Making friends around the world

Making friends around the world

Last week, twelve Girl Scouts (ages 10-12) took the first step toward making new friends. The girls from Santa Barbara, CA wrote letters to their new pen pals: students at Samro School in Eldoret, Kenya. They sent the letters and now they wait to hear back from their new friends!

The idea for the cross-cultural sharing came from one of the girls. Last spring, her 6th grade class had the opportunity to Skype with students in Rwanda. This sparked an interest to continue this international communication. As an avid pen pal myself, I was really happy to make the connection between her and the students I know in Kenya.

Girl Scout Troop in Santa Barbara having fun together.

I was probably about her age when I got connected with my first pen pal from Russia. It was set up through my elementary school and I remember how exciting it was to hear about this girl’s life and to see what commonalities we could find. This pen pal relationship didn’t last long. However, it does represent a milestone along my path towards work with Spirit in Action. This fascination and curiosity about how other people do things contributed to my interest in international issues. I envision that this new California – Eldoret pen pal connection will also stir curiosity and foster connection outside of all the girls’ everyday environment.

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

Del, Scout Leader

I am also happy about this connection because SIA Founder, Del Anderson, was a dedicated Boy Scout troop leader. In 1949, he started leading Troop 123 in Oakland. He liked the way that this scouts brought together boys from both the poor and rich areas of the city.

When Del and his first wife Bebe (who died in 1972) traveled around the world in 1956, they visited representatives of the International Boy Scouts in many different countries. As an avid letter writer, and a supporter of the scout program, I’m sure Del would be very happy to hear about this new international pen pal connection!

Del with boy scouts

Del and Bebe greet Scouts in Japan in 1956.

The booming renewable energy market in Uganda

The booming renewable energy market in Uganda

A briquette fuel making initiative, organized by the Ugandan grassroots organization LUWODEA, is creating hundreds of jobs in their community. They used a SIA grant to buy a briquette production machine, which takes plant waste and compresses it to form a highly efficient fuel source. LUWODEA also formed a women’s cooperative to work together and share profits! (Read more about the cooperative here.)

A trainer with LUWODEA meets with the women from the briquette cooperative.

So far the production is a great success! Mrs. Sharon, one of the group leaders, shared, “We are happy to report that the beneficiaries and other groups are now making their own briquettes to be sold at local markets and to hotels, restaurants, schools, and bakeries around Kamuli Township. In last few days of Christmas preparation, we were able to produce 1,300 briquettes. This is equivalent to 238 pounds of fuel.”

The briquettes can be made out of a variety of locally available waste materials like coffee husks, banana peals and charcoal-dust. Reusing these materials as fuel saves trees from being cut down. Additionally, the briquettes have a high heat content and burn for longer times, with less smoke, compared to wood fuel.

Growing Interest and Expanding Businesses

Looking around the village, LUWODEA is impressed with how many people have already started using and selling briquette fuel. “Currently, the local demand is not able to be met by the LUWODEA women, so we have been promoting and encouraging many other people in the surrounding communities to engage in briquette production as a potential business to help fight extreme poverty in homes.”

Mrs. Sharon reports that a Mr. Nelson, “had abandoned his firewood selling business after three weeks of successive losses. He had many obstacles in conducting his firewood business since most of his clients are resorting to buying briquettes from women working with LUWODEA.” Firewood can’t compare with the more affordable and more efficient briquettes!

The LUWODEA briquette radio show also inspired Moses to start his own business. This year, Moses hopes to be able to employ 10 youth to help with production. Moses writes, “Thank you Spirit in Action for not providing us with fish, but teaching us how to catch fish. I now feel self-empowered and am using realizing fully my potential to fight poverty in my home.”

The Faces of Kenya’s Future

The Faces of Kenya’s Future

“Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children.” ― Walt Disney

Spirit in Action is investing in this natural resource by supporting students at Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge’s Samro School in Kenya. A SIA Community Grant in November will pay for school fees and lunch for four students, and also cover the tuition and board for eight boarding students. Samro is not only a place to learn, it is also a loving environment which gives the students hope and builds their self-esteem.

Marion Jelagat graduated from Samro School three years ago and is now studying at Kessup Girls High School, where Rhoda Teimue also went to high school! It is a good school and Marion does well in her academics. In her extracurricular activities she does public speaking. Last semester she was one of the best speakers in her county. She is also a Narrative Speaker and performed the best poem in her county. The poem was entitled, “Education is the only weapon that can fight the society.” About 2,400 people listened to her and you can imagine the impact!

Faith Jepkoech is in pre-kindergarten. She was abandoned by her family and has been welcomed into another family near Samro School. The family who is caring for her is also struggling to provide for their other children, and so they requested that Faith board at Samro School for the term. The SIA grant is paying for her studies.

