Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Today’s story of Small Business Fund success in Kenya is about more than monetary success. Sister Magrina, who received a Small Business Fund grant in 2014, is using her success to encourage and empower women in a very rural, isolated part of Kenya.

Mike Hegeman, SIA Advisory Board member who traveled to Kenya with me, wrote about the inspiring life of Sister Magrina. The following is excerpted from his sermon, “Our Uncommon Life.”

I recently returned from spending six weeks in the developing world, in countries such as the Philippines, Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya. And in each place I encountered common people of faith living in uncommon ways.

One such person was Sister Magrina. It took us several hours to reach her, down a winding highway from the lush, fertile highlands of northwest Kenya, into the arid and seemingly desolate lowlands of the Rift Valley, an hour’s journey down a shockingly bumpy road, then a twenty minute hike into the brush, all to find a woman dressed humbly in a blue habit and shod with a worn pair of laceless sneakers, sitting under a tree in the limited, but much desirable shade, holding in one hand an outdated cellphone and in the other a bunch of rocks which she would throw one by one to keep the birds out of her withering crops.

Sister Magrina, Dennis Kiprop (SIA-SBF Local Coordinator), Mike Hegeman, Ursula, and her daughter, Chebit, on Sr. Magrina’s farm.

Sister Magrina is a nun with degrees in counselling and addiction therapy, who had given up the “comforts” of her highlands home to come live among the poor of this most forgettable village on the edge of nowhere. Just a smattering of mud huts and farms, with no running water and no latrines; only a paltry stream to water the vast desert valley.

Sister Magrina had come here to plant a farm, not for herself, but to have a reason to be closest to some of Kenya’s most vulnerable people. Here in this village spousal violence is rampant, alcoholism legion and malnutrition ubiquitous. Sister Magrina sits by her crops, and when women of the village or children wander by, she invites them to sit and pass the time of day. She listens to their woes, how evil has befallen them and scourge has come near their tents. She quietly teaches them about ways they can support themselves when their husbands are off drinking and neglecting support for them and their children. She teaches them how to grow kitchen gardens and about helpful hygiene techniques. She encourages the children to stay in school.

Women and children who pass by Sister Magrina’s hut are greeted and welcomed over for a cookie.

She is the presence of God’s love in that place; the God who promises to be with us, is present in that place through a sister willing to live in a mud hut, drink from a simple stream, and hope to teach people to create a sustainable way of living for themselves.

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Drinking warm coca-cola and eating cookies with Sister Magrina in Kerio Valley, Kenya.

More than anything else, she teaches them about love, and thereby teaches them about faith in God. Sister Magrina says, “In this place, I am not a Catholic; I am not a Protestant. I am one who comes in Christ’s love to make a difference; I have come to a place where no one else will come…to be among God’s people…even if they don’t know yet that who they are.” Sister Magrina lives a pretty uncommon life. Her work bears witness to God’s salvation, God’s delivering grace.

When first we came upon Sister Magrina, we were strangers. Yet, she set out burlap sacks for us to sit upon the dusty ground. Warm Coca-Cola appeared, along with some fruit and crackers. We fellowshipped in the dappled shade, still sweating, and we listened to an uncommon woman, express her uncommon faith, embodying hospitality to strangers…with children in her lap and at her feet.

Sister Magrina shows Tanya her beans and watermelon plants. The crops are dry-farmed, relying on rain.

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.

“Within you is the Power”

“Within you is the Power”

Let us not be tempted to think of SIA’s partners and Small Business Fund members as weak or helpless. In the West, we hear many stories of how desperate situations are in some African countries. Del Anderson, SIA Founder, never believed that hopelessness was the whole story.

Meeting people face-to-face, shaking their hands, and hearing theirs amazing stories of struggle and success, I felt and connected with that power – that Divine spark – in each one of them. One of the inspirational reading that Del often sent was, “Within You is the Power,” by L. Stevens Hatfield. Words from this piece popped into my mind frequently throughout the trip.

May you be similarly inspired by the Power of God that is in each one of us, no matter where we are born, or how we organize our family structure, or make a career.

Tanya with Salome Lowole, Small Business Fund leader in Malawi. She is a widow and baker.

Within You is the Power

Excerpt from the work by L. Stevens Hatfield

Within you is the power. Within you is the power to face life and all that lies before you with unshakable assurance that “the Lord your God is in the midst of you” (Deut. 7:21 RSV).

