Steria’s Donuts

Steria’s Donuts

On Sunday morning, I shared donuts with fifteen kids aged 4-12 at my church. We were on a virtual trip to Malawi. Passports were stamped and then we looked at photos from my trip to Malawi last summer. One of the photos was of Steria, a woman who received a SIA grant and now sells donuts in Malawi. At the end of the journey, one child remarked, “I learned that some of the foods in Malawi are the same as in Canada, and some are different!” 

Steria Lungu is a widow in Manyamula Village in rural Malawi. She received a Small Business Fund grant from Spirit in Action in 2010. (Our grants are $150, given in two installments, along with mentoring and training.) Steria bought some baking pans and fresh ingredients and started baking and selling donuts. And she is still doing that today! She attends three markets a week, some days walking as far as eight miles, and leaving at 4:00am, to reach bigger markets.

I got to visit Steria last summer and sit inside her house – the house she built with money saved from her donut business. We sat on the puffy couches with crochet doilies on the arms. We saw a photo of us together during our last visit in 2011. She said “thank you for coming under my roof.” And she told us that she now has “no problem with food”; that she and her family are still eating from last year’s maize harvest. That is a huge accomplishment because it means that they are food secure.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home, she told me her story of transformation.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home. She reassured us, “your support is not going in vain.”

Steria and four other women in the neighborhood came together to do their own bit of helping a neighbor. We call it Sharing the Gift. They each contributed some flour and sugar and took turns helping another woman sell donuts at the markets.

Importantly, Steria told us that she contributed to Sharing the Gift because she saw in our local coordinator, Canaan Gondwe, also modeling generosity. Because Canaan was generous with his time and with sharing his expertise, Steria and the other women were also willing to give.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

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Stereo’s house in 2014 – with a new roof! She saved enough to replace the thatch with the iron sheets and so no longer experiences leaks!

Not only was it inspiring to see Steria’s house – one with tin roofing sheets, which she was saving when we visited in 2011, and with stronger bricks – and knowing that her daughter can now attend a good high school. It was also good to affirm that when we are caring and generous (like Canaan is) – when we are being spirit in action – other people see that, notice that, and they want to give and serve also.

In a way, we were just helping one person when we gave Steria a grant. In another way we were helping her daughter, her other children, her neighbor, her community (because it is a grant, all the money stays in the community), and all the people who get to eat her yummy donuts!

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

4 Quick Grant Updates!

4 Quick Grant Updates!

1. 35 Women Trained in Zambia

One of the women who received a small low-interest loan to establish her hair braiding business.

One of the women who received a small low-interest loan from Welfare Concern International to establish her hair braiding business.

(SIA funded Welfare Concern International, a grassroots organization, to coordinate a capacity-building workshop and small micro-loans for women in Livingstone in 2014.)

From Moses Chibanda, Director: In the last six months, we have trained 35 community women and we have empowered 18 of them with small loans.

Our biggest success has been to see the trained women being able to at least have two meals per day for their families and send their children to school, a thing that never used to happen in the past. Secondly, the women whom we have so far trained this year have been able to run their businesses successfully. This has been attributed to the training which we provided for them. Many have been able to also open their own savings accounts with the banks.

Community members, through the provision of capacity building training and micro-loans empowerment, are slowly drifting away from hand outs to using their hands to do something for themselves.”

2. A Safety Net for Widows in Kenya

Two of the three large fish ponds run collectively by the Tsindomdale Women's group in Kenya.

Two of the three large fish ponds run collectively by the Tsindombela Women’s group in Kenya.

(The Tsindombela Women’s Group in Kakamega, Kenya received a SIA grant last year to dig 3 large fish ponds and start a collective business.)

From Grace Makungu, President: We have over 500 fish in our three ponds. And 28 widows and their families have benefited from this project so far.

Birds were taking some of our fishes in great numbers because we didn’t have the net to cover the top and give protection. It is with our profit from the first sale of fish that we were able to purchase a fishing net ($380) and also save some profit ($200) with our treasurer. 

We are in the process of bringing the District Fisheries Department to see if they can provide future support to bring out project to a higher level. We are also planning to extend the project by utilizing swampy places at our member’s farms that lie dormant. If well utilized, the group can come up with giant results in the next few years, and that is our true dream.”

