“This is not a house of a poor person.”

“This is not a house of a poor person.”
shoes Malawi

Paulos discusses his business with us during our visit to Malawi in 2011.

One of the very cool things about my recent trip to Malawi is that I got to check in again on people I had visited on my previous two trips. Seeing the amazing changes since my first visit in 2011 blew me away!

In 2011, I visited Paulos Lungu at this shoe repair stand in the marketplace. The Saturday market mostly consisted of temporary stands, with a few roughly constructed shops. Paulos and his wife, Sequina, had received a Small Business Fund grant of $150 in 2005. They had invested in a shoe repair business, building off Paulos’ skills.

In 2011, he told me how he wanted to build a home for his family. He was already buying bricks (fired clay, to last longer than packed mud bricks) for their future home.

In 2013, they proudly posed in front of their new home – complete with a thatched roof!

The Lungu family in front of their own home in 2013.

During our visit in 2014, Paulos was eager to have us visit his house. He welcomed us inside, showing off the cement floor (no longer dirt!) and showed us where they were storing the iron sheets. They were slowly buying the corrugated iron whenever they had extra money at the end of the month.

Boyd and I with the Lungu family in 2014. Note the cement floor (rather than dirt), and how the windows can now be opened. Roof is still thatching, which needs to be replaced every year.

Seeing the Change

Just last month – 12 years after that small Spirit in Action grant, six years after my first visit – I had the honor of walking across the threshold of the beautiful, iron-roofed Lungu home. They will no longer live with leaks during the rainy season!

With the Lungu family in May, 2017. The floor is reinforced and they have replaced the thatch roof with iron sheets! They share some of their peanut harvest with us.

Before Spirit in Action, Paulos told us about how his life had been. He had no house of his own. He would stay at a relative’s house as long as they’d have him, then he would move onto another relative.

“This is not a house of a poor person,” Canaan Gondwe, local coordinator and mentor, said proudly of the Lungu home. If you have iron sheets over your head, you are doing well in Malawi. It is a sign that you have made it.

Paulos with one of his daughters. He is also a member of the local savings and loans cooperative, Manyamula COMSIP. His shirt – with the COMSIP logo – proclaims his entrepreneurial spirit.

Spirit in Action is 21 years old now, and it’s inspiring to witness and honor the deep roots we have, and the transformation we see, in places like Manyamula, Malawi.

Postscript: I can attest to Paulos’ good repair skills! When my sandals broke less than a week into the trip, I was annoyed. Then I remembered that I new a shoemaker! He reattached the toehold to the sole in a matter of minutes. He didn’t charge me for the repair – he said it was the least he could do after the incredible support he’s received from SIA.

In a matter of minutes, Paulos repaired my Kenyan sandals! The fix is holding tight!

Update from Nairobi, Kenya!

Update from Nairobi, Kenya!

Should we call Korogocho a slum? It’s complicated. The residents in this sector of Nairobi are extremely poor. There is no running water or sewer. People often skip meals and may work full time to earn only $1/day.

But calling it a slum brings up images of desperation, despair, and depravity. And from what I saw yesterday, that is not the mentality of everyone in Korogocho (called Koch for short).

Using the term “informal settlement” as an alternative to slum is perhaps more descriptive. The houses are made of corrugated iron and are built without permits or foundations. They have no address and the whole area could be bulldozed down by the government at any time.


Even in these conditions (or maybe because there is so much need here), the SIA Small Business Fund is thriving in Koch, and people are transforming their lives for the better.

Last weekend, we met with about 15 Small Business Fund grant recipients in a classroom in Koch (pictured above). The group greeted us with celebratory song. They thanks us for the $150 grant which had sparked such change in their life. They clapped and cheered for each other as, one-by-one, they told us their stories of moving from desperation and hopelessness to pride, hope, and self-sufficiency.


“We don’t struggle the way we used to struggle,” said Jamarose Anyango (pictured above), whose second-hand clothing business has enabled her to pay for rent and school fees for her children (plus two orphans she has taken into her care).

