in love and peace it catches the aggressor off-guard, creating space for social progress.

I know this all sounds like a far-fetched dream but Kurlansky makes a great case for the possibility of nonviolent revolution. Also, The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides some great information about the effectiveness of diplomacy and development for the “peaceful prevention of deadly conflict”. Similarly, I am encouraged when I read about the work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which sends trained peacekeepers into conflict areas to encourage productive discussion and protect citizens. They point out that peace and diplomacy are much cheaper than war and armies.

Creating peace is a difficult and important job! At Spirit in Action we pray and act for peace with this thing Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “soul force”. We call on the spirit inside each of us to be put to action, which creates a positive force toward understanding, support, and empowerment. On this Memorial Day I hope you will join me in celebrating those brave souls who have stood up for a better world through nonviolence and the promotion of peace.

I will end with a blessing my Grandma Barbara often says: “May peace prevail on earth and in your heart.”

[Pictured above: We met this girl at a local water borehole in Kasozi Village, Uganda. She was pumping water as our group of SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators – on our tour of local SIA groups – passed by her. We paused, and Ofonime Nkoko from Nigeria helped her pump the water.]

Updates from Ghana and Kenya

Updates from Ghana and Kenya

Who’s that lady?

Reader question! “I love the SIA newsletter. What is the story behind the pic of the beautiful woman with the lovely smile on page 6? Looks like she has a big tray of maize or something and I’m wondering if you can tell me her story.”

Tanya’s Response: I’m sorry that I neglected to add a caption to her photo. This woman is one of the 50 women who attended a sustainable agriculture training at Shape Lives Foundation in Ghana, sponsored by Spirit in Action. The woman in front is holding a tray of brown rice and the trees surrounding her are Moringa trees. Moringa is a highly nutritious plant and the leaves can be ground up and added to food as a vitamin supplement. (Read more about Moringa here and here.) Shape Lives has been integrating Moringa in with the rice at their demonstration farm to help improve the nutrition in their community. The plants grew well together and they are planning to train more women to add Moringa to their home gardens. The women who attend the training and help with the harvest get to take home some of the rice!

New Businesses in Nairobi, Kenya

Five new groups in Nairobi, Kenya received their initial $100 Small Business Fund grants in February.

The new business leaders: Back row - Wilkister, Pheris, Ann & Pamela. Front row-Tina & Josephine

The new business leaders: Back row – Wilkister, Pheris, Ann & Pamela. Front row – Tina & Josephine (Josephine is one of the local business mentors.

  • Ann Ayuma and her husband George Mungai and their daughter Phyllis Ayuma are the members. They chose the group Mwangaza which means light and they will sell cooked food.
  • A family group of mother Wilkister Akumu, father Ronald Omondi Okumu, and their child Juliet Ochieng. They chose the name Hekima – Wisdom for their kiosk.
  • Pheris Amati has an existing business of making bags with her husband Kennedy Adai. Their daughter Sela Obanda will join them.
  • Pamela Anyango is the group leader. She has a small shop and sells by the roadside items like tissues and diapers, and also cooks and sells githeri (beans and corn). Their groups name is Ebenezer.
  • Mama Tony Boutique is the name of their business. The leader’s name is Tina Violet Amati and she does hair but doesn’t have a place – she is a free lancer.

And a New Sewing Machine!

Caroline with her new sewing machine, working on a school uniform.

Carolyne with her new sewing machine, working on a school uniform.

Carolyne joined up with other two friends to start the God’s Favor Tailoring Group with a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant a year ago and their business is going strong. With the second grant installment of $50, in addition to reinvesting their profit, they bought a new machine and added to their stock. They are now able to pay school fees, eat better, and pay rent from their profits. Judy, who had taken her kids to stay with her mother in the village, said she would bring them back to live with her because life had improved. Alfayo, a high school student, is able to pay his fees and meet his other basic needs. The only down side so far is that because they specialize on school uniforms, the business went down once school started. However, they did get some new orders for other types of clothes around Christmas and Easter.

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