Building friendships as they work

Building friendships as they work

With a grant from Spirit in Action, LUWODEA, a grassroots organization in Kamuli, Uganda, purchased high-tech equipment for making biomass fuel briquettes. Earlier this month 160 rural women attended learned to make this cheap, reliable cooking fuel. Instead of having to collect wood (resulting in deforestation), they now are making their own fuel by compacting green waste.

“We are so happy to report that women enjoyed the training and they have started off very well producing briquettes for home use. They are also selling off the surplus briquettes for income earning,” reports Sharon Mudondo, LUWODEA’s coordinator.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Don’t touch that dial!

As I reviewed Sharon’s report, I was fascinated to learn that LUWODEA is promoting their new product on the radio!

“We held a 15-minute radio talk show at local radio Ssebo, in Kamuli town. We were able to respond to questions from community members about briquette fuel as a business and a environmental conservation initiative. This gave us a chance to create massive awareness about the project and also inform the general public about prices and where they can get the briquettes made by our beneficiaries.”

They talk about how the briquettes burn faster, last longer, and are more efficient compared with traditional wood charcoal fuel. The briquettes are also cheaper!

“Our area being remote, the most common means of communication to masses is radio,” explains Sharon. “About 90% of rural families own small radios, so it is easy to listen to news and other programs like the briquette talk show. We have found the program very effective in terms of creating awareness. It also is helping us to reach more villages than we would if we had to do house-to-house outreach.”

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Women making briquettes in the market place. Biomass materials are pressed to create a dense pellet.

“We smile as we share challenges”

The LUWODEA team report that the women who are diligent about making and selling the briquettes can earn $3-8 per day! This income benefit the family in tangible ways. They can eat more meals per day, and pay for school fees. We learn from the testimony of Nora Karule, that the project also has intangible benefits:

“This briquette program comes with health advantages. These briquettes are smokeless and my children have not been sick in the past one and half months. This also means I can save more money because before I would spend such money that I earned on their treatment. I also find it interesting working with my fellow group mates at the briquette center. We are able to talk freely about issues in our families and even make jokes. We smile as we share challenges and other life experiences we face as women.”

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

The mission of the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre in Nairobi is to train women and men to use the industrial sewing machines to enable them to get jobs. And, as I reported in June, 124 of the 181 trainees have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases the trainees are only able to get the skilled machine operator jobs because of the training centre.

Studying factory jobs

I consider this employment a great success! And so I was interested to read this study that looked at the effect of low-wage manufacturing jobs on workers in Ethiopia. Now, this is in Ethiopia, not Kenya, and I do not know if the workers are taking the same sort of skilled jobs that the Mathare trainees are able to secure.

What did the study find? “It turned out that for most people, working in a factory didn’t significantly improve their income relative to the people in the control group. But getting cash to help start your own business did.”

The researchers, Chris Blattman and Stephan Dercon, summed it up like this:

  • Most people who applied for these factory jobs didn’t like them or intend to stay, rather the jobs were low paid and unpleasant and used as a safety net of sorts, while people looked for other entrepreneurial activities or less difficult wage work
  • But the health risks of industrial work were high and there’s evidence that serious health problems doubled if you took the factory job
  • When you gave them $300 cash [instead of the factory job], they started a small business and earnings went up by a third.
Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

What does this mean for SIA?

I wasn’t sure what this all meant for SIA partners. So I emailed Jeremiah Mzee, who is director of the training centre project. He wrote:

“I completely agree with the writer of this article.

“It is true that when a factory establishes in Kenya, it creates new jobs for both the skilled and unskilled laborers. A majority get low wages and there is nothing they can do. Most of them try to work in these factories for low pay with a hope of getting something better. In Ruaraka these factory jobs are considered to be for women simply because they pay low wages, though to the women they believe these factories provide valuable employment opportunities for them. I AGREE.

“Most people working in these factories get wages enough only to meet basic needs and it is true that entrepreneurial women running small businesses in Ruaraka have better income and financial independency.”

