Living my values through SIA

I apologize that the music videos didn’t show up in the email last week. If you want to watch them, click here!

“I believe that the whole world about me is full of beauty, joy and power, even as it is full of God, and that I can share it and enjoy it if I attune myself to my Divine Plan and am inwardly open toward God and outwardly helpful toward [others].”   ~ Glenn Clark, The Divine Plan

I have a tendency to get caught up in the details of work. I’m an organizer and I like to plan next steps, moving from task to task. And sometimes I lose sight of the bigger picture. When I read the quote above by Glenn Clark, I was jolted back into considering how all the work I do for Spirit in Action is part of my fuller life. It’s inseparable from all other parts of my life.

The quote captures it perfectly. I have been blessed to see a world of hope, beauty, goodness, and possibility around me. And when I stop to be grateful I am reminded to thank God (“inwardly open toward God”) and share this vision and hope with others (“outwardly helpful toward others”).

I love this movie poster like photo! Can you tell we mean business? Slyvestor, Canaan Gondwe, Winkly Mahowe, walking with me down the dusty road in Manyamula on the way to our site visits.

I love this movie poster like photo! Can you tell we mean business? Slyvestor, Canaan Gondwe, Winkly Mahowe, walking with me down the dusty road in Manyamula on the way to our site visits.

Values at work

“How did you get into this work?” a student at Illinois College asked me after I presented about SIA. As in, how does one come to want to work for a non-profit?

When I started working for SIA six years ago (2016 update: now 9 years ago!) I had just left my job at an insurance company. It was after the switch that I realized the importance (for me) of working for an organization that has emotions, learning, and faith built into its very fabric. At SIA, those things I value most – including the desire to spread goodness – won’t be pushed aside.

This alignment of values and work doesn’t only happen in nonproft organizations. I can trace my desire for passionate work to my artist parents and my professor husband. When the sole focus isn’t on profit organizations, universities, and businesses can afford to spend more time focused on people and relationships.

Giving Nellie, who started a school in Manyamula with a Small Business Fund grant, some puzzles from my nieces.

Giving Nellie, who started a school in Manyamula with a Small Business Fund grant, some puzzles from my nieces.

Job+ throughout SIA

I’m not the only one at SIA who feels and knows this job+ concept. Our inward/outward vision is also built into the Small Business Fund program.

The families that receive our $150 grants also receive emotional and practical support from the local SBF coordinators. In line with Glenn Clark’s vision for a good life, each is encouraged on their individual spiritual journey (“inwardly open toward God”) and asked to pay-it-forward through Sharing the Gift (“outwardly helpful toward others”).

Working together with so many people to improve ourselves and serve those around us is a blessing that is more than just work. Thank you for joining me in this good, full life.

This was previously published on the SIA blog on February 11, 2014.

A Better Way to do Education in Kenya

A Better Way to do Education in Kenya

Arsons have burned over 100 public high schools in Kenya this year, affecting over 6,000 students. These aren’t terrorist attacks. It seems to be the work of some of the students themselves. And speculation about possible motivations is flying around without any clear conclusions.

What is clear is that this is very bad news for the government schools that are already underfunded and overcrowded. It also clearly highlights the value of supporting good schools like Samro School.

Rhoda Teimuge in Oakland in June.

Rhoda Teimuge in Oakland in June.

A Dream Come True

When Rhoda Teimuge, director of Samro School, spoke at our 20th Anniversary party in June, she shared how a dream called her to start the school. Two years after the dream, in 1998, the school opened. And it took on the special mission of serving the mind, body, and spirit of each student.

“The only thing that lasts a lifetime is what is in your brain – education,” Rhoda said, her strong voice conveying her passion and dedication to the work. Many of the students, some of whom are orphans from the adjacent Empowering Lives International, are dealing with challenges outside the school and so the encouragement and mentoring at Samro School are essential to their success.

The newer kitchen and dining room for the students when it is raining. The dining room doesn't have tables or seats yet but it keeps the students dry.

The newer kitchen and dining room for the students when it is raining. The dining room doesn’t have tables or seats yet but it keeps the students dry.

Student and Teacher Success

This past year, SIA grants to Samro helped pay school fees and support the teachers. Paul Karanja, a 6th grader, recently came to Samro from another school. He is older than most of his classmates and has some challenges reading, affecting his confidence. Rhoda reports that the teachers are giving him extra attention to help him improve.

The SIA grant covers the room and board and school fees for Gloria Jepchuma, a 7th grader. She is the school’s head girl and very active in classes and after school. However, Rhoda reports, family issues are disrupting her studies. It’s not just enough to pay for school. True caring and encouragement are critical to better future for Kenya.

