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.

 

More amazing technology & Some challenges

More amazing technology & Some challenges

I had two interesting conversations this week after my blog on how technology is improving our work. (I also added another 2 SIA partners to my WhatsApp contacts!)

Mobile Banking

I had another thrilling moment of wonder at technology as I was talking to Josephine Ameyo (pictured above) about the community bank she wants to start with women in her informal settlement in Nairobi. I know the area can be dangerous – several business leaders have had supplies stolen, and our Small Business Fund Coordinator always arranges for protection when she visits the groups. So I asked Josephine how they would keep the savings safe, and how they would safely transport the savings to the bank.

She responded with good news, “We shall not deal with cash. We have a popular money wire transfer app in Kenya known as M-Pesa which is available in mobile phones here. When people apply for loans we shall remit the cash through that service. And when they repay their loans we shall give them bill-pay number, which is also available from the mobile service provider. There shall be no money exchanging hands hence it will be the safest mode of money transfer.”

The women will be able to borrow money and repay loans through their phones, using the vast network of certified M-Pesa dealers to securely manage the cash. Amazing! (Read more about mobile phones in Kenya.)

Those Left Behind

The second conversation was a sober reminder of the growing technology divide. Margaret Ikiara, director of Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya), is a local leader in a very rural community in central Kenya. She works with many women who are caring for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS; women who are struggling to grow enough food for themselves. Sure, some of these women have cell phones, but they are not phones that can handle WhatsApp.

“I saw the update in the SIA Website and surely technology is fascinating and changing so fast,” wrote Margaret. She continued with a troubling contradiction, “In our community what puzzles me and leaves me with no words is that even in the fast changing world there are parents who are not taking their children to school. That means there are people who will be 3 decades behind others. They can not write letters, emails, nor use WhatsApp.”

It is a clear reminder that even as technology is making lives easier it is not close to reaching or aiding so many people in the places where SIA works. This, in essence, is the call for Spirit in Action. Let us strive even harder to support these women so that we are all progressing and benefiting together.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.  In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate. In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

News Round-up: Good news on the global war on poverty

News Round-up: Good news on the global war on poverty

I’m starting a new feature this week! It’s a news round-up highlighting two news articles related to Spirit in Action’s work and mission. Thank you to Marsha and Dennis Johnson for sending me the CSM article. If you come across other SIA-related news articles, please email them to me!

Progress in the global war on poverty (Christian Science Monitor)

It’s better than you think! Read on…

“Global poverty has fallen faster during the past 20 years than at any time in history. Around the world hunger, child death, and disease rates have all plummeted. More girls are getting into school. In fact, never before have so many people, in so many poor countries, made so much progress in reducing poverty, increasing incomes, improving health, reducing conflict and war, and spreading democracy.

“In all, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite continued population growth.

“Prior to 1980 just half of girls in developing countries completed primary school; now 85 percent do. Less than 50 percent of adult females could read and write, but today global female literacy has passed 93 percent.

“As incomes have risen and democracy has spread, conflict, war, and violence have fallen sharply. This fact surprises anyone reading the daily news about Syria, Yemen, or Afghanistan. While I do not want to trivialize these conflicts, we tend to forget just how violent the world was in the 1980s and early ’90s…”

The article also reviews statistics on health, peace, and economic progress. And credits the end of communism, new technologies, and “strong leadership and courageous actions by the people in those countries themselves” with assisting the progress.

“For hundreds of years, people have predicted at one point or another that global progress would halt. But they have always underestimated the world’s growing abilities – even with many setbacks along the way – to work cooperatively, meet new challenges, and expand global prosperity and basic freedoms.”

I heartily recommend reading the whole article.

3 of the 9 computers that SIA helped Samro purchase in 2013. Each evening the computer room is open to the community for free.

3 of the 9 computers that SIA helped Samro School in Kenya purchase in 2013. Each evening the computer room is open to the community for free.

It’s not just about big corporations: A look at local partnerships (Devex)

USAID is recognizing the benefit of working with local partners, citing some of the reasons we also like working with our local partner organizations. Here are some highlights from their report:

“Local private sector partners bring a unique set of benefits, from local understanding to connections. It’s often easier than working with multinational corporations because local firms tend to have a higher risk tolerance, know the local terrain and possess assets like contacts in local governments or the private sector.

“Local partnerships can also offer a more tailored approach than some corporations, which are guided by strategies created at their often distant headquarters.

“Partnering with local businesses also increases the sustainability of a program or a project and can help those companies gain additional skills, further improving local capacity, [Caterina] Valero added.”

Read the whole article.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi is a strong local partner organization. They give members a safe place to save and low-interest loans.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi is a strong local partner organization. They give members a safe place to save and low-interest loans.

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