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!

 

Has it really been 10 years??

Has it really been 10 years??

Has it really been ten years?? When I embarked on this journey as Spirit in Action Executive Administrator in September 2007, I had no idea that I would still be here ten years later.

In those ten years, Spirit in Action has given:

  • $79,650 for 531 Small Business Fund businesses
  • $50,439 to 27 different grassroots organizations

Wow! Behind each of those numbers are families and groups of people. They represent individuals with whom I have emailed, texted, visited, listened to.

Del and Tanya at Del's desk in 2006

Del and Tanya at Del’s desk in 2006

Fond Memories

In these ten years, I treasure memories of:

  • Seeing the realization of a dream in Malawi (breaking ground on the new training centre, and three years later cutting the ribbon and sleeping in the new dorm rooms)
  • Receiving letters from Del, filled with affirmations and encouragement
  • Achieving a personal life goal of publishing a book (and getting to tell the world about SIA’s collaborative and flexible approach to grantmaking)
  • Singing in a circle with our partners in Kenya, and being surrounded by dancing women in Malawi
  • Eating pancakes and drinking chai at Samro School in Kenya, surrounded by dear friends
  • Arriving in Manyamula Village this year and being welcomed by the local team who shook my hand and gave me hugs, saying over and over, “feel welcome!”
  • Surviving rides on packed buses in Malawi, learning to let go and let God as we drive wildly off into the unknown, pedestrians diving out of the path of the hurtling bus
Tanya and Canaan in the MAVISALO poultry house.

Tanya and Canaan Gondwe in the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative poultry house in 2011.

There have been prayers shared, prayers answered, inspiration sent and received, amazing donors, and dedicated board members and volunteers. Through it all, I am continually blessed to be able to dedicate myself to work that I see is making a positive difference in the world.

When I first started, all the places seemed so far and unfamiliar. I didn’t know how to pronounce the names of our partners. Now, when I say “Winkly Mahowe,” I hear Winkly’s own voice in my head. Now, when I think of Eldoret, Kenya, I know the smell of the rain on red earth. This vastness – and the smallness – of this world are more real to me now.

Dear friends in Eldoret. Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge, Tanya, and Dennis Kiprop.

Fanning the Spark

In one of my very first blog posts in 2007 I reflected on 2 Timothy 1:6-7: “I remind you now to fan into a flame the gift God has placed in you. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of inward strength, of love and of self-control.”

I wrote, “This was my morning mediation today and it really rang true for me – I truly feel that working with Spirit in Action fans the Spark of Spirit that God has placed in me. A flame is not timid, it creates a warmth inside (especially necessary during Minnesota winters!) and gives strength to others who see it – passing on hope and encouragement. Prayers and communion with Spirit in Action correspondents will fan my spark into a flame today. As I fan other Sparks each day – my flame grows stronger.”

Today, ten years later, this image of fanning the spark within me still inspires me, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing others fan their spark- for themselves and for their communities.

Thank you to all of you who have been part of this journey with me! And, don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Pancakes and chai in Kenya. Yum!

 

Surrounded by a song of welcome. (Malawi, 2014)

Wisdom from Del: I’m trusting….

Wisdom from Del: I’m trusting….

Del used to say that in times of uncertainty, or of challenge, or when he wasn’t sure what the right choice among many might be, that he would pray, “Father*, I’m trusting.” And by pray, I mean focus one-pointedly in it, so that you embody the intention, you become the prayer, which is another way of talking about praying without ceasing.

FATHER, I’M TRUSTING

Simplest prayer in the world. And perhaps the most powerful.
Not, “I’m trusting about tomorrow.”
Not. “I trust You in yesterday.”

But:
FATHER, I’M TRUSTING

In THIS moment. In THIS now. With every fiber of my being, I relinquish all my opinions, preferences, and desires about any possible outcome.

FATHER, I’M TRUSTING

I’m trusting, moment by moment. As you trust, as we trust and relinquish, God can work out God’s perfect plan.

*Tanya’s Note: ‘Father’ was Del’s word. For myself, I am using the prayer, Spirit, I’m trusting.

Del & Bebe at Sierra CFO camp [no date]

Del & Bebe at Sierra CFO camp [no date]

Seeing Capacity Where it Already Exists

Seeing Capacity Where it Already Exists

What works to help families move out of poverty? Spirit in Action is addressing this on the international level, with our Small Business Fund, and our support of grassroots organizations. It turns out our answer is similar to the one presented in a fascinating article and interview in the New York Times this month!

When social worker Mauricio Lim Miller was asked for advice about how to address poverty in California in 2000, he turned away from the programs and institutions that were part of the “war on poverty” and instead looked to individuals for answers.

