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.

Wisdom from Del: “Life is not a destination”

Wisdom from Del: “Life is not a destination”

From the journal of SIA Founder, Del Anderson, Fall 2005. Even at 99 years old he was still learning, growing, and exploring.

I certainly wouldn’t have desired to break my hip, but now six months later, I’m certain that I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I think it’s a little easier now to understand that “I of myself can do nothing.” I couldn’t take the next breath without the Spirit there to keep me going.

This experience has pointed me in the direction of growth. I am not the Del I was yesterday. My focus is to come forth as a new person each day and realize that I am an expression of God and that I’m here to let God be God in me, through me, and as me. I can’t eat yesterday’s stale manna. Yesterday’s manna is not good enough for today. Manna has to be fresh. It’s an ever-changing world.

As we accept each challenge, each change and seek God’s guidance, we open ourselves to receive the Allness of the God consciousness, expressing and coming forth through us.

Meditation, contemplative meditation, and prayer are three of God’s greatest tools. The major thing is to let go, be still, listen, and focus and focus. Let my meditation be to know that my purpose is to keep expanding my consciousness and to let God take over entirely. “God, each day give me a focused desire that wills to will to do your will.” God’s Kingdom is within us. We need to let it come forth, step by step here on earth even at our most challenging times.

Life is not easy. It’s a challenge.

Life is not a destination. It’s a process.

Read more inspiration from Del here. 

(Pictured above: A path in Manyamula Village, Malawi.)

A message of encouragement

A message of encouragement

In December, 200* girls from the Samburu tribe in Kenya celebrated an Alternative Rite of Passage, led by Pastoralist Child Foundation and witnessed by their parents and community members. The day-long celebration was an empowering ceremony of song, dance, and speeches, taking the place of the traditional genital cutting. Our partner Margaret Ikiara of CIFORD Kenya, who hold similar Alternative Rite of Passage celebrations in Meru (5 hours away), went to the event to represent Spirit in Action and share my message of encouragement with the girls. 

A message of encouragement from Tanya Cothran of Spirit in Action:

It is our great honor to celebrate with you today this important moment of your passage from childhood into womanhood. Today you go ahead empowered and knowledgeable about the power that you have as women, and the important role that you play in this community.

We pray for you: courage, strength, kindness, and love. Courage to stand up for your rights, and to stand up for honesty and respect in the home and in society. Strength to face the challenges that will come, so that even when you have a challenging day or week or month, you know that people around the world are praying for you and wishing you well. Kindness and a generous heart to promote peace and understanding between old and new ways of doing things. And Love to fill your days with a happy home and loving connection.

Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

We wish to share this poem by Marianne Williamson with you – to remind you of the power and greatness that is within each of you:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”

Though we are far away, we are with you and your families today in the spirit of friendship and solidarity, to celebrate you and to celebrate your life and future. Congratulations!

*Correction 2/17/16: 60 girls attended the December workshop and 200 girls who attended all of PCF’s workshops in 2015 (April, August, December) came together for the Alternative Rite of Passage celebration.

Top 5 SIA Moments of 2015

Top 5 SIA Moments of 2015

This has been a good year for Spirit in Action and our partners! It is so exciting to look back and see all that we have accomplished, and all that our amazing partners have done to bring more prosperity to families in their communities.

  • fb logo_siaNew logo: The year started off with the unveiling of our new logo! We finally have a logo that really represents us to the world. The ripples in the logo continue to inspire and remind me of our focus to spark change that will naturally multiply and expand within communities. (Read the explanation of our logo.)
  • New Small Business Fund Coordinator: This summer we added a new local coordinator to the Small Business Fund team! Hastings Phiri has already begun mentoring families in rural Malawi to start and run new businesses. Hastings is a dedicated community organizer and passionate about reducing poverty and helping families get ahead. He lives in the same region as SBF Coordinator Canaan Gondwe and they two of them meet to share challenges and develop their mentoring and training skills. (Read more about Hastings.)
Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

  • Expanding Anti-FGM movement: SIA has supported girls’ empowerment workshops with sexual education and alternatives to the traditional female genital mutilation rite of passage. Just a few weeks ago some of the girls from the Meru workshops were able to attend the Alternative Rite of Passage in Samburu, two hours away. Margaret of CIFORD in Meru reported, “Some girls were excited as they could never have dreamt of going to the Samburu.” Also, CIFORD is gaining national recognition from Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper for their FGM workshops! Read the full article here!
  • Sewing Training Centre: I’m really excited about this grant project which has been able to train 79 women and 2 men and help them get employed in sewing operator jobs in Nairobi. Women who know how to use the industrial machines are paid higher wages and the SIA training center provides them access to these machines and trains them in the necessary skills. The center has been able to receive contracts for sewing projects and they are well on their way to becoming a self-sustaining operation. (Read more about the training centre.)
  • Construction Project: The new Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative conference hall, restaurant, and guest rooms are under construction! I loved visiting Manyamula and seeing the amazing transformation that has happened in the village since the formation of the savings and loans cooperative 6 years ago. This construction project represents a new level of development and I look forward to seeing how it will benefit the community and cooperative members in the years to come. (Read more about the COMSIP Cooperative.)

Bonus: I loved sharing this video made by SIA volunteer and supporter, Carmen Hernandez, about what makes me grateful about SIA.

What story about SIA stuck out to you in 2015?

Christmas Inspiration from Del: Beloved Child of God

Christmas Inspiration from Del: Beloved Child of God

Merry Christmas to all SIA friends, partners, and supporters all around the world! May this be a time of rediscovering hope and joy, and recommitting to peace and justice. I share this writing from Del Anderson to remind you of that power that is within each of you.

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“The Kingdom of God is within you.” This is the Good News Jesus Christ brought us. This is what we must affirm and claim for ourselves ~ over and over again. Otherwise, Jesus came in vain for us.

Jesus is the great overcomer, All-Power, the King of Kings. There is no other power that can withstand Jesus’s Light and Love. He says, “Love your enemies.” We cannot do this in our own strength, but if we ask Jesus’s help and release the condition and persons to Him, He will be glorified, and peace and fulfillment will come into our lives.

January stands in front of the house he build with profits from his family's grocery shop, started with a SIA grant. (Manyamula Village, Malawi)

January stands in front of the house he build with profits from his family’s grocery shop, started with a SIA grant. (Manyamula Village, Malawi)

Remember, “He came, that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” He, Jesus Christ, is within you! Listen, listen to Him, ask His help and obey Him and you will see victory begin to come into your life in peace and abundance. “Only believe and you shall see the glory of God” manifested in your life.

As you read, study, ponder and apply the teachings of Jesus in your daily life, God will bless you beyond your fondest dreams.

In His love, Del

Pictured above: Ruth and her mother Catherine. Catherine used the SIA grant money to buy a pig in 2006. Now she has over 10 pigs. (Kasozi Village, Uganda)

For more inspiration from Del, click here.

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