Sarah Owendi (pictured below), who sells grains along the roadside, proudly told us that, after starting her business, “now I stand on my own two feet.” She used to wash clothes for $2/week, now she is making enough money from her business to pay the $15/month rent. She also can pay for school fees and has enough to eat.


Caption: Sarah can now earn $10/week from her grocery kiosk, where she sells grains and other staples. 

We heard similar stories over and over. Whereas before people were barely making ends meet day to day, now they are expanding their businesses, reinvesting, and planning for the future.

They are also Sharing the Gift, by passing on the blessing to others. They are encouraging others, training them how to select the shoes that people want to buy, how to run a roadside cafe, and how to sew and tailor clothes.


Caption: Tanya with local mentor Josephine and her daughter, Dorcas, who has trained to me a new SBF Coordinator. 

At our Small Business Fund conference in Malawi last month, we trained another coordinator who will also be working in Koch. Dorcas Okoti lives in Koch (which she calls a slum) and she is well positioned to work with the most desperate families to help them chart a better future for themselves. Dorcas knows the reality of Koch, and also the great potential for entrepreneurship, hope, and change.

Thank you again for all your prayers! We have another week here in Kenya and we’ll be visiting more grant recipeients all over the country!

With faith and gratitude,

Tanya

Seeing change in Malawi

Seeing change in Malawi

(Please excuse any formatting errors! This is coming direct to you from my iPhone in Malawi.)

“When God’s Spirit is in action, good things happen,” said Mbueno thoughtfully, as we wrapped up our finally meeting in Manyamula village just a few days ago. When the spirit of generosity and cooperation are in action, good things happen. When the spirit of partnership is in action, good things happen.
This is my third trip to Manyamula, Malawi. I visited in 2011, and 2014, and this time, more than ever before, I can really see the positive change that is happening in the community. I am so proud of the work we are doing there, and I am excited for the future projects we will take on together.

Wednesday, the day we arrived in Manyamula, was the day of the grand opening of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training and Development Centre! This is a compound of buildings that SIA supported in a cost-sharing agreement with the cooperative. The Mzimba District Commissioner (equivalent to the governor) was there, and was clearly impressed with the buildings and the show of support from the community.


Caption: Tanya holding up the ribbon officially pronouncing the training centre open for business!

In 2014, I did a small ground-breaking ceremony in front of 5-6 members. The grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony was a different story: We were joined by several other top level non-profit partners, and 150+ cooperative and community members!

It was truly an afternoon to remember. This savings and loans cooperative is strong and its future is bright!


Caption: Small Business Fund coordinators from Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda, and the SIA North America team.

The next three days, we held a Small Business Fund Conference and Training. We trained two new coordinators from northern Malawi, and one more from Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was part program review and evaluation, part peer-to-peer learning, and part field visits to see the successful Small Business Fund businesses in the area.


Caption: Tanya meets Sophia Banda in her shop in the Manyamula market. Sophia started a tailoring shop with a Small Business Fund grant. She has already trained two more people about tailoring as part of Sharing the Gift.


Caption: The team visited Uncle Gly’s Computer Services shop which used a Small Business Fund $150 grant to buy a printer and scanner. This is just one example of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the electricity that has recently arrived in the town.

One of the most exciting things to see and hear was how strong the culture of Sharing the Gift is tied in with the Spirit in Action programs in Manyamula. Everyone we talked to eagerly told us how they had helped someone else after receiving their grant from SIA. Poodle have shared skills, supplies, piglets, chicks, seeds, time, and more.

We met a group of women who were all part of the same “ripple” of Sharing the Gift. Lackson received the SIA grant and he passed a piglet to the widow Tionenge. She passed a piglet to Meekness. And just this month, Meekness passed a piglet to Winifi. Four ripples away from the “drop” of SIA, the impact continues!


Caption: Tanya with Meekness and Winifi. Meekness has shared the gift of a piglet with Winifi, continuing the ripple of SIA’s impact in the community. 

On Sunday, we said good-bye to Manyamula and all our friends there. I will miss their bright spirits and their beautiful songs. I will cherish their stories. And I will be sharing many more if their stories of success with you in the months to come.

