Making me happy: Savings Groups, Moringa, & the Unexpected

I started my morning today with one of the things making me happy this week: Moringa Green Tea! And from there I read a great article about local leadership in Liberia and then received an encouraging update from the new savings and loans group in Zambia.

I guess you can say that there are a lot of SIA-related things making me happy this week. Here’s a taste to share with you:

1. Savings and Loans in Zambia

Chickens in a coop at a school campus in Kitale, Kenya.

Chickens in a coop at a school campus in Kitale, Kenya.

This new savings and loans cooperative in Mfuwe, Zambia started just last summer after SIA-partner Canaan Gondwe held a training workshop there. Below the cooperative’s new leader, Mrs. Misozi Kadewele, tells us how the group is working together to succeed:

“The co-operative is doing well although we met less days in December as everyone was busy with their families. We have started giving out small amounts of Loans to individuals with security. The chickens are doing very very well. We have now 25 active members in the co-operative. We give each other turns to clean up the chicken houses and those who can not make time pay a small fee towards the cooperative.”

Money raised from the chicken sales goes to build the loan fund. The group is considering buying an incubator for the eggs, in order to speed up the process of production and hatching.

2. Moringa Green Tea

moringa tea

Moringa, the “miracle tree,” is one of the plants that Del encouraged people around the world to plant. In part, this was because its leaves are highly nutritious. It’s said that Moringa contains amino acids, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, and so much more. Wow!

I bought Moringa powder a few years ago and made some tea out of it, but I wasn’t wowed with the flavor. However, this week I bought some Moringa tea that’s blended with green tea. The result is a very nice, earthly green tea – and it’s good for me too!

The brand I got in Canada is RootAlive. You can also find it in the US through Grenera. I’d love to try the Moringa Apple Infusion sometime!

3. Respect for the Unexpected

One of my general New Year’s resolutions is to “go with the flow” more. To allow for the unexpected in life and welcome that unknown as a chance to grow. This quote from the Swiss philosopher and poet Henri Frédéric Amiel speaks to that:

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God.

3 Ways SIA Partners are Celebrating Earth Day Everyday

Earth Day celebrations may last over a weekend but what about the long-term? Here are three examples of Spirit in Action partners promoting techniques that benefit the earth and their communities:

Woman in Malawi shows the bounty from her family's farm

Ester shows the bounty from her family’s farm.

1. Intercropping in Malawi

Have you heard about the Three Sisters? Beans, squash, and corn grown together get the blue ribbon in the intercropping category. Corn stalks grow tall, beans use the stalks as bean poles, and squash leaves provide shade that  stunts weeds and locks in the soil moisture. Also, the nutrients in bean plants keep the soil healthy year after year.

More and more people in Manyamula Village are adopting this beautiful combination that is good for the heavily-used farmland and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed. We visited Saul and Ester’s farm in 2011 where we saw their flourishing intercropping of beans and corn.

Saul and Ester are members of the MAVISALO Savings and Loans cooperative and they share and learn with the other 150 group members about intercropping and other sustainable farming techniques.

beans and corn

Beans planted at the base of the corn use the stalks as support.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

2. Ukweli Training Centre in Kenya

Anyone who has met Samuel Teimuge knows his passion for simple methods and technologies that can help people produce more food and protect the environment. At his Ukweli Training Centre in Eldoret, Kenya, local experts show groups of people from all over eastern Africa a sampling of these beneficial technologies. For example:

  • The kitchen garden plots use double-digging (a method of turning the soil before planting) and composting;
  • A chicken pen extends over a fish pond and chicken droppings fall into the water to provide nutrients to the fish, increasing the size of the fish (more about chicken-fish farming);
  • An agroforestry display shows about starting seedlings, and replanting and caring for trees; trees provide shade, fruit, and fencing, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

3. Side-by-side Comparisons

With such good results from simple agricultural techniques, why doesn’t everyone take on the methods? Joshua Machinga and his team at Common Ground know that old habits die hard, so they have planted two sets of crops to convince people to change.

The 5-year experiment places crops that use conventional fertilizers next to crops that use rich, organic compost to display tangible benefits of using compost for long-term soil health. The evidence right in front of people is pretty convincing!

*Spirit in Action has a number of resources about composting, double-digging, organizing model farm days, and intercropping available for free. If you would like me to send you any of these materials, please email the SIA office.

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Bonus! 5 Newsletter Additions.

Healthy corn plants in Malawi.

Healthy corn plants in Malawi.

Welcome new visitors and long-time readers.

The SIA Fall/Winter Newsletters are on their way to you this week! There was too much good stuff for the amount of space in the newsletter, so this post is a newsletter bonus supplement.

(If you want to get a sneak peak at the newsletter, you can download the full color PDF here.)

Inside the 2012 SIA Fall Newsletter:

1. Our pay-it-forwad “Sharing the Gift” program is featured prominently throughout the newsletter (pages 1, 2, 3, & 8). The sentiment behind the program is perfectly expressed in this quote from Amelia Earhart:

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

2. Page 3 has an article about the MAVISALO Soccer Tournament (plus HIV-prevention presentation) in Malawi and mentions some Malawian soccer chants. Read about their great, creative soccer chants: http://www.mwnation.com/sports-the-nation/sports-extra/8807-malawi-football-befriends-music

3. So many good photos! Here is another photo from the MAVISALO poultry project (Page 1). You can see more photos from our visit to Manyamula Village in Malawi on our Flickr photo site.