Teachers are central to creating this nurturing environment. Rhoda met with them to discuss raising the standards of the school. She came away from the meeting encouraged. “They have even offered themselves to do their best in dealing with slow learners and also to develop talents amongst the students. They have come up with ideas to help learners broaden their minds through various Clubs like Gardening, Environment, Home Economics, Poultry, Animal Raring, Debate, and Christian Union. Teachers want to have Samro to be the best School.

It’s clear that dedicated teachers, a caring administrator, and encouraged students will make for a good and safe learning environment.

Honoring Black Lives

Honoring Black Lives

Does it feel like it’s been a rough few weeks for the world? News of horrendous acts of violence. Lives suddenly ended. The terrible grief that is expressed when a loved one is taken away.

In my email to the Small Business Fund Coordinators this week, I asked for prayers for peace justice, understanding, and overwhelming love. Usually I offer prayers for Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda. Yesterday I felt I needed prayers for my country as well. 

Many of you know that I regularly listen to the BBC’s Africa Today podcast. It helps me keep informed about what is happening in African countries. Rarely, it will discuss news from other continents. The day after Philando Castile was shot in Minnesota, the African correspondents reported the news. “This [profiling] is not just a problem for African-Americans. Black men – wherever they come from – are vulnerable,” says the reporter, quoting a Malian community leader in New York City. If our SIA partners were to come to the US, they would be vulnerable. I pray that the U.S. can become a nation where the life of each African and African-American is fully valued.
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Honor their dignity

The subject of whose life has value is not just an issue in the US, it’s a matter of global justice as well. A core principle of Spirit in Action is seeing and honoring the potential and power within each person, particularly those living in Africa. We honor their ability to fulfill the life goals they have for themselves and their communities. We honor the resilience and strength and ingenuity that is within people with black skin. 

Nancy, Dennis, and their son Timo live in Kenya. Nancy is working on her PhD and works for the county. Dennis has a degree in Business Administration, runs the Ukweli training centre for sustainable agriculture, and volunteers his time with Spirit in Action. They have a family prayer time together each evening.

Nancy, Dennis, and their son Timo live in Kenya. Nancy is working on her PhD and works for the county. Dennis has a degree in Business Administration, runs the Ukweli Training Centre for sustainable agriculture, and volunteers his time with Spirit in Action. They have a family prayer time together each evening.

Mary Phiri in Malawi has seen huge change in her life since she started her grocery shop. Her husband, Martin, was an alcoholic and there was a lot of fighting in the home. Now, their business has been successful and the husband is sitting for exams. They have been able to hire people to help with the farming and their daughter is in day-care.

Mary Phiri in Malawi has seen huge change in her life since she started her grocery shop. Her husband, Martin, was an alcoholic and there was a lot of fighting in the home. Now, their business has been successful and the husband is sitting for exams. They have been able to hire people to help with the farming and their daughter is in day-care.

Wambui is the local SBF coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. She also works for Alternatives to Violence Project promoting peace and healing from trauma. This month she is attending a peace conference in Switzerland.

Wambui is a local SIA Small Business Fund coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. She also works for Alternatives to Violence Project promoting peace and healing from trauma. This month she is attending a peace conference in Switzerland.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening. He put together the system on his own.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening. He put together the system on his own. (Malawi)

Ruth and her mother Catherine in Uganda. Ruth speaks English and Lugandan and acted as interpreter during our conference there. Catherine raises pigs and runs the family compound.

Ruth and her mother Catherine in Uganda. Ruth speaks English and Lugandan and acted as interpreter during our conference there. Catherine raises pigs and runs the family compound.

All the best of Spirit in Action in one report!

All the best of Spirit in Action in one report!

Paying-it-forward, positive change in a high-poverty neighborhood, knowledge sharing, local leadership, and savings group formation – this update from our local coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya highlights so many of the best part of Spirit in Action.

Here is the exciting report directly from Wambui Nguyo:

Spirit in Action still continues to be a beacon of hope for the Korogocho people. With SIA’s help of the Small Business Fund many families continue to experience a different positive lifestyle. Many lives have been transformed, children can go to school, and they can eat better and even dress better.

Korogocho (called Koch for short) has been in the spotlight in the past for many negative aspects. Crime and unemployment rates are high. Basic services and sanitation are scarce. But the beneficiaries of the Small Business Fund have a lot to be thankful for.

There are 27 groups/families in Koch that have been funded by SIA. The first one was in 2013.

Ann, one of the SBF group leaders, prepares food and sells it to workers along the roadside.

Ann, one of the SBF group leaders, prepares food and sells it to workers along the roadside.

Among the 27 groups, two of them are Muslims. Amid the tensions within the faith divisions, the people have found time and place to spend together in prayer.  As Josephine [who is a local leader and who works with Wambui] puts it, “we all understand we come from different backgrounds, that we come from different religions, and from different lifestyle and upbringing. What brings us together is the enormous poverty that we encounter. That brings us together. Poverty bites really hard. We all know we worship the same God. Some call him Allah while we call him God. We usually say the same prayer because we were created by him.”