No matter what yesterday’s problem was, within you is the power to live this day in complete at-one-ment with God. As you walk in the understanding of divine love today, you are strengthened, renewed and blessed for within you is the power to meet life triumphantly, radiantly, gloriously.

Is your body in need of healing? Know that the spirit of God within you heals you. Are you frustrated or concerned over some important business or personal decision? Know that the wisdom of God within you illumines and makes the way before you clear. Whenever you surrender any problem to God, all things are made right and you are blessed and guided to paths of peace, freedom, health, and happiness.

Manyamula COMSIP Bookkeeper and all-around entrepreneur and innovator, Mbwenu Chirwa, with his son. (Malawi)

Within you is the power. If you have some need, if you are trying to reach a decision about something, talk to God about it as you would talk to a loving parent or friend. Give your problem to God. God is your unfailing help, your guide, your source, your supply.

Is there a difficulty in your life that seems insurmountable? Turn your attention away from it. Be still and know that within you is the power to solve all problems. Know that God’s wisdom is always available.

Within you is the power. At times your path may seem unfamiliar and strange to you, but God knows the way. You can rely on God. If you meet difficult situations, call on the presence of God within you. God will answer you. God will be with you.

Jesus, the Christ, demonstrated the glorious truth that the power to overcome all difficulties come from within. He drew on this power to heal, to comfort, and to bless. He said, “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17:21). In this kingdom is the power that guides, directs, and inspires you.

Within you is the power to live and work each day with a sense of greatness and purpose in your heart. Keeps your mind stayed on the power.

Members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and Maize Mill, sharing a song and dance with me.

“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 knew 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!

The many ways a mill can benefit a community

The many ways a mill can benefit a community

Electricity coming to town changes everything. It provides new business opportunities: cellphone charging stations, welding shops, cafes where you can watch soccer matches. It also forces other businesses to adapt and change.

When the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (read more about them here) bought their gas-powered maize/corn mill in 2013, it was the best technology available. The mill grinds corn – the staple food – into a fine flour, adding value to the crops and processing the grain for eating.

Cooperative member feeding maize into the grinding mill. The ground corn is then made into a dry polenta-like meal.

People paid to grind their maize in town with the cooperative, with members paying a reduced price. Before the maize mill was there, they would have to walk long distances to other communities to grind. The cooperative took advantage of this business opportunity. In 2013, they earned over $600 from the maize mill facility.

Then the electrical grid arrived in rural Manyamula Village in northern Malawi. Mills that were connected to the grid could grind faster and cheaper. The cooperative saw their profits dropping. And so they adapted. Last year, they moved the maize mill from their building at the centre of town to the Matopoto zone, on the outskirts of town, where there is no electricity yet. The mill is profitable again, earning $35 every week!

Under Local Management…

The maize mill is collectively owned by all 150+ cooperative members. However, the mill is managed by the cooperative members who live in the Matopoto zone. (The cooperative has divided themselves into eight zones.)

Tanya singing with members of the Motopoto Zone.

75% of the profit goes to the main cooperative office, for low-interest loans and other community development programs, such as hygiene and healthy diet programs. The remaining 25% stays in the Matopoto village compound, benefiting the sixteen members and their families. These members also benefit from having the maize mill nearby. They can process their food right outside their homes!

But wait, there’s more!

At the end of 2013, the cooperative used their saved profits to start a “pig pass-on project.” They bought twelve pigs and distributed them to all the zones. The zone members were charged with raising the pigs and then passing on the piglets to the vulnerable members in their group. A pig is a valuable gift.

A grown male pig can sell for $50 and female pigs can have 6-9 offspring, generating more wealth. 

So far, 55 members across all zones have received piglets through the program! The members in the Matopoto zone have shared ten piglets amongst themselves. And the day that I visited them last month, they had another one to share. This time, they were sharing with a young boy in their community. He is not a cooperative member (yet) but they saw that he – who had lost his mother, and whose father drinks all day – could use some extra support.

The blessing of the pig.

It is this community spirit, this generosity, that fills my spirit and inspires me. When we support Manyamula COMSIP they use the funds effectively, they adapt to the changing business opportunities, and they spread the wealth so that everyone is uplifted.

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