“Lim Miller had long had doubts about the effectiveness of his work helping people escape poverty.” He didn’t know the answer, but he did know who would have some ideas. (I’ve also written about knowing how much I don’t know.)

The article quotes Lim Miller, “When I came to Jerry Brown’s office [mayor of Oakland, at the time] I told him, ‘I don’t know what to do. But my mother figured out how to get me out of poverty, and I think other mothers, fathers and guardians might also have ideas about how to get their lives together. I would ask them to show us how to build their lives.’

The outcome of the discussion was the Family Independence Initiative, which helps to strengthen social networks and provide resources to low-income families in the U.S., so that they can create a new future for themselves.

Smart Risk #5 Practicing Vulnerability

Smart Risks

Trust and invest in families,” pleads the front page of the Family Independence Initiative. The request is a familiar one to us in international development. People don’t want to be seen as victims, they want to be trusted and supported to move forward.

In the interview, Lim Millar highlights how people attempting to address poverty have missed the capacity in the communities themselves. War on poverty fell into a “listening gap,” he says, providing services without listening first.

Listening to Small Business Fund leaders in Malawi as they tell me about their successes.

This is in fact the same message as my co-authors and I write about in the new book, Smart Risks: How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. The book features thirty short essays, all stressing the importance of listening to local experts, investing for the long-run, and building up community support systems where empowered individuals work with peers to rise up out of poverty.

When we dare to trust, we see results. From Lim Miller, “The data showed that when we provided an encouraging environment, but didn’t provide services, families had better outcomes.”

It can feel like a risk to trust people when you are giving money. However, if we give money without listening first, we risk something even greater. We risk leaving untapped the power, knowledge, initiative, and expertise that already exists in all communities.

It is an honor to witness the strength that exists in the Manyamula COMSIP cooperative in Malawi.

Beyond Grants: Rebuilding After Conflict

Beyond Grants: Rebuilding After Conflict

Rebuilding a life and a community after years of conflict, violence, and trauma is no easy task. The pain doesn’t go away immediately. The healing doesn’t happen automatically. Those who remain must figure out the way forward.

The Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) is helping with this rebuilding, with more than just cash grants. Naomi Ayot is the coordinator for SBF in the Kole District in Uganda. This is where the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted girls in 1996 and years of conflict broke up families and forced people into refugee camps. Many of the families in the area are missing family members, with many women now in charge of running households.

The Small Business Fund provides grants of $150 and business training. And it also is providing psychological support through peer support groups and encouragement.

Members from different SBF groups meet to discuss their businesses and lives.

Turning Lives Around

Imat Milly is the main breadwinner in her family. During the peak of the conflict with the LRA, when it was no longer safe to stay at home, her family moved into a camp for Internally Displaced People. When the violence ended, they settled into a grass roofed house.

Now, with their successful farming business – growing food for sale, in addition to home consumption – they have built a iron-roofed house!

Imat Milly proudly stands next to her new house.

Imat has also bought a plow, so that they don’t have to plow by hand anymore! They are producing better quality and quantity of crops now. They have even adopted a five year-old girl and paying for her school fees. This generous act of caring for children in need is just part of rebuilding community after conflict. 

“She thinks her life has really turned around,” reported Naomi. The sentiment is perhaps understated, but the satisfaction and joy in Naomi’s voice told me just how big this change is for Imat and her family.

Thinking Beyond Basic Needs

I wrote in April how Samsa used the profit from her agricultural business to send her daughter to pre-primary (nursery) school. When I met with Naomi in May, she told me again how much that meant to Samsa.

When Samsa’s daughter finished the school year, the school had graduation and Samsa was so proud to see her daughter receive the honors and be able to move onto primary school! For this community in rebuilding mode, education has not been a priority. However, Naomi reported that part of the success of SIA is that our program, “helps them think beyond basic needs to think about education.”

Naomi Ayot is the wonderful SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Uganda. She mentors others with passion and skill.

Counseling for Healing

In addition to these business successes, Naomi and her team on the ground in Kole District have created a spiritual counseling group, for anyone in the community who wants to join. SBF members and those who have not yet been chosen for grants come together to share about their challenges and to motivate each other to move forward. When I met with Naomi in May, she told me that these groups were helping to reduce domestic violence and levels of alcoholism in the group members.

SIA is on-going,” says Naomi. “It not just a one-off project. This encourages teamwork and cooperation between families.” Rather than competing against each other, SIA SBF groups are working together, sharing their grief and joy, and helping to rebuild their community in the wake of conflict.

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