On Friday we fly to Kenya to meet with more Small Business Fund groups, and meet with more of our wonderful, dedicated partners.

Thank you for all your prayers and keep them coming!


Caption: Dressed in our Sunday finest! Boyd and Tanya Cothran, and SIA Advisory Board members and all-around support team, Mike Hegeman and Dana Belmonte.

A good harvest in Uganda

A good harvest in Uganda

When Samsa Ogwang applied for the Small Business Fund (SBF) program, she and her family were not doing well. Naomi Ayot, Spirit in Action SBF local coordinator in Uganda, found that they did not have a lot of variation in their diet, and that they were unable to improve their quality of food. They were also sleeping on floor mats, another indication of poverty.

Naomi chose Samsa’s family to receive the $150 SBF grant so that they could improve their farm and take the first steps towards prosperity. With the grant funds, Samsa purchased improved seeds, including maize (corn), simsim (sesame seeds), and sunflower seeds. Along with other SBF groups in her rural village of Amukugungu in northern Uganda, she also bought a male and female pig.

Samsa planting cassava in her fields in Uganda.

One year later, she reports that the crops produced a good harvest! She and her family harvested 363kgs of maize, some of which they sold for 31¢/kg, and some of which they delivered in-kind to cover school fees for two of their children. Additionally, 284kgs of sunflower sold for $20, and the sesame seeds brought in $65.

She had to sell the pigs when there was an outbreak of swine flu, and for the pair she collected $90. (All this from a $100 grant!!) Samsa saved some of the money earned from the pigs and plans to buy a new set of piglets this spring.

This business has meant a great change in Samsa’s life! She feels content that the project has improved the standards of living and the status of her family in the community.

Money for Education

Through this grant, Samsa has supported four of her children to continue attending school! Enume will be joining her senior year of high school. Akello is excited to start her first year of technical school studies. Ocen graduated from nursery school last year and will be starting 1st grade soon! And the fourth child, Apio, will be continuing elementary school.

In the planting season that starts this month, Samsa plans to add to the diversity of her crops by planting cassava, soybeans, and green beans. The group also has the goal of acquiring oxen and ploughs for tilting the gardens, to help improve the quality of the crops. Without the oxen, they have to plough the fields themselves.

Overall, Samsa and her family are grateful that they have achieved an improved standard of living. They are able to meet more of their basic needs, and also can hire day-laborers to help with the harvesting!

Samsa with her harvest of sesame seeds!

That second chance that makes all the difference

That second chance that makes all the difference

After years in a difficult marriage, Loveness Nkhoma found herself divorced, back at home, and unsure how to support herself and her three children. Canaan Gondwe, the local SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) coordinator in Manyamula Village, Malawi, recruited her to join the SBF program and start a new business. She quickly grasped the new business concepts and was a big help encouraging the other business leaders in her cohort.

In April 2015, Loveness received her $100 grant and opened a small shop in the village. She ordered vegetables, tomatoes, and other wholesale goods in bulk and then repackaged them into smaller quantities.

Loveness with her repackaged goods for sale.

It’s been two years and the business continues to provide all the basic needs for the family of four! Loveness has saved $69 and reinvested almost $200 back into the shop. She is able to pay school fees for her sons Adam (4th grade) and Raphael (5th grade) and has enough food for her 4-year-old daughter. The demand for their goods has been higher than expected! Loveness bought three goats with the profit. The goats will give milk and manure, in addition to meat.

When Canaan went to visit Loveness and check on her business, she was quick to say that she is happy with her progress and is thankful to SIA for giving her a chance. She is positive about her future and she feels secured and stable, a big change from how she felt right after her divorce!

Loveness with the three goats she bought with her SBF grocery profits.

Spelling “SIA” to Raise Money for Small Businesses!

Thank you to Joshua Brooks for running a half-marathon last weekend to raise money for the SIA Small Business Fund! He spelled S-I-A as he ran and raised $720, enough for almost five new small businesses. Check out his route here (or by clicking on the runner below). Then click the arrow play button on the bottom of the map to see his spelling in action! Thank you to all who contributed to the campaign!

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