It is always useful to get this kind of feedback. It is the great benefit of our long-term partnership with grassroots leaders who know the reality of the situation on the ground. Luckily, Jeremiah Mzee is one of our newest Small Business Fund coordinators. He is already working with these women to help them become entrepreneurs. Another five business groups received their $150 grants last month. And the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre will continue to train people to be able to apply for the higher paying jobs at the factories, until they can find something better.

Training boys to be allies

Training boys to be allies

This seminar was different. Boys and girls sat in the classroom together. Listening to the presentations about puberty, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS together. Spirit in Action grants have supported girls’ empowerment seminars and an alternative rite of passage at CIFORD Kenya and Pastoralist Child Foundation in the past. However, this seminar was the first to include high schoolers of both sexes.

ciford_girls_boys_seminar_8-16 The co-ed seminar came at the request of the parents and the youth in Meru, Kenya. The girls felt strongly that the boys also needed to learn about sexuality and the fight against genital cutting. “The participants were happy and said they are going to be change agents in the community to fight against female circumcision,” reported one of the facilitators.

Eighty participants (35 boys and 45 girls) attended the week-long seminar held during the August school holidays. The facilitators are local women, who are experienced in health education. In addition to covering the health problems and danger of female circumcision, the sessions also discussed the effects of texting and social media, career and talent development, and drug and substance abuse. There was time for focus group discussion and questions from the youth.  “It was a learning experience. And since it was the first of its kind we had to consult a lot,” said Margaret Ikiara, Director of the grassroots organization CIFORD Kenya.
ciford_girls_boys_seminar_group_8-16

This is an opportunity for our children to be told those things which we cannot share with them,” said Kambura, a mother of one of the girls. “My daughter is very happy. She says she learned a lot that she will share with her friends who were unable to attend.”

Each participant left with a shirt that says, “The future depends on us. We are the change.” Together they will bring the message to friends and family members, and be visible in the community as standing up for girl’s rights.

"The future depends on us. We are the change." Proclaim the seminar t-shirts.

“The future depends on us. We are the change.” Proclaim the seminar t-shirts.

The participants had a great suggestion for future seminars: How about including a talent contest? Let’s make this fun, in addition to informative and empowering!

Gratitude from Margaret, Director of CIFORD:

“On behalf of our community and the benefiting boys and girls, and on behalf of CIFORD, I wish to thank the SIA donors and the SIA board for approving this exciting program. Thank you to Tanya for being there for us and giving encouraging words. We say a big thank you.”

Doing Good…Says Who? A book review

Doing Good…Says Who? A book review

It’s rare that a book about international aid and charity reflects Spirit in Action’s core philosophy of partnership and responding to the needs of the community. (In fact, that’s why I’m working on a book of collected essays about the importance of small grants and true partnership. More details to come!)

When I read Doing Good..Says Who? by Connie Newton and Fran Early, I immediately recommended it to all of SIA’s Board members. This book, which came out of interviews with 430 Guatemalans and non-Guatemalan aid workers and volunteers, features stories that clearly demonstrate the importance of listening to community members and trusting local knowledge. I came away more sure than ever that that is the only way to create lasting change. And it’s also an enjoyable, non-technical read!

The book is organized in five chapters, each focusing on a principle that is, “at the heart of guiding good intentions into productive outcomes.” Overall, good intentions are nice, but they are definitely not enough to ensure the desired outcome!

Respect and value people.

The people in poverty described poverty in terms of powerlessness and voicelessness. In a poignant moment in this chapter, a donor marvels at how their project is like a three-legged stool. The donors raise money in the US. A program director in Guatemala runs the organization and communicates with donors. A woman from the area manages the school lunch program site. A sturdy stool. Then the local woman points out that the donor missed the fourth leg of the stool. The stool would not stand without the mothers who are cooking and making the program happen every day. And it is the mothers who know how to face and overcome the challenges on the ground.

Build trust through relationships.

A woman from the US goes to a remote village to establish a clinic. How successful do you think she is going to be on her own? She quickly realizes that she will only be able to provide help if she is ready to learn, respond to local customs, and work on local time. Her focus becomes, “how can I build their trust?”

