Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative – a truly locally-led savings and loans organization – has long been a fixture in this rural village in Malawi.The low-interest loans and safe savings have allowed its 180 members to invest in their future and prosper. Now they are building a meeting room (they will not have to pay rent anymore!) and an attached training center to teach people to run similar cooperatives in other villages.

“Apart from the social and economic impacts, the infrastructural image of buildings being erected at the Cooperative premises is the talk of the community,” reports Canaan Gondwe, long-time SIA partner and Manyamula COMSIP Coordinator. “This construction of the Training centre has completely changed the appearance and growth of Manyamula community.”

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

And it’s not just the talk of the village! Word is spreading: “The District Assembly of Mzimba which comprises of Government departmental leaders, Members of Parliament and Councilors paid a visit to the cooperative in their routine inspection of development projects. They were greatly amazed at the project in progress. We highlighted of our contributions and also of SIA as our partners.”

COMSIP Cooperative members have contributed all the bricks, lime and sand for the construction, in addition to two grants from the SIA Community Grants Fund.

One of their biggest challenges is that the Malawian currency keeps being devalued, increasing the prices of imported items like cement. The cooperative is planning to set aside savings each quarter to pay for future repairs, “to sustain our beautiful buildings.”

One of the shops in Mzimba - the larger town nearby - where they bought cement for the flooring.

One of the shops in Mzimba – the larger town nearby – where they bought cement for the flooring.

Canaan concludes: “The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in true partnership with Spirit in Action, is in the business of changing lives and communities. Manyamula community is indeed grateful to God for this abundant Grace.” We are honored to be in partnership with such a dynamic and impactful community organization!

See past construction updates here and read more about construction and electrification here.

A candid moment before the "snap" (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

A candid moment before the “snap” (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

 

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Grant Update: Community Ownership in Bucece Village

Grant Update: Community Ownership in Bucece Village

Bucece has persevered. Through difficult situations, like poor crop yields and weather conditions, and delays in materials and supplies, the village has remained steadfastly committed to the work.”

Bucece Village in rural Uganda has partnered with Toronto-based Raising the Village (RTV) and Spirit in Action to improve their village and benefit the local farm economy. Two years ago, a SIA grant supported a sustainable agricultural training program and RTV has served as an ongoing on-the-ground partner. Now, the village is committed to continuing the program with their own local leadership and community ownership.

Early on, the the agricultural program suffered from poor weather conditions and after the initial training the crop was lost to rain and floods. However, the 2015 fall harvest season was successful and the village famers are finally being rewarded with benefits from new agricultural techniques and crop diversity. Increased use of compost fertilizer and double digging techniques, which enhance soil health, are having real, positive outcomes!

A Bucece household crop field using a double-dug agricultural row technique.

A Bucece household crop field using a double-dug agricultural row technique.

Community Organizing & Savings

The members of Bucece Village are working both as individual households and as a whole community to increase trade opportunities locally. After the recent bountiful harvest, the villagers are organizing a market in Bucece to draw buyers to the village instead of having to transport their own to the market across the lake. This will have huge material benefit for famers, because transport to market was long and severely impacting profit!

Bucece Village is also coming together each month to contribute to a village savings and loans association. From January through April 2015, collections average 25,000 UGX ($7.50 USD), and from May through December they have increased the savings to 50,000 UGX ($15 USD)! These funds are loaned out to households, in turn, to replenish seeds. They have also invested in new seed varieties, and individual households are re-investing their profits in diversified crops.

A Bucece villager brings back crops harvested from her field.

A Bucece villager brings back crops harvested from her field.

Community Leacership & Ownership

Although Bucece began this work in partnership with SIA and RTV, by January RTV will hand over all of the management of the interventions to the village, with monthly monitoring by RTV representatives. I really like RTV’s method of initial collaboration and ongoing leadership development, which over time leads to full community ownership of their own development. This is true partnership, with each group contributing from their strengths. It results in lasting change that perseveres long after the initial grant investment. 

(Pictured at the top is the view of the lake from Bucece Village.)

5 things making me happy: #GivingTuesday edition

5 things making me happy: #GivingTuesday edition

Thanksgiving is a good kick-off to the giving season. Each year it’s a time when co-workers, the church, the media, and families start talking a bit louder about giving: Giving thanks, giving food to those in need, giving gifts to loved ones, giving light to the world. Thank you to those who have already given to Spirit in Action today for #GivingTuesday!

Here are 5 things making me happy as we enter this giving season:

1. New SIA small businesses in Nairobi!

5 new small business leaders in Nairobi have sent their business plans to the SIA office and received their initial $100 grants! (Click on the picture to see the full photo.) The leaders are pictured above with Wambui Nguyo (front in black coat), who is the SIA local coordinator in the area. Wambui and Josephine (front left) work together as a strong team to train and mentor the new groups. These new businesses will be selling:

  • Used shoes and toys
  • Tools
  • Milk, door to door
  • Cell phone accessories and airtime (pay-as-you-go minutes)
  • Vegetables, tomatoes, onions

2. This reminder that even small acts of kindness can make a difference

kindness quote

3. Celebrating an alternative rite of passage for Samburu Girls in central Kenya

Our partner Margaret Ikiara of CIFORD Kenya will travel 5 hours tomorrow to represent Spirit in Action at the Alternative Rite of Passage for 60 Samburu girls with the Pastoralist Child Foundation. This celebration will be an empowering ceremony of song, dance, and speeches, taking the place of the traditional genital cutting.

