How can we promote peace?

How can we promote peace?

(Pictured above: A craftswoman in Kasozi, Uganda tells Tanya about how she weaves baskets, dying the rafia to get different colors.)

Why do Americans care about bombings in Paris and seem to dismiss bombings that happen in Kenya? Maybe because it’s easier for people everywhere to connect and empathize with people who look like them, and with cultures that are familiar to them. I can picture myself in Paris. I may even know people who live there. Knowing this tendency, and wanting to work for world peace, I must find more ways to connect with, listen to, and understand people from around the world. Paul K. Chappell, a peace activist who I heard speak last month, calls these “peace literacy” skills.

Chappell has defined seven forms of peace literacy. We know that reading literacy is important; lets not forget that developing tools to navigate peace is important too. Two forms of peace literacy that I am developing through Spirit in Action are literacy in our shared humanity and literacy in the art of listening.

Literacy in our Shared Humanity

“Think about how difficult it would be to dehumanize people if we were all literate in our shared humanity,” muses Chappell. Quakers talk about recognizing that, “there is that of Good, of God, in every person.” A group of peace-building Quakers use this concept in their work in eastern Africa, during which they bring together “enemies” and encourage them to listen to and learn from each other. In one of his fantastic blog posts about the transformative power of the workshops, David Zarembka writes, “participants often express how liberating the concept is when first they realize that their “enemy” also has goodness in him or her and, just as important that, regardless of what they have done or what they have gone through, there is still goodness within them that they can tap into.”

Next time you hear a news story of violence against (or violence perpetrated by) someone of a different culture, take a moment to connect with the Good in them.

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Literacy in the Art of Listening

Part of my intention in writing each Spirit in Action blog post is to develop our literacy in the art of listening. I like when I can include words directly from our grant partners, so that we can listen more closely and discover the similarities and differences in our experiences. This listening is more than a shallow hearing of words, says Chappell, “when we listen with empathy we also hear their emotions, hopes, and fears. We hear their humanity.”

When I make trips to visit our SIA partners, most of my time is spent listening. I hear the challenges, the successes, the accomplishments, and the hopes for the future from our grant partners.

When I met Theu at his cafe (which he started with a Small Business Fund grant) in Manyamula, Malawi, I learned that he had recently returned to his home village after working in South Africa for several months. Many laborers in Malawi make the journey to South Africa where they can find temporary (and often illegal) jobs in the construction and service industry. Sound familiar? But life in South Africa as an undocumented worker is hard – you may suffer abuse from your employer and have no one to turn to for relief. The Small Business Fund grant from SIA meant that Theu could stay in Malawi, rather than leaving his family to find work. “I’m free because this is my country,” he told me.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

I encourage you to read more stories of SIA partners:

Turn to Love

Once we recognize the Good in ourselves and in others, and once we truly listen with empathy, then we are creating space for peace.

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women in Kasozi, Uganda meets twice a week to weave mats under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money],” one of them told me during my visit.

20 years of Spirit in Action, 1996-2016

20 years of Spirit in Action, 1996-2016

(Del Anderson in the SIA Office in 2004.)

Save the date! You’re invited to join us for Spirit in Action’s 20th Anniversary Celebration!

Saturday, June 25th, at 2-4pm at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA.

We decided against the traditional china, rejected the modern platinum, and chose instead to host a great party! We will be celebrating past, present, and future, with special guests Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge, from Eldoret, Kenya. (More details and invitations to come soon.)

Past

Did you know that Del was 90 years old when he founded Spirit in Action? SIA was part of his vision and passion for serving the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. Serving the spirit without acknowledging the needs of the mind and body was incomplete to Del.

In his 1997 Christmas letter, Del introduced his friends to Spirit in Action, “My intent to continue to assist some of the wonderful, dedicated persons in developing countries who are effectively helping people to help themselves as they serve the hungry and the poor has encouraged me to share this news with you.

“I have put in motion a non-profit corporation to continue to carry this work on after I have made the transition to a new life. Incorporated in California, “SPIRIT IN ACTION” is alive and serving, with board members committed to assist in helping people to help themselves.

“I am excited with the real probability of the continuation of this ministry to effectively help our world, through assisting people to become serving, productive, responsible, growing persons. I feel very privileged to be participating with our Creator and with persons desirous of bringing forth a world of the people, by the people and for the people, where caring and acting for the common good is the way of life.” (Read more about Del.)

Del and Tanya at Del's desk in 2006

Del and Tanya at Del’s desk in 2006. Del was 100 years old and still sending letters to friends in the US and abraod.

Present

Since 1996, and the early days of figuring out how we were going to operate, SIA has grown into a strong network. We have granted over 650 Small Business Fund grants in Kenya, Malawi, India, Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, and the DR Congo. We have supported over 35 community-based organizations across Africa and in Sri Lanka, India, Peru, and Philippines. And these programs are on-going and growing!

Samuel and Rhoda and their Samro School were some of the first SIA grant partners and they continue to inspire us with their passion for educating and encouraging the next generation of Kenyans. It will be wonderful to be hear from the Teimuges about their partnership with Del and their experiences of building a successful school and agricultural development training centre in Kenya.

Samro Students performing at the 8th grade graduation in October, 2015.

Samro Students performing at the 8th grade graduation in October, 2015.

Future

I am excited about Spirit in Action’s future! We are poised to enter a new stage of our organization and we are moving forward with a broad base of support. As we grow and expand our programs, we rejoice in the strength that already exists in African communities, and we serve as a catalyst for local solutions to help communities thrive.

I celebrate that the SIA network is strong with passionate donors and dedicated partners – and I hope you will be in Oakland on June 25th to celebrate with me!

Local organizations like the Manyamula COMSIP savings and loans cooperative is a SIA partner that is serving the mind, body, and spirit of its members.