Canaan Gondwe tends the MAVISALO chickens in their cooperative's poultry house.

Canaan Gondwe tends the MAVISALO chickens in their cooperative’s poultry house.

4. Page 8 highlights a program helping women in Meru, Kenya collect clean water. You can read about this community organization’s philosophy of  service as told to me by CIFORD’s director, Margaret Ikiara.

5. “Best of” On Page 3 I list the top 5 blog posts from the last six months. Here are the links to these popular posts:

P.S. If you want to join our Dreamer’s Circle by donating regularly to SIA, you can set up online monthly donations here. Thank you!

5 Cool SIA-related Things

1. Sharing the Gift: Five groups of women in Malawi received SIA grants in 2009 to start their own bakeries and grocery shops. Then in May 2011 the women chose to honor the gift they had received from SIA by SHARING THE GIFT with Ms. Mickness Msumba also from their village. They contributed flour, sugar and skills to help Mickness open a scone shop. After one year in business Mickness reports that her business is continuing and that the extra income has helped her family become food secure – with food to last through the whole year! What a blessing.

doughnut women

Women selling baked goods in the Manyamula Market.

2. Organic Agriculture in Kenya: Interesting article about the influence of corporations in defining international agricultural aid policy and then some optimism about organic agriculture in Kenya and the work of Grow Biointensive Agricultural Center of Kenya (G-BIACK). Read the article here: http://www.alternet.org/food/155559?page=entire

Faith Naswa smiles in the field of corn

Faith Naswa smiles in the field of corn at Common Group/Pathfinder Academy.

3. Grant Update from Kenya: With the part of the profit from their chicken farm, supported by a SIA Community Grant, Common Ground paid high school fees for Faith Naswa, one of the top ten students at their Pathfinder Academy. Faith is the second student on sponsorship with funding from the poultry project. Faith writes, “When I grow up, I would like to become a lecturer or a lawyer. If I become a lawyer, I will make sure high rate of corruption has reduced. I would like to be honesty, faithful and make our lives better.” Congratulations, Faith!

4. What is a CBO?: Great one-minute video describing a community-based organization (CBO). SIA supports several CBOs through our Community Grants. Watch the video here: http://blog.firelightfoundation.org/2012/06/01/what-is-a-cbo/

5. Inspiration from Del: A quote from Del from his writing Choice is Ours. For more from Del, visit a partial archive of his writings.

I am learning, “the great power of prayer is not in asking, but in learning how to receive.”  Receiving requires acceptance and willing obedience.  It requires us to fasten our gaze on the Christ and let (allow) God to re-make us in His image and perfect pattern.

Chickens for Education

farm rows in kitale kenya

Rows of crops on the Common Ground "Feed the Village" farm

The view out the window of the minibus from Eldoret to Kitale, Kenya was surprisingly familiar. Though I was on a continent well known for its deserts, the rows and rows of corn made the Kenyan countryside look just like the rolling hills of Iowa or South Dakota! I now know that Kitale is the “breadbasket of Kenya.”

During our visit with Joshua Machinga of Commmon Ground just outside Kitale, Boyd and I were impressed with the abundant produce on his farm and kitchen gardens. Machinga uses bio-intensive agriculture techniques, which he learned at Manor House Kenya, to produce more food without chemical inputs. All the produce here goes to feed the 400 students at Pathfinder Academy, where Machinga is the director.

Spirit in Action Poultry Project

Next to the Pathfinder kitchen garden stands the impressive SIA Poultry Project – a sturdy building close enough to the kale and maize beds to provide the chickens with some greens and the garden with some chicken manure. Now that’s a great exchange!

Tanya with the SIA Poultry Project

SIA Poultry Project house made with sturdy materials and built to last many years. Maize in training garden grows in front. Chicken droppings are used for compost in the garden.

Student with fresh eggs

Students are assigned a rotating schedule to check for eggs. The chicken coop is right next to the school and cafeteria area.

As we entered the poultry house, five Pathfinder students proudly showed us around the two rooms, one for the layers (chickens for eggs) and another for the broilers (chicken for meat). Machinga has conducted several trainings with students on how to manage the chicks and student volunteers take turns caring for the chickens, feeding them, helping the vet with vaccinations, collecting eggs, and even slaughtering them when the time comes. He told us that the younger children like to care for the young chicks and keep them warm during their first nights.

Project Success

Some of the eggs are used in school meals, some are sold to local families, and most of the meat is sold to a local restaurant! After the initial Spirit in Action Community Grant, the Common Ground SIA Poultry Project is now self-sustaining, with profits from the chickens being put into buying more chicks to expand the operation.

What else? A scholarship fund has been created with some of the poultry project profits! The student with the best 2010 exam scores got a scholarship for this year’s school fees as he graduated from Pathfinder and went on to secondary school. “His favorite subject is history,” Machinga told us, which brought a nod of approval from Boyd.

Man takes eggs to market on the back of a bike.

Fresh eggs for sale! A Common Ground employee takes eggs to market on the back of his bike.

What’s making me happy this week: SIA supports education through the economic empowerment of our amazing community partners!

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house.

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house.

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