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.”

Sparking hope this Christmas!

Sparking hope this Christmas!

Pictured above are members of the Namayiana Women Group. The group is based in Archer’s Post, Samburu County, Kenya, and has a membership of 25 women. The women make beaded jewelry and accessories, wooden artifacts, and souvenirs for tourists on safari. The Self-Help Group received a grant from Spirit in Action to build a roadside shop. Through the shop they will generate income for their families and provide assistance for more girls to attend school.

The store will be located close to the entrance of the famed Samburu National Reserve. The women are prepared to take control of their financial situation in a collective effort to improve the lives of their families and community at large. This new business venture comes from their realization that self-employment creates self-empowerment. The decision to start their own business was sparked by their community’s participation at Pastoralist Child Foundation workshops and learning about the importance of formal education. The construction will start next week.

Merry Christmas!

We are honored to spark hope and support the self-empowerment of these women! This Christmas, let us celebrate the good that can happen when groups of committed individuals come together to work for change.

Merry Christmas from Spirit in Action and our international partners!

Five years in the making…

Five years in the making…

Reposted from my co-editor, Jennifer Lentfer’s How Matters blog. “Co-editor?” you ask. Read on…

This is how it began…

From: JENNIFER LENTFER
Date: Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 5:29 PM
Subject: invitation to join “Small is Big” Writing Collaborative
To: Tanya Cothran

Dear Tanya,

As people making small grants internationally, you are part of a growing number of people that specialize in offering direct funding to local initiatives and community leaders.

You have vital expertise to share with the aid and philanthropic sectors as many are wondering  what more can be done to enable grassroots movements to emerge and gain strength.

Therefore I am inviting you to share your experience via the “Small is Big” Writing Collaborative, which aims to gather varied grantmakers’ approaches and experiences as a collective source of knowledge to share widely via an online or printed publication. In the collaborative, you and/or your staff will be engaged in a reflective learning process with my support and that of participants from other organizations…

***

5 years, 22 contributors 

And five years, 22 contributors (and many other supporters and friends along the way), here is where we ended up…

smart risks book cover

Coming April 2017

from Practical Action Publishing!

In a rapidly changing world and after decades of failed international aid, it’s high time to build the dialogue about how international actors can build their own skills and institutional processes to accompany and support community-level leadership and systems, rather than overpower or co-opt them.

Luckily there is a growing number of small NGOs and foundations that specialize in offering direct, responsive funding to grassroots leaders and small, often “informal” initiatives, groups, and movements. And over twenty of them have come together to write this book!

Compared to the old-school, donor-controlled, large-scale, project-based international aid funding, the authors use the concept of “smart risks” to build upon existing human and social capital to unleash people power and social innovation. International grassroots grantmakers are adept at keeping their minds (and perhaps more importantly their hearts) open to the possibility of results when the common good is tapped in unimagined and unanticipated ways.

People in poor countries or communities who want to make change should no longer tolerate an charity-modeled system that makes them struggle and wait endlessly for funding to trickle down to them, marred by burdensome requirements and restrictions from donors. Pushing the sector forward needs smart risk-taking, and the authors’ experience is an untapped resource for the international aid and philanthropic sectors as a whole.

Smart Risks contributors came together because they each have a professional – and perhaps more importantly a personal – resolve to build solidarity with people not as passive recipients of aid, but as whole people and active leaders of their own lives. We know that radical shifts in thinking, attitude, and practice are required and we hope that this book can contribute to shifting the power and charting new paths ahead!

Tanya’s note: It has been my honor to contribute to this process and co-edit these inspiring essays. I also wrote three essays about Spirit in Action that are included in the book! I’ll keep you update on our progress in the next few months!

Building friendships as they work

Building friendships as they work

With a grant from Spirit in Action, LUWODEA, a grassroots organization in Kamuli, Uganda, purchased high-tech equipment for making biomass fuel briquettes. Earlier this month 160 rural women attended learned to make this cheap, reliable cooking fuel. Instead of having to collect wood (resulting in deforestation), they now are making their own fuel by compacting green waste.

“We are so happy to report that women enjoyed the training and they have started off very well producing briquettes for home use. They are also selling off the surplus briquettes for income earning,” reports Sharon Mudondo, LUWODEA’s coordinator.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Don’t touch that dial!

As I reviewed Sharon’s report, I was fascinated to learn that LUWODEA is promoting their new product on the radio!

“We held a 15-minute radio talk show at local radio Ssebo, in Kamuli town. We were able to respond to questions from community members about briquette fuel as a business and a environmental conservation initiative. This gave us a chance to create massive awareness about the project and also inform the general public about prices and where they can get the briquettes made by our beneficiaries.”

They talk about how the briquettes burn faster, last longer, and are more efficient compared with traditional wood charcoal fuel. The briquettes are also cheaper!

“Our area being remote, the most common means of communication to masses is radio,” explains Sharon. “About 90% of rural families own small radios, so it is easy to listen to news and other programs like the briquette talk show. We have found the program very effective in terms of creating awareness. It also is helping us to reach more villages than we would if we had to do house-to-house outreach.”

"Women

Women making briquettes in the market place. Biomass materials are pressed to create a dense pellet.

“We smile as we share challenges”

The LUWODEA team report that the women who are diligent about making and selling the briquettes can earn $3-8 per day! This income benefit the family in tangible ways. They can eat more meals per day, and pay for school fees. We learn from the testimony of Nora Karule, that the project also has intangible benefits:

“This briquette program comes with health advantages. These briquettes are smokeless and my children have not been sick in the past one and half months. This also means I can save more money because before I would spend such money that I earned on their treatment. I also find it interesting working with my fellow group mates at the briquette center. We are able to talk freely about issues in our families and even make jokes. We smile as we share challenges and other life experiences we face as women.”

Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Today is the UN’s International Day of the Girl and at Spirit in Action we are honored to partner with many wonderful women who are working to improve the lives of girls and women in their community. We are part of a large network of positive change! Today I highlight three inspiring SIA female leaders:

Margaret Ikiara, Director of CIFORD, Kenya

Empowering girls and fighting the practice of female genital mutilation. (Read about her SIA connection.)

Today is International Day of the Girl Child!

We’re proud to work with CIFORD, who fight against the harmful practice…

Posted by Child.org on Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Naomi Ayot, Small Business Fund Coordinator, Uganda

For her day job, Naomi is the Program Manager of Gender & Human Rights at Action for Community Development – Uganda (Read about her SIA connection.)

#WEaretheLEADERS: If we want to change the status quo in development, recognize grassroots leadership. BIG YES! Thank…

Posted by One World Children’s Fund on Monday, October 10, 2016

Wambui Nguyo, Small Business Fund Coordinator, Kenya

A peace-builder and trainer with Initiatives of Change, Kenya. (Read about her SIA connection.)

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-00-01-pmFrom the article: “We are often too afraid to take the lead because of fear of the unknown,’ Susan commented. Before the end of the three days training, she had already taken the initiative to reconcile with one of her long time rivals. She even bought an item from her rival’s shop- something she had avoided for a long time. She was amazed at how well her enemy responded to reconciliation after such a long time. ‘Today I have learnt to let every good thing begin where I am before I can pass it on to others. Even my dad, who caused our family so much pain – after selling our family land and misusing all the money drinking. Today I forgive him and will make peace with him.” (Read the full article.)

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