Greflo Koech is in 4th Grade. His mother passed away and his father is struggling to take care of his four other children.

Valentine Jepkoech is in pre-kindergarten. Her family has five children and they are struggling to provide for their basic needs. They are unable to pay the school fees.

Hariet Jebotip is in 3rd Grade. She comes from a family of five children. Her parents are very poor and they struggle to provide food and other basic needs.

Paul Karanja is now in 7th Grade. We have supported Paul in his studies at Samro for 4th years! He has a dream to be an engineer and earn enough so that he can buy a piece of land for his mother and build her a permanent house.

We wish all the students at Samro School a good year! May they grow and develop into bright and caring youth!

Bonus: I found this blog post about the Kenyan school system very helpful! Do you know what Middle Class means? It’s not what you think…

Do we have the courage to act?

Do we have the courage to act?

Reposting this post, originally posted January 20, 2015, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. It is also renewing the call to stand up for the rights of the oppressed people in your country and around the world.

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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  -MLK, Jr.

Yesterday, Boyd and I took our lunch break to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail aloud to each other. Reading it in its entirety, rather than in a series of quotes, I was impressed by frequent references to God, Jesus, and Biblical figures. There are many deeply moving quotes from King about the arc of justice, about how we are all inter-connected, about expressing compassion to each other, about love and hatred. These are quotes that stem from and refer to the deep truths of his Christian faith without always mentioning his faith.

King’s letter quoted Amos and made more than a few references to Paul and the early Christians. He seemed to take courage from those first Christians who were radical in their faith and who didn’t settle for the status quo. Churches today, King lamented, were afraid to be labeled as “nonconformist” and were shying away from the important work of challenging injustice and structural prejudice. He asks: “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

This letter is a call to action, now. Not to wait. Not to be afraid to be different or radical or uncomfortable. People of faith must be people who stand up for justice, for moral rights, for the inherent dignity of all people.

Sometimes action means listening. Small Business Fund coordinators listen to the stories of the successes and challenges of the entrepreneurs in Uganda.

We may not be able to help everyone. But we are not waiting until we can to solve all problems before we serve one person. We are not waiting to be a perfect organization before we dive into action to co-create with God for a better world.

Spirit in Action is not just a “spirit” organization. It is also an “action” organization. We see light and value and hope and possibility in the poor, in people of distant communities. We see that organizations that do not allow people to be actors in their own future, in their own prosperity, perpetuate an unsettling hierarchy of those who are helpers and those who need help. Action is confronting people who make statements that lump all of Africa into a uniform culture, who distrust all people who are poor. I know that is my great privilege to serve others, to give and encourage so that they can realize their own dreams for a better future.

Thank you for joining me on this path, in this action, in this service, and in using the power of God for good.

I sign off my post today with the same words as Martin Luther King, Jr. used in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

Yours for the cause of Peace and [Sister/]Brotherhood,
Tanya

Receiving the gift of a chicken from a Small Business Fund leader in Kasozi Village, Uganda, 2014.

A second chance for Sylvia

A second chance for Sylvia

It’s not easy being divorced in Malawi. Three years ago, Sylvia S.’s husband left her and ran off to South Africa, leaving her (now age 33) alone with her two daughters (ages 7 and 12). Sylvia had no visible source of income. Previously, Sylvia had relied on her husband for income. She spent her time caring for the children and their home. Suddenly, she was without her husband and without a job, and without money for even soap or food.

She didn’t have a lot, but Sylvia did have some experience as a hair dresser. It is the goal of the Small Business Fund to reach people like Sylvia. Our local coordinators recruit families who are well below the poverty line and who also have some skills that they will be able to leverage with the $150 grant. (Read more about how we choose business groups.)

New Beginnings

Sylvia used the first grant installment of $100 to rent a shop in the Manyamula market. She also bought things like hair weaves, shampoo, and other hair products that would appeal to her new customers. The Debbie and Nomsa Hair Salon (named after her daughters) was open for business!

Sylvia with a customer. She has a style chart and many options for extensions to braid into her customer’s hair.

Just three months later, the shop was so busy that Sylvia needed to hire an assistant to help with the hair braiding and styling services. She used some of her profit to buy a new hair dryer so that she could expand the services at her shop.

Sylvia is now earning her own income and is able to provide for her family. She has enough money for food and to send her two daughters to school.

In a letter from Canaan Gondwe, our local coordinator who recruited, trained, and is mentoring Sylvia, he reports that, “Sylvia is grateful to SIA for the transformation in her life, and most times you find her smiling.”

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