A tour around the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre

A tour around the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre

One of the highlights of my visit to Manyamula Village last May was the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremonies for the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre. This centre was the great dream of Canaan Gondwe and the Manyamula COMSIP membership and I was so proud to see it realized and open for business! The Training Centre is so much more than just an office for the savings and loan cooperative. It’s already generating income for the cooperative and building a stronger community. Let me show you around! (Click on the photo for a larger version)

On the day of the opening ceremonies, May 24, 2017, Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members, local officials, and SIA Small Business Fund members gather around the central gazebo of the new Training Center. Behind the gazebo (from left to right) is the new dormitory, the administrative offices and the kitchen/meeting hall.

This is the room where I stayed at the Manyamula COMSIP Training Center dormitory. The electricity had just been connected the day before we arrived! The plastic chairs were bought with a grant from SIA. Some of the guest rooms are rented out to teachers at the nearby technical college.

The meeting hall is used for educational and training events. It is also being rented to church groups on the weekends. Pictured are Tanya Cothran (back to camera, wearing a skirt made from COMSIP fabric), Canaan Gondwe (in suit) who was master of ceremonies that day. SIA Team members Dana Belmonte and Boyd Cothran observe.

The Cooperative employs attendants and watchmen who fetch and heat water for guests to use for bathing. In the background is the goat house. This is here for demonstration purposes to educate local farmers on good care of goats. The house is elevated so that the goats hoofs will be out of the muck throughout the night. This also allows easy access to goat manure for farming. The goats go out to graze during the day.

In the shell of the under-construction warehouse at the Manyamula Training Center, women cooked over open flames to provide three meals a day for us. We ate eggs and potatoes, nsima (made from corn/maize), vegetables and chicken. The warehouse will help farmers to safely store their harvest, especially corn/maize and groundnuts (peanuts), until they can sell it collectively for a good price. The national COMSIP organization is investing to finish this construction. The COMSIP grant came after they saw the good work that the cooperative is doing to help farmers and community members. Manyamula has a population of about 25,000.

During the open ceremonies, Canaan said, “We built this centre with local materials, especially local bricks. The building of this center is a source of pride, duty and community. Now we are distinguished in the world. The hall is used for church services and youth empowerment programs. We hope it will soon be a place for indoor sports, and as a recreation center, to watch soccer on TV, and as an internet café so that youth can learn computer skills.”

“Hope is our Greatest Weapon”

“Hope is our Greatest Weapon”

I was so encouraged by this letter from SIA partner, Samson Turinawe. Samson is the Director of Universal Love Ministries, which works to promote an inclusive and diverse society in Uganda, free from gender- and sexuality-based violence. May we follow his call to stay hopeful in our work for justice. 

2017 is coming to a close and it is a good time to take measure of what we’ve accomplished together this past year. I want to recognize your good efforts on behalf of Universal Love Ministries and acknowledge the relationship that we’ve developed as a consequence of those efforts. Your goodwill and the commitment that you’ve demonstrated made a real and substantial difference in the lives of marginalized people whom ULM supports. 

I don’t know how the year went for you, but surely each of us faces challenges. We must own up to the errors we’ve made in addressing those challenges. We must come to terms with personal weakness that perhaps exacerbated the situation. Yet each of us has strength and wisdom too, which sometimes allows us to transcend circumstances and make things better.

There is more to life than regrets over the past. Never allow challenges to keep you down for long. You are strong and you can do better.

Samson surrounded by Inclusivity Club members.

Everybody Can Serve

If you are a teacher, kids in your class look up to you; their parents trust that you are teaching their kids well even if they don’t say that to you directly. If you are an activist, there is more to stand for; more good change that is needed. If you are a researcher, the future is waiting for your work, discoveries that can help people and make their lives better. If you are a doctor, remember that the society needs you, sick people to restore their health. If you are a writer, don’t forget that we expand our minds through what we read, what we see and feel.

This is what makes our society complete. Nobody is a lesser person. Our individual contribution is what makes us greater as a people.

Sharon Kukunda, Associate Director of ULM, presenting at the Inclusivity Club conference. The theme was “The Role of Youth in Celebrating Diversity.”

Hope is our greatest weapon

Hope is our greatest weapon for facing the future. No matter the challenges we confront today, we must not let pessimism keep us down.

Maybe our politics failed us. Maybe you were betrayed by people you had previously trusted. As we end 2017, make this your oath: never fail yourself and never be destructive because society mistakenly thinks its right to do destructive things on behalf of the majority. We can make this world better than it was yesterday. We can make it better for all people.

However little start, share, learn, network and strive to inspire others, even if it is just one other person.

You have our best wishes and prayers for the New Year. We believe you’ll arrive at the New Year with dreams and an uplifting vision for our world, for our generation and the next generation. The ULM team will never stop to stand with those who are threatened; we’ll stand to make those who have been silenced to speak out for themselves. We are committed to this journey. We do not go to bed blissful, satisfied with the way things are. Every challenge is an injustice to overcome and this gives us reason not to relax. 

Turinawe Samson
ULM-Uganda

Local and school leaders at the Inclusivity Club Conference in November.

Partner Spotlight: Matungu Community Development Charity in Kenya

Partner Spotlight: Matungu Community Development Charity in Kenya

A group photo of the members of the Matungu Community Development Charity in Kakamega County, Kenya. Vincent Atitwa sits on Tanya’s right. (June, 2017)

Every six months we check in with our grassroots grant partners to ask how their programs are going and how they are impacting their members. We like to hear about their challenges as well as their successes, and about how they are reinvesting to make their programs sustainable outside of SIA’s funding. Today, I am sharing this wonderful report from the Matungu Community Development Charity in Mumias, Kenya. They received a Community Grant from Spirit in Action in May and I visited them in June and got to see them collect their weekly dues for the table banking cooperative.

