A grant that gives hope

A grant that gives hope

Last week, I had the great pleasure of sending out the congratulations letters to the groups that received SIA grants at our last board meeting. I work with each of the grant applicants to more fully understand their projects and to refine their proposals. After weeks and months in communication the happy moment arrives when I get to let them know that SIA approved their application!

“Overwhelmed by joy”

Below is the reply I received from Vincent Atitwa, leader of the Matungu Community Development Charity cooperative in Kenya. They received a grant to start a table banking program to provide their members, mostly small farmers, with low-interest loans.

“First, I must say that I am overwhelmed by joy and happiness after learning that SIA funded our project. I say BIG THANK YOU to you and the entire team of SIA, together with their donors who made all the process possible. May God bless you abundantly so that you continue blessing others too.

“To me, this is not just a grant, it’s a grant that comes with a lot of hope and inspiration to our community.

“Finally God has answered our prayers. I believe that the SIA grant holds a key to unlock a lot of business opportunities for marginalized small scale farmers in our community. The businesses will create both jobs and wealth. I am happy to be associated with SIA and its activities, and I look forward to continuing working with you even in future after this grant.”

A Smart Risk

This grant partnership is a great example of Smart Risk #1 from the forthcoming book, that I co-edited with Jennifer Lentfer, about small grants.

Smart Risk #1: Investing in local expertise. 

Vincent and the rest of the team at Matungu Community Development Charity know the context of lending in rural Kenya. They know about the farming cycles and the challenges associated with the climate and markets. They know the community members and can talk to them when they have trouble repaying the loan. For all these reasons, we believe that it is worth investing in local groups.

Follow along this week on our Facebook page for all five Smart Risks! 

Planning a ribbon cutting ceremony in Malawi

Planning a ribbon cutting ceremony in Malawi

Three years ago, August 2014, I helped the Manyamula Community Savings and Investment Cooperative (COMSIP) in Malawi break ground for their new training centre and office building. This summer – in just seven weeks, to be exact – I’ll be there to commemorate the official opening of the building. And I’ll be staying a few nights in their guest rooms!

“We are planning that as you come to the community, there will be an official opening of the building facility,” shares Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative. “You and the other SIA team members will lead the procession and be the Guest of Honour. Traditional leaders, COMSIP Union staff, as well as Government representatives, and all cooperative members will be there to celebrate.”

Tanya at the site of the future Manyamula COMSIP Training Centre, guest house, and office building! (Malawi, 2014)

This ribbon cutting ceremony will kick-off my three-week trip to visit SIA partners in Kenya and Malawi. The days will be filled with visiting Small Business Fund group shops, and homes that have been renovated as a result of business profits. I will be greeting, celebrating successes, and listening to their thoughts on how we can improve our work to have a greater impact.

Trip highlights:

Visit SIA projects in Malawi (3 days)

    1. Manyamula Savings and Loans Group Cooperative
    2. Small Business Fund groups
    3. Youth entrepreneurs in Blantyre

Conference for SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators (4 days)

  1. Program evaluation and peer-to-peer learning
  2. Training for new and potential coordinators

SBF Coordinators canaan Gondwe (Malawi) and Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) at our conference in Uganda in 2014.

Visit SIA projects in Kenya (7 days)

    1. Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge’s Samro School
    2. Small Business Fund groups in Nairobi and Eldoret
    3. CIFORD Kenya (girl’s empowerment)
    4. Megabridge Foundation (piggery)
    5. Dressmaking and beadworking training in informal settlements around Nairobi

Training to Expand 

Over the last two years we have been expanding our SIA Small Business Fund program. We have added new local coordinators in Malawi, Uganda, and two more in Kenya. Families are able to best use these $150 business grants when they are also mentored by our wonderful local coordinators. This means that we are only able to expand the Small Business Fund program as fast as we can find dedicated, reliable coordinators. During my last trip to Africa I realized the need for a more robust training program for recent and incoming coordinators. This time, we will take two days to train new coordinators so that we can ensure our coordinators are ready and prepared to lead and mentor the new business groups.

Tanya and Mike Hegeman leading a song.

Traveling with me will be my wonderful husband, Boyd, and also two very dear friends, Dana Belmonte and Mike Hegeman. Boyd, Dana, and Mike are all SIA Advisory Board members and passionate about our work. Traveling with a group will give me more space for true listening and connection, while leaving the documentation and logistics to our capable team.

If you would like to contribute to the travel fund for the Small Business Fund Coordinators to attend our conference in Malawi, please click here!

 

Entrepreneurs in Nairobi: “We feel resurrected”

Entrepreneurs in Nairobi: “We feel resurrected”

These men and women, chosen to receive SIA Small Business Fund grants, are living in the rough conditions in the informal settlements around Nairobi. They and their families are living without running water or adequate toilet facilities. Structures are made tin pieces and are packed together very closely. Rain turns dirt roads and floors into muddy messes.

And yet, with the chance to start her own business and to provide for her family, one of the new entrepreneurs in Nairobi said that she feels like she is ‘resurrected’ and ‘like other people’ now.

