Do we have the courage to act?

Do we have the courage to act?

Reposting this post, originally posted January 20, 2015, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. It is also renewing the call to stand up for the rights of the oppressed people in your country and around the world.

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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  -MLK, Jr.

Yesterday, Boyd and I took our lunch break to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail aloud to each other. Reading it in its entirety, rather than in a series of quotes, I was impressed by frequent references to God, Jesus, and Biblical figures. There are many deeply moving quotes from King about the arc of justice, about how we are all inter-connected, about expressing compassion to each other, about love and hatred. These are quotes that stem from and refer to the deep truths of his Christian faith without always mentioning his faith.

King’s letter quoted Amos and made more than a few references to Paul and the early Christians. He seemed to take courage from those first Christians who were radical in their faith and who didn’t settle for the status quo. Churches today, King lamented, were afraid to be labeled as “nonconformist” and were shying away from the important work of challenging injustice and structural prejudice. He asks: “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

This letter is a call to action, now. Not to wait. Not to be afraid to be different or radical or uncomfortable. People of faith must be people who stand up for justice, for moral rights, for the inherent dignity of all people.

Sometimes action means listening. Small Business Fund coordinators listen to the stories of the successes and challenges of the entrepreneurs in Uganda.

We may not be able to help everyone. But we are not waiting until we can to solve all problems before we serve one person. We are not waiting to be a perfect organization before we dive into action to co-create with God for a better world.

Spirit in Action is not just a “spirit” organization. It is also an “action” organization. We see light and value and hope and possibility in the poor, in people of distant communities. We see that organizations that do not allow people to be actors in their own future, in their own prosperity, perpetuate an unsettling hierarchy of those who are helpers and those who need help. Action is confronting people who make statements that lump all of Africa into a uniform culture, who distrust all people who are poor. I know that is my great privilege to serve others, to give and encourage so that they can realize their own dreams for a better future.

Thank you for joining me on this path, in this action, in this service, and in using the power of God for good.

I sign off my post today with the same words as Martin Luther King, Jr. used in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

Yours for the cause of Peace and [Sister/]Brotherhood,
Tanya

Receiving the gift of a chicken from a Small Business Fund leader in Kasozi Village, Uganda, 2014.

Encouraging Updates

Encouraging Updates

A family business in Eldoret, Kenya

Purity and her son, Cyril, started a milk and doughnut business (a winning combination!) with a SIA Small Business Grant in 2015. This week, local coordinator Dennis Kiprop went to visit them and was pleased to see that Cyril had already sold out by 10am. Cyril shares his excitement, “I am grateful for SIA for coming to us in time, we have been so encouraged in our family and we have expanded the business.”

Cyril with milk jugs attached to the back of his motorbike. He works with his mother to support the family.

Cyril with milk jugs attached to the back of his motorbike. He works with his mother to support the family.

Supporting Business Expansion

The SIA Board met over the weekend. We took time to pray for each of our dedicated partners throughout Africa. We rededicated ourselves to continue our work of empowerment and encouragement. One of the newly approved grant projects is a jewelry shop. The Namaiyana Women’s Self-Help Group is in Archer’s Post, Samburu County, Kenya. The 25 members make beautiful, handmade beaded jewelry and accessories, wooden artifacts, and suvenirs for tourists on safari.

Board Member Kathleen King was pleased to support this application. “This is exactly the kind of project that we like to support. The women have already learned the skill and Spirit in Action funds can help them get to the next step to support themselves and their families.”

Young artisan showing off the beautiful beaded jewelry.

Young artisan showing off the beautiful beaded jewelry.

Receiving Prayers of Peace

“We are praying for you in the wake of your elections,” is a phrase I have written many times in my nine years with Spirit in Action. Elections in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria have called me to prayer. This week, I am on the receiving end of these messages. One of our partners in Kenya wrote, “I am also praying for you for peace, understanding, and respect in the wake of your new president.

I remember that when in Kenya, everyone I met was so proud of President Obama, a man with Kenyan heritage. Many Kenyans remarked how impressed they were that the United States had elected someone who was so different. May we receive these prayers and be grateful for our amazing global SIA community.

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
~ Dolores Huerta

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.

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