The following report is from group leader, Vincent Atitwa:

Vincent Atitwa, the gracious leader of the Matungu Community Development Charity

The approved purpose of the grant: We will start a table banking and a collective poultry project. Our project is empowering small-scale farmers by helping them to improve farming practices and gain access to credit and financing.

Estimate the number of people who have benefited from this project: 20 members benefited directly and 80 members benefited indirectly as family members and friends.

Our biggest success has been:

  • We were able to construct poultry house/ structure that can a accommodate 300 birds
  • Purchased 250 poultry birds for the project. We also bought chicken feed, feeding and water troughs and vaccines
  • Disbursed 15 small loans to 15 group members, each getting 12,500 Kenyan Shillings ($121)

Chicks collectively reared by the members of the cooperative raise funds for low-interest micro-loans.

Our biggest problem has been: We have not yet been able to register our intended savings and loaning cooperative. The registrar of societies suggested we register either a company or multi-purpose cooperative since we are also running the poultry business.

Has profit been used to reinvest back into the project? Yes, by purchasing more 30 birds that were given to 5 more new group members.

How have you been able to participate in Sharing the Gift? We were able to purchase and  pass a gift of 10 birds to 2 elderly women who are caring for orphans.

Please explain how this project has affected you and others involved. Have you seen changes in your community? This project has impacted positively on our group members’ lives. Before, some lacked money to start their own small businesses and now at least 15 members are comfortably running and operating their small business ranging from: farming of maize, growing and selling of local vegetable, horticulture, selling of cereals, and tailoring.

Profits made from these businesses are being used to buy books, uniforms and even other basic needs for the beneficiaries’ children. For example, Judith Were, a single mother who operates a tailoring shop, used the loan funds to expand her tailoring business through purchasing more garments and material stock. Judith reports, “This coming festive season around Christmas, I am prepared to do more work. I hope to realize good profits now that I have enough material in stock.”

Judith Were in her tailoring shop. She used her loan to buy more material to make dresses for the holiday season!

What have you learned from this process of project implementation? I have learned that sometimes when people (especially our group members), are supported with unconditional small loans they tend to work hard and make good profits. This is much less stressful compared to working and using loans borrowed from cooperate banks/institutions with strings attached on it. With SIA-supported unconditional small loans, members become custodian of their own funds.

Tanya displays a dress made by Judith Were. Judith tells her story, “I run a boutique. I have a shop, and I am a tailor. I make colorful dresses and skirts.”

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.”

Why does it matter?

Why does it matter?

Droughts. Climate change. Tough farming conditions. Human rights violations. Self-expression denied. This week, two news stories highlighted how important the work of Spirit in Action is to combat these devastating realities.

New York Times: Loss of Fertile Land in Kenya

“More than in any other region of the world, people in Africa live off the land. There are relatively few industrial or service jobs here. Seventy percent of Africa’s population makes a living through agriculture, higher than on any other continent, the World Bank says.

“But as the population rises, with more siblings competing for their share of the family farm, the slices are getting thinner. In many parts of Africa, average farm size is just an acre or two, and after repeated divisions of the same property, some people are left trying to subsist on a sliver of a farm that is not much bigger than a tennis court.

“Fast-growing populations mean that many African families can’t afford to let land sit fallow and replenish. They have to take every inch of their land and farm or graze it constantly. This steadily lowers the levels of organic matter in the soil, making it difficult to grow crops.

“In many areas, the soil is so dried out and exhausted that there is little solace even when the prayed-for rains finally come. The ground is as hard as concrete and the rain just splashes off, like a hose spraying a driveway.” (Link to full article.)

SIA Partners in Action

SIA partners like CIFROD Kenya are helping to address the challenge of concrete-like soil. When I visited many CIFORD gardens last month in Maua, Kenya, I saw how CIFORD’s sustainable agriculture training helps farmers to break up the soil, replenish the nutrients with manure, and reduce water usage. (Read my blog post “How to garden in a drought” here.)

One of the grateful farmers we visited in Kenya. After implementing the sustainable agriculture techniques he learned from CIFORD, he noticed now much more he can grow.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative also trains members to use manure and compost, and to intercrop their crops by alternating rows of beans and corn. The corn pulls nitrogen from the soil, and the beans help add it back into the soil. This can improve the soil and also increase the farm yields.

BBC: Mass arrests of gay people in Nigeria

“More than 40 men have been arrested in Nigeria over the weekend for performing homosexual acts, police say. Nigerian newspaper Punch reports that the police raided a hotel in Lagos State on Saturday afternoon and says the hotel was cordoned off while the investigation was carried out.

“Homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Nigeria, while gay marriage and displays of same-sex affection are also banned.” (Link to full article.)

The situation is similar in Uganda, where gay and lesbian people have no legal protection and there are laws banning gay marriage. Extreme social stigma and threat of physical violence means that it takes great courage to be out as LGBT.

Spirit in Action is in the early stages of partnering with Universal Love Ministries (ULM), a grassroots organization to end violence against women and LGBT people in Uganda. ULM delivers seminars in schools, churches, and communities creating awareness on human rights for women, children and sexual minorities.

I see the work of ULM as an important part of SIA’s mission to help everyone know that they are spiritual beings and that we all hold the divine within us.

Sharon Kukunda shares about why she works with ULM in Uganda:

These two news stories remind me that the work we are supporting is not trivial. It is about life and death. SIA’s partners are boldly helping people live better lives, with enough food to eat, and the right to be safe. Thank you for joining us in supporting this work.

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