Local organizations like the Manyamula COMSIP savings and loans cooperative is a SIA partner that is serving the mind, body, and spirit of its members.

SIA’s pay-it-forward model in the news

SIA’s pay-it-forward model in the news

In January 2013, Lackson Lungu bought two piglets with a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant. We gave the $150 as a grant, without the high interest rates and short repayment schedule that so often come with microfinance loans.

However, there was a string attached. We asked Lackson to pay-it-forward to help someone else in need, once his business was successful. Lackson was happy to comply and in May 2014 he gave one of the piglets from his successful piggery to Tiwonenji, one of the widows in his village of Manyamula, Malawi. (Read more of his story here.)

This pay-it-forward aspect of the Small Business Fund means that each grant sets off a ripple of change. Sharing the Gift can take the form of sharing piglets, teaching other women to bake and sell donuts in the market, teaching sustainable agriculture skills, and sharing seeds or food with more vulnerable members of the community.

Yesterday, Humanosphere, a news agency that focuses on stories of the fight against poverty, gave a shout-out to Spirit in Action for our pay-it-forward model. In her article, “Pay-it-forward model shows potential for microfinance in developing nations,” Lisa Nikolau notes that we are part of a movement that is looking at new ways to help people thrive, without getting them trapped in cycles of debt.

Nikolau quotes Muhammad Yunus, the man who helped develop and popularize micro-credit around the world, who said“Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity.” And we whole-heartedly agree!

I encourage you to read the full Humanosphere article here.

The ripple of change continues with Tionenji paying-it-forward to Msumba.

The ripple of change continues with Tionenji paying-it-forward to Msumba.

4 photos, 4 stories

4 photos, 4 stories

These are the faces of Spirit in Action. Each photo captures just one moment and represents a much larger story of struggle, success, and joy.

Passionate Volunteer. (Pictured above) Dennis Kiprop with his wife, Nancy, and their son, Timo. Dennis volunteers with SIA as a Small Business Fund Coordinators in Eldoret, Kenya. He has a degree in business administration and is passionate about helping people prepare their business plans and start a successful small business. He assisted me in developing a opportunity and risk assessment for new business groups to use in their planning.

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Bridging Spiritual and Economic Barriers. Madina sells shoes with her sister and mother along the roadside in Nairobi, Kenya. With the profit, her sister was able to go see the eye doctor. They are one of several Muslim families in the Small Business Fund program in Nairobi. Christian and Muslim Small Business Fund groups have formed a savings cooperative together and they meet weekly to contribute savings and give small loans to members. (Read more about the SBF groups in Nairobi.)

DSC04515_1024Building a Dream. Before connecting with SIA, Paul, a shoemaker in rural Malawi, took a loan from micro-lending institutions in Mzuzu, about 15 miles away. With the high interest rate and short loan period, he was unable to repay the loan and he lost his collateral to the lender. Since receiving a Small Business Fund $150 grant in 2006, I have witnessed Paul go from one success to another. When I visited in 2011, Paul showed me his shoe repair stall in the local market. He told me of his dream to build a house and showed me the few iron sheets he had already purchased. In 2014, I visited him at his house! It was complete with cement floors, a tin roof, and sturdy brick walls. In his smile, I see the joy and pride of a dream fulfilled. (Read more about Paul’s journey here.)

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Long-lasting Impact. Steria Lungu, a widow in Manyamula Village, Malawi, used her $150 Small Business Fund grant to start a donut shop. She started her business in 2010 and it is still thriving! In 2011, Steria began saving her profits to buy iron roofing sheets to replace her leaky thatch. Today she has a new roof and when I visited, she was so proud to show me her family’s store of maize, “We now have no problem with food.”

More amazing technology & Some challenges

More amazing technology & Some challenges

I had two interesting conversations this week after my blog on how technology is improving our work. (I also added another 2 SIA partners to my WhatsApp contacts!)

Mobile Banking

I had another thrilling moment of wonder at technology as I was talking to Josephine Ameyo (pictured above) about the community bank she wants to start with women in her informal settlement in Nairobi. I know the area can be dangerous – several business leaders have had supplies stolen, and our Small Business Fund Coordinator always arranges for protection when she visits the groups. So I asked Josephine how they would keep the savings safe, and how they would safely transport the savings to the bank.

She responded with good news, “We shall not deal with cash. We have a popular money wire transfer app in Kenya known as M-Pesa which is available in mobile phones here. When people apply for loans we shall remit the cash through that service. And when they repay their loans we shall give them bill-pay number, which is also available from the mobile service provider. There shall be no money exchanging hands hence it will be the safest mode of money transfer.”

The women will be able to borrow money and repay loans through their phones, using the vast network of certified M-Pesa dealers to securely manage the cash. Amazing! (Read more about mobile phones in Kenya.)

Those Left Behind

The second conversation was a sober reminder of the growing technology divide. Margaret Ikiara, director of Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya), is a local leader in a very rural community in central Kenya. She works with many women who are caring for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS; women who are struggling to grow enough food for themselves. Sure, some of these women have cell phones, but they are not phones that can handle WhatsApp.

“I saw the update in the SIA Website and surely technology is fascinating and changing so fast,” wrote Margaret. She continued with a troubling contradiction, “In our community what puzzles me and leaves me with no words is that even in the fast changing world there are parents who are not taking their children to school. That means there are people who will be 3 decades behind others. They can not write letters, emails, nor use WhatsApp.”

It is a clear reminder that even as technology is making lives easier it is not close to reaching or aiding so many people in the places where SIA works. This, in essence, is the call for Spirit in Action. Let us strive even harder to support these women so that we are all progressing and benefiting together.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.  In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate. In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

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