3. New SIA Partner to Empower Girls

(SIA just sent funds this week for Pastoralist Child Foundation to host an empowerment workshop and Alternative Rite of Passage ceremony for 60 girls in Samburu, Kenya. Here is more about their past successes.)

In the last 2 years PCF has provided workshops for 132 girls and seminars for 70 adults. They have also sponsored 6 students to attend high school.

“With your support we’ll increase the number of workshops in 2015, educating more girls and preparing them for their very first celebratory Alternative Rite of Passage. This will be history-in-the-making!” [Tanya’s note: The girls are eager for this alternative to the traditional Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).] 

The girl’s workshops provide them with the “vital information needed to resist FGM and forced early marriages, and to adopt safe and peaceful Alternative Rites of Passage to Womanhood.

The curriculum also includes the importance of knowing about the female sexual reproductive system, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, rape, resisting gender-based violence, as well as the importance of getting a formal education.

4. Empowering Students at Samro School

A poster in the computer room at Samro School encourages students to ask questions to learn more.

A poster in the computer room at Samro School encourages students to ask questions to learn more.

(SIA funded a water tank at Samro School in 2014 and will help with school fees in 2015. Some of the students come from South Sudan, where there is still much unrest.)

Report from Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge, Directors: “We thank God for the wonderful year though full of financial challenges. Most parents were not able to complete their school fees on time and that became a setback for us to meet the teachers’ salaries. We thank you for standing with us. Our teachers do their best to teach critical thinking and the students are developing in academics, spiritual development, and character development. We believe we are causing an impact in our society as we hear good reports of what our graduates are doing in high school. The first Samro graduates are joining university this year.”

**For a list of all recent grants, visit our Grants List page.

What is an OFSP??

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Women proud of their sweet potato harvest, at CIFORD Kenya.

OFSP? Orange flesh sweet potato. Or, as I call them, those vegetables that are really tasty baked and topped with butter!

While I’m used to the orange variety of sweet potatoes in North America, in Africa the white or yellow sweet potatoes are much more common. They taste similar but the white and yellow varieties are not nearly as nutritious as the vitamin A/beta-carotene-rich orange ones. It’s only in the last few years that the UN and many others have begun promoting the OFSP as a way to combat malnutrition and disease especially among women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiencies. The food we ate in Africa this summer was high in starch, with a few vegetables depending on what was in season – I could see the need for more vitamin-rich foods.

That is why I am happy to report that SIA is working with two partners who are promoting OFSP growth in their communities.

CIFORD Kenya, in Meru, Kenya, has been holding workshops to train farmers in growing, managing, and preparing OFSP. This work in their rural community is designed to both improve food security (ex. people have enough to eat all year) and reduce the environmental degradation of the soil. The CIFORD trainings are include classroom time and also get-your-hands-dirty practical time with farmers being brought to the CIFORD training garden for demonstrations. The OFSP helps protect the soil because its big leaves cover the soil, which reduces run off and erosion.

Many parts of the sweet potato can be used:

  • Vines are used as animal feed
  • The leaves can be eaten as the leafy green
  • The potato root can be boiled, roasted or made into chips, French fries, or flour
Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo by Raising the Village)

Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo from Raising the Village)

Also, Raising the Village has just completed a round of trainings in Bucece Village, Uganda with farmers who wanted to plant the OFSP seeds. OFSP can sell for much higher prices in the market because it is still rare to see them and because people know they provide a health benefit to their diets. The hills around Bucece are very steep and so the OFSP will be important for keeping the soil from running down into the lake.

Hopefully, next time I’m in Uganda I’ll get to try the local OFSP, eating it alongside the steamed bananas, rice, and boiled kale, and peanut sauce. Yum!

Mbwenu, Innovator

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure.

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure.

Sometimes it’s not easy moving home. Once you’ve been out to see the world you look at home through a different lens. “We had a shock,” was the way that Mbwenu and Wangwa described it to me when I visited their home in rural Manyamula in northern Malawi. The couple had gone away to Swaziland to study at a bible college and when they decided to move back to their home village many things were not as they had been in Swaziland. Their four sons now had to learn to live without electricity, and Mbwenu lamented how “it was hard for the boys to get used to the dark.”

Hearing this history it is not surprising that when Mbwenu and Wangwa sought their first low-interest loan from the local Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (formerly called MAVISALO), they bought a solar-charged light battery and a full solar panel that they put on the roof.