When medical volunteers come from the US, she makes sure they also understand the important of trust. The trip is not just about North Americans giving to poor people, it was about a relationship of exchange where they all are students as well as teachers.

Building relationships. COMSIP Sharp! Tanya and Boyd met with the leaders of the national COMSIP organization in Malawi's capital city. We met to share our support of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

Building relationships. COMSIP Sharp! Tanya and Boyd met with the leaders of the national COMSIP organization in Malawi’s capital city. We met to share our support of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

Do “with” rather than “for.”

“Never do for someone what they can do for themselves.” A group of philanthropists want to help people in Guatemala. Once they get there, they realize that they don’t know the first thing about how to invest in real change! There are a lot of potential negative consequences to giving money without understanding the larger systems in play. I love the stories in this chapter as the group makes a tour of several grassroots organizations. They see that the local organizations are able to challenge the inequalities in their system. This will do more in the long-run than a handout that only covers over the inequality.

"The

Ensure feedback and accountability.
Evaluate every step of the way.

“I wish those human factors could show up on our spreadsheets,” laments an organizer of a microfinance group. They are getting pressure from donors to keep the program numbers growing. And this means that there is no time to really build relationships and establish the mutual accountability that is key to the group-backed loans.

The last two chapters show that checking in, getting honest feedback from workers on the ground (rather than pushing to match an outsider ideal), and constantly reflecting and trying new tactics will ensure a strong and sustainable program. (Read about our SBF coordinator conferences.)

Let’s Discuss!

The book ends with a discussion guide with some thought-provoking questions. For example: “Think about a time when you had a personal experience of someone doing good for you. What worked? What didn’t? What were your feelings?”

The overall take-away is that programs for lasting change are successful when there is dialog, humility, understanding, flexibility, and a true focus on local leadership. (See the example of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and their locally led micro-loan program.)

I highly recommend the book to you, both in order to understand more clearly the work of our partner organizations and to see the potential pitfalls of only relying on good intentions. I hope, like me, you’ll come away with a renewed appreciation for SIA’s partnership focus. Once you’ve read it, drop me a line and let me know what you thought!

**Click here to buy the book.

Training leads to jobs in Nairobi

Training leads to jobs in Nairobi

“This is an opportunity for me to change my life from idling and gossiping around in the community. I am happy that the number of cases involving me with other women will now reduce with this lifetime opportunity to gain embroidery and tailoring skills. I would like to specialize in school outfits like track suits and girl’s skirts. Thank you so much Progressive Volunteers.’’

Rosemary Ochieng is 19 years old and dropped out of school after elementary school. She lives in the Ruaraka community – one of the poorest areas of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. There aren’t a lot of good opportunities for women like Rosemary to turn their lives around. The opportunity that Rosemary credits for changing her life is attending the Mathare Dressmaking Training Centre. The centre runs classes for four months with skilled training in tailoring, machine embroidery, and fashion design.

Rosemary is not the only one to benefit. She is one of 168 women and 13 men who have completed the training course.

pv_trainees_12-15

Trainees gather around a table to practice their sewing.

Training leads to jobs

Of the 181 trainees, 124 have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases these women and youth are working as skilled machine operators, meaning that the classes directly opened this employment opportunity for them. There are also 27 trainees who are working for independent dressmaking businesses. Four more are remaining in the Dressmaking Centre to help with training and management.

George is one of the instructors and is a skilled machine operator.

George is one of the instructors and is a skilled machine operator.

With a Community Grant from Spirit in Action, the Mathare Dressmaking Training Centre rented a place to hold the trainings. They also bought high-tech sewing and embroidery machines, and hired instructors to develop the training curriculum.

The Centre continues to improve their offerings by changing as they learn from each training cycle. They found that many women were missing the evening classes because of family obligations. For the next round of classes, they will focus on morning and afternoon classes to better accommodate the busy schedules of their students.

The training team is also looking into ways to make their program more sustainable and they are considering a Sharing the Gift component. This would encourage the trained students to give back to the Centre, especially after they have been able to secure steady jobs.

Congratulations to the Mathare Dressmaking and Training Centre for truly empowering poor women and giving them hope for the future.

 

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