Margaret has arranged for several of the girls from Meru (who have celebrated with their own alternative rite) to travel with her so that they can share their experiences with the girls in Samburu. This peer support and collaboration is exactly what SIA is all about!

4. This podcast about why you should give internationally

This great, 13-minute interview highlighted one of the reasons I gave in my blog post on the same topicYour money goes so much further internationally. Even a small amount can really make a huge difference in someone’s life! Listen to the Tiny Spark episode here: http://www.tinyspark.org/podcasts/guide-to-good-giving/

5. A photo of a newly-trained tailor in her shop!

This woman completed the dressmaking training with Progressive Volunteers (which I wrote about here) earlier this year and now she has her own shop! Look at those beautiful dresses! This is a clear example of how SIA small grants translate into actual jobs and new opportunities for women. Now that’s really making me happy!

one of the trained beneficiary in her business

Inspired to give on this #GivingTuesday? You can support Spirit in Action by giving online! 

Who are SIA’s partners?

Who are SIA’s partners?

I often toss around the word “partner” when I talk about our work. Who are these partners? How did we come to know them? Canaan Gondwe and the members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi are some of our partners. Moses Chibanda, director of Welfare Concern International in Zambia, is another. Our partners are individuals and grassroots organizations who are implementing the real work of Spirit in Action in their communities. Our partners are dedicated, generous local leaders. They are groups of people who are passionate about making things better in their communities, and they are already putting in the hard work to spark that change.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

Perhaps you know some leaders like this in your own community – the president of the parent teacher association, the rec-league soccer coach, the soup kitchen volunteer, or the passionate leader of the local environmental group.

I first connected with our partner Samuel Leadismo, director of the Pastoralist Child Foundation in Kenya, through email. He had met another SIA partner, Margaret Ikiara of CIFORD Kenya, at a workshop and he reached out to tell me about himself and his work. We emailed back and forth. I asked him about the girls’ empowerment workshops and anti-FGM campaign that he led. I told him about myself, and about SIA’s philosophy and how we operate. Eventually I invited him to submit a grant request application for an upcoming workshop. I also reached out to Margaret to get a recommendation from her, since I was unable to visit Samuel in person. Our first email was in March of 2014 and we still email back and forth to continue to build our relationship, to understand each other better, and to follow up on the grant we gave to his organization.

Certificate of Registration copy

Pastoralist Child Foundation’s Registration Certificate

We don’t just drop money into a community. The grants are part of our on-going relationship with these partners. And the partner organizations are whole, independent groups outside of Spirit in Action. For example, the Pastoralist Child Foundation is an officially registered community based organization (CBO) in Kenya. Their work is funded by a patchwork of supporters, from individual donors in the US, to other grant organizations like SIA, and local volunteers in Samburu, Kenya. We use the word “partner” to recognize that we each bring something to the relationship.

(*Read Canaan Gondwe’s presentation entitled “A partner who has walked with us side by side”)

Partners together. Tanya with the leadership of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative

Partners together. Tanya with the leadership of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

Let’s make a difference!

Let’s make a difference!

This Saturday is Make a Difference Day in the U.S. You are encouraged to lend a hand, to improve someone else’s life, to build a positive movement with others in your community. I wrote recently about the importance of giving money internationally to make a big impact, while also noting that volunteering locally is a great way to effectively put your giving spirit into action.

I was impressed that the Make a Difference Day website has 20 projects organized in Santa Cruz! The projects range from cleaning up neighborhood parks and schools, to removing graffiti, to painting picnic tables for public use.

However you put your spirit into action for positive change this weekend, you might take a moment to connect in common purpose with our many SIA partners in towns, villages, and cities across Africa.

  • Canaan Gondwe at the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative for economic justice;
  • Jeremiah Mzee leading Progressive Volunteers to provide education for even the poorest in Nairobi slums;
  • Margaret Ikiara with CIFORD Kenya meeting with girls and widows to talk about their rights;
  • Moses Mukongo with CMAP Kenya for a more sustainable environment;
  • and so many more who are volunteering their time to make a difference in their communities.
Margaret met with 78 women in September to discuss family life and sexuality.

Margaret met with 78 women in September to discuss family life and sexuality.

If you don’t join one of your official community projects, consider how you might be making a difference in your everyday life. Sometimes the pebble is cast even when we don’t know we’ve thrown it: “The biggest differences I’ve made are the ones I don’t even know about. If you’re working for justice and you’re living with compassion and integrity, you are probably making a difference in people’s lives every day. You just might not realize it.” (Barbara Harrell-Bond)

Enjoy your week!

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