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.

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.

At this moment in his testimony, Mbwenu snapped on the small battery light for effect, “ahhhh” we all marveled! He became animated as he took us around the room showing the small TV and lights they could have now with the solar panel. There was also a cell phone charging station next to the solar panel battery. I could tell he was the kind of person who liked to figure out these technologies and show off his successful installations.

I was so inspired by my visit with Mbwenu and Wangwa, and it gave me three insights about what makes SIA so great:

1. SIA’s programs are diversified

Mbwenu and Wangwa’s house was nice. It had a cement floor, stable brick walls, and tin panels on the roof. They were clearly not the poorest family in the neighborhood. And because of that they had not received a SIA Small Business Fund grant, which are reserved for the poorest. Instead, they had joined the SIA-supported Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, which gives very low-interest loans and is open to ALL community members, regardless of wealth. There are different SIA tools for each family to benefit.

2. SIA empowers rural communities to thrive

The family is developing their farm and investing in cattle and goats. “The COMSIP Cooperative is a big help,” Mbwenu explained, “we couldn’t buy the solar changing system all at once on our own.” Yet, their small farming enterprises are steady enough to be able to pay back the loan in a timely manner. A solar panel TV and light might be seen as “luxuries” in areas where there is no running water. Yet, these things made it agreeable for the family to move back to their village. And this means that the whole rural community benefits.

Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure.

Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure. Canaan (left in purple), the SIA contact for the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, was so excited by Mbwenu’s enthusiasm for rural solutions.

3. SIA partners are innovative

The solar panel was just the tip of the innovative iceberg in Mbwenu and Wangwa’s household. He also showed us a bio-gas contraption that uses cow manure to make a cooking gas, and also creates a liquid compost by-product for the farm. At the end of the visit, surrounded by 10 COMSIP Cooperative on-lookers, a little boy, a rooster, and a brood of chicks Mbwenu demonstrated his prototype drip-irrigation garden. He’d seen the technique in Swaziland and was combining new technology with local supplies to create a system that allowed you to “attend a meeting while irrigating the crops.” At the thought of such multi-tasking ability, the group laughed and then began asking questions as they inspected the tubing and bucket.

It was exciting to witness these exciting developments from Mbwenu and Wangwa and see the many ways that SIA is serving and benefiting the people of Manyamula Village.

A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu's irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds.

A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu’s irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds.

Catch a glimpse: See their TV and laugh about watching the world cup in rural Malawi:

Last post of 2013! Maize Mills Photos!

Canaan Gondwe had seen other non-profits come and go through his village in rural Malawi. Some came to build things (things that sometimes didn’t last) and some came to start programs.

But Canaan had a vision for something that would last because of local involvement, because of local investment, and because of local leadership. And so in 2009, he and a small group of people started the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative. Today, this group, MAVISALO, is thriving. It’s grown to over 150 people. And each year it helps people save more and access loans at reasonable interest rates.

Each year MAVISALO continues to become more stable as an organization; keeping a vision of sustainability and independence.

Last year, a SIA Community Grant supported part of this vision by helping them purchase two maize mills. Photos below tell the story of how these mills are helping the people of Manyamula and the MAVISALO cooperative.

Kondwani waters his maize crop. Maize is used in creating the staple food, nsima, similar to polenta.

Kondwani waters his maize crop. Maize is used in creating the staple food, nsima, similar to polenta.

The mills, one for shelling and the other for grinding, both add value to the staple crop, maize corn.

The mills, one for shelling and the other for grinding, both add value to the staple crop, maize corn.

Before MAVISALO's mills, maize processing was done across the border in Zambia.

Before MAVISALO’s mills, maize processing was done across the border in Zambia.

Money generated from small milling fees help cover costs of running the savings and loans cooperative. This helps keep interest rates low.

Women with the milled maize flour. Money generated from small milling fees help cover costs of running the savings and loans cooperative. This helps keep interest rates low. So far, the maize mills fees have increased MAVISALO’s loan capital by $500!

Woman putting maize in the sheller.

Woman putting maize in the sheller. Milled flour can be sold for 61 cents per kg, instead of 15 cents per kg for whole kernels.

Through investment projects like these maize mills, SIA is supporting local development that continues to impact the community for years to come! Thank you so much for your support in 2013. See you next year!

Donate now to support more local organizations in Africa! 

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