A plan is underway for Sharing the Gift. The beneficiaries of the Small Business Fund have each contributed and they are hoping to support another group to set up a business of their choice with $150. This will empower another family and also give them a chance to give back to the community.

Unlike in the rural village, where families live in their own piece of land regardless of the poverty level, Koch is different.  Here, families have to rent out houses. Because of rising standard of living, the rent can go up and then families are forced to move to a cheaper house. Luckily, only one group has left Korogocho area because of rising costs.

Chairs arranged for a meeting of the Small Business Fund groups in Koch. The meet at least once a month all together.

Chairs arranged for a meeting of the Small Business Fund groups in Koch. The meet at least once a month all together.

Plans to start a village savings project are underway! A concept note written by Josephine says, “We intend to initiate the Korogocho Women Economic Fund where women from the community can access flexible loan and flexible repayment model to start or expand their businesses. This initiative will be registered with the government and we shall use a model known as the village banking model.”

Canaan Gondwe from Malawi [Small Business Fund local coordinator and leader of his community’s savings and investment cooperative] has that experience and he can be very useful in helping to start it up. He wrote to inspire the team in Koch and said, “now, when people form a village savings team, it acts like a buffer. It cushions the members in times of eventualities. So I encourage you to unite and have one purpose which is economic empowerment.”

Will you be able to attend our 20th Anniversary Celebration on June 25th in Oakland? Click here for more information and RSVP to me at tanya@spiritinaction.org. See you there!

I won’t give in: How savings cooperatives help

I won’t give in: How savings cooperatives help

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in ’til I reach the end and then I’ll start again. No I won’t leave, I want to try everything, I want to try even though I could fail.” “Try Everything” by Shakira

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in,” proclaims Shakira in my current favorite you-can-do-it song, “Try Everything.” When we fall down, it usually helps when someone is there to pull us up again. In Malawi, COMSIP cooperatives are strong community organizations whose members pull each other up to the next level and to a better, more stable future.

COMSIP stands for Community Savings and Investment Promotion. It is a national project in Malawi that is more than a bank. From what I witnessed at a gathering of the Manyamula COMSIP cooperative, they were like a support group as well as a catalyst for economic growth – giving each other advice and encouragement in their endeavors.

“Our members of the Cooperative are entrepreneurs,” said Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Manyamula COMSIP, and a member of the national COMSIP Union Board. “The mobilized Savings form the capital base from which members borrow and engage in various forms of businesses, such as poultry, retail shops, irrigation farming, baking, pre-school and carpentry among others.”

After 3-4 months of saving money from her business, Beauty was able to use the savings as collateral for a larger, low-interest loan from the cooperative. Cooperative members can apply for loans in proportion to their savings shares. Beauty used the loan to buy high-quality feed and medication for her chickens. She knows that the medications are crucial for protecting her investment in the chickens. 

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Beauty with her daughter.

For Grace Banda, a widow, the COMSIP cooperative was just the kind of encouragement she needed to try again. Before joining COMSIP she had taken a loan from one of the traditional micro-finance lenders in Mzimba, the nearest city and 44km away. When an unexpected event caused her to business to flounder, she was unable to pay back the high-interest debt and had to forfeit her collateral.

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Grace in her shop in the Manyamula market.

COMSIP loans are not only low-interest, they also have repayment schedules that are adaptable to the business cycle – with longer terms for farming and cattle rearing. The local COMSIP leaders can work with the members to give them the highest chance of success. Grace’s Kikumala Shop is still going strong, and is a good source of fresh produce in Manyamula.

These are profound ways that COMSIP helps people start again. And the result is that lives are changed. Ninety-five percent of the 150+ cooperative members have improved their housing since joining. Many more can pay medical bills when illnesses arise. Grace Banda can now pay for school for her three children. “Life is continuing to become simple,” she told me with joy and relief in her voice.

This sentiment is echoed in a wonderful article from the World Bank about the successes of COMSIP groups. Gilaselia Denesi, who became responsible for her four grandchildren when her daughter and son-in-law died, shares how joining a COMSIP cooperative in central Malawi has led to positive change in her life. ““Look at me now!” she says. “God be praised, today my grandchildren, are in school, they are not hungry and even I have some time to have tea in my home. Can you imagine that? I am wearing a new dress today and I have some time for tea!””

For more about COMSIP:

After Finly joined the COMSIP cooperative and began saving, he used a small loan to buy improved Red Creole onion seeds for his farm.

After Finly joined the COMSIP cooperative and began saving, he used a small loan to buy improved Red Creole onion seeds for his farm.

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