Here are more success stories from the latest Small Business Fund cohort in Korogocho, Nairobi:

  • Mutinda, selling shoes: He feels very confident because can provide food for his family. All his children can go to school and his family can even afford better medical care. Writing is a challenge for Mutinda, but his business skills are excellent!
  • Rebecca, cooking chapatti: She is now her own boss, leaving her old workplace where she also cooked chapatti. Initially, she was selling a few packets per day, but now she can sell in bundles (a big packet of twelve chapatti). Her children still go to school and eat well. She was also able to repair holes in the roof of her rented house. Before, she would be waiting forever for the owner to do it.

Phoebe explaining a point to other entrepreneurs

  • Nelly, making soaps: She was making five liters of soap at a time, and repacking it in smaller quantities to sell. Now, she makes 60 liters and has a much better market. Three people have benefitted from this business and she is able to take her son to a better school. She can afford medical care and is grateful to SIA.
  • Phoebe, selling fabric: She is so proud to be able to send her son to a boarding school out of Nairobi County! Five people benefitted from the business, but the best thing that ever happened to her is sending her son to boarding school just like ‘other people’!
  • Kezziah, selling vegetables: Her profit was more than predicted! Besides reinvesting 20% in the business, she is able to keep 10% for herself. She is able to pay school fees for all her children. She is especially proud that she can pay for her daughter to attend high school. Her family also eats better than before.

So far, SIA has supported 33 businesses in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Josephine, one of the SIA local mentors, plans to meet with all 33 groups and register themselves under the Deputy President’s program for women’s groups!

Improving life in the informal settlement (L to R): Dorcas (who helps with record-keeping), Kezziah, Mutinda, Phoebe and Josephine (local mentor).

Making friends around the world

Making friends around the world

Last week, twelve Girl Scouts (ages 10-12) took the first step toward making new friends. The girls from Santa Barbara, CA wrote letters to their new pen pals: students at Samro School in Eldoret, Kenya. They sent the letters and now they wait to hear back from their new friends!

The idea for the cross-cultural sharing came from one of the girls. Last spring, her 6th grade class had the opportunity to Skype with students in Rwanda. This sparked an interest to continue this international communication. As an avid pen pal myself, I was really happy to make the connection between her and the students I know in Kenya.

Girl Scout Troop in Santa Barbara having fun together.

I was probably about her age when I got connected with my first pen pal from Russia. It was set up through my elementary school and I remember how exciting it was to hear about this girl’s life and to see what commonalities we could find. This pen pal relationship didn’t last long. However, it does represent a milestone along my path towards work with Spirit in Action. This fascination and curiosity about how other people do things contributed to my interest in international issues. I envision that this new California – Eldoret pen pal connection will also stir curiosity and foster connection outside of all the girls’ everyday environment.

Samro Students performing at the 8th grade graduation in October, 2015.

Del, Scout Leader

I am also happy about this connection because SIA Founder, Del Anderson, was a dedicated Boy Scout troop leader. In 1949, he started leading Troop 123 in Oakland. He liked the way that this scouts brought together boys from both the poor and rich areas of the city.

When Del and his first wife Bebe (who died in 1972) traveled around the world in 1956, they visited representatives of the International Boy Scouts in many different countries. As an avid letter writer, and a supporter of the scout program, I’m sure Del would be very happy to hear about this new international pen pal connection!

Del with boy scouts

Del and Bebe greet Scouts in Japan in 1956.

The Faces of Kenya’s Future

The Faces of Kenya’s Future

“Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children.” ― Walt Disney

Spirit in Action is investing in this natural resource by supporting students at Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge’s Samro School in Kenya. A SIA Community Grant in November will pay for school fees and lunch for four students, and also cover the tuition and board for eight boarding students. Samro is not only a place to learn, it is also a loving environment which gives the students hope and builds their self-esteem.

Marion Jelagat graduated from Samro School three years ago and is now studying at Kessup Girls High School, where Rhoda Teimue also went to high school! It is a good school and Marion does well in her academics. In her extracurricular activities she does public speaking. Last semester she was one of the best speakers in her county. She is also a Narrative Speaker and performed the best poem in her county. The poem was entitled, “Education is the only weapon that can fight the society.” About 2,400 people listened to her and you can imagine the impact!

Faith Jepkoech is in pre-kindergarten. She was abandoned by her family and has been welcomed into another family near Samro School. The family who is caring for her is also struggling to provide for their other children, and so they requested that Faith board at Samro School for the term. The SIA grant is paying for her studies.

Greflo Koech is in 4th Grade. His mother passed away and his father is struggling to take care of his four other children.

Valentine Jepkoech is in pre-kindergarten. Her family has five children and they are struggling to provide for their basic needs. They are unable to pay the school fees.

Hariet Jebotip is in 3rd Grade. She comes from a family of five children. Her parents are very poor and they struggle to provide food and other basic needs.

Paul Karanja is now in 7th Grade. We have supported Paul in his studies at Samro for 4th years! He has a dream to be an engineer and earn enough so that he can buy a piece of land for his mother and build her a permanent house.

We wish all the students at Samro School a good year! May they grow and develop into bright and caring youth!

Bonus: I found this blog post about the Kenyan school system very helpful! Do you know what Middle Class means? It’s not what you think…

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