4 Things Making Me Happy (including Black Panther)

4 Things Making Me Happy (including Black Panther)

A round-up of some exciting news from around the Spirit in Action network:

1. SIA partner recognized for anti-FGM work

Samuel Siriria Leadismo, co-founder of Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) and one of SIA’s grant partners in the fight against female circumcision, has been honored for his work. The Kenyan Anti-FGM Board presented Samuel with the very first “End FGM Male Champion of the Year Award.” Samuel and PCF have trained more than 5,000 school children to respond and say “NO to FGM.”

anti-FGM leaders in Kenya

Samuel with PCF co-founder, Sayydah Garrett from USA, and Margaret Ikiara from CIFORD Kenya (another SIA partner).

2. Smart Risks Book in Swaziland!

Smart Risks, the book that I co-edited and which features Spirit in Action, is now available at the University of Swaziland Library! Smart Risks author Clement Dlamini is from Swaziland and held a book launch at the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre last week. He wrote about his experience with community resiliency and how international partnerships can build on communities’ and people’s strengths. I love that the book is moving all around the world!

3. Energy-Efficient Stoves in Kenya

At a recent on-day seminar in Maua, Kenya, representatives from CIFORD Kenya talked to farmers about how to best care for their produce after harvest. CIFORD Kenya (a SIA partner) is a holistic community organization, dealing with issues of female empowerment, sustainable agriculture, and peer support. As part of the seminar, energy-efficient stoves (called jikos) were distributed to some families to reduce the need to cut down trees for firewood.

When I visited CIFORD last June, Joseph and Penina Ayemo showed me the jiko in their cooking hut. Penina told us, “This saves a lot of wood. We can cope now with just a few poles. The wood that used to last for one night now lasts for one week.”

Energy-efficient stoves for distribution at the CIFORD workshop. Photo from CIFORD Kenya.

4. African Fashion in Black Panther

Have you seen the new movie, Black Panther yet? It is a comic book story set in an imaginary African country called Wakanda. The cool part is that the costumes actually reflect African tribes and cultures. Also, several of the actors are (rightfully) from the African continent, including from Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Kenya! Check out some of the amazing costumes and their inspirational sources here.

Malawi dance at COMSIP grand opening

At the opening ceremonies of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre, a group of men danced a healing dance and dance of welcome. (May 2017, Malawi)

Bonus! Recommended Reading: A study finds positive impact from a program that provides poor households in Uganda with a combination of cash transfers, mentorship, business training, and support for the formation of savings groups over a one-year period. Read the report here.

 

A tour around the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre

A tour around the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre

One of the highlights of my visit to Manyamula Village last May was the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremonies for the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre. This centre was the great dream of Canaan Gondwe and the Manyamula COMSIP membership and I was so proud to see it realized and open for business! The Training Centre is so much more than just an office for the savings and loan cooperative. It’s already generating income for the cooperative and building a stronger community. Let me show you around! (Click on the photo for a larger version)

On the day of the opening ceremonies, May 24, 2017, Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members, local officials, and SIA Small Business Fund members gather around the central gazebo of the new Training Center. Behind the gazebo (from left to right) is the new dormitory, the administrative offices and the kitchen/meeting hall.

This is the room where I stayed at the Manyamula COMSIP Training Center dormitory. The electricity had just been connected the day before we arrived! The plastic chairs were bought with a grant from SIA. Some of the guest rooms are rented out to teachers at the nearby technical college.

The meeting hall is used for educational and training events. It is also being rented to church groups on the weekends. Pictured are Tanya Cothran (back to camera, wearing a skirt made from COMSIP fabric), Canaan Gondwe (in suit) who was master of ceremonies that day. SIA Team members Dana Belmonte and Boyd Cothran observe.

The Cooperative employs attendants and watchmen who fetch and heat water for guests to use for bathing. In the background is the goat house. This is here for demonstration purposes to educate local farmers on good care of goats. The house is elevated so that the goats hoofs will be out of the muck throughout the night. This also allows easy access to goat manure for farming. The goats go out to graze during the day.

In the shell of the under-construction warehouse at the Manyamula Training Center, women cooked over open flames to provide three meals a day for us. We ate eggs and potatoes, nsima (made from corn/maize), vegetables and chicken. The warehouse will help farmers to safely store their harvest, especially corn/maize and groundnuts (peanuts), until they can sell it collectively for a good price. The national COMSIP organization is investing to finish this construction. The COMSIP grant came after they saw the good work that the cooperative is doing to help farmers and community members. Manyamula has a population of about 25,000.

During the open ceremonies, Canaan said, “We built this centre with local materials, especially local bricks. The building of this center is a source of pride, duty and community. Now we are distinguished in the world. The hall is used for church services and youth empowerment programs. We hope it will soon be a place for indoor sports, and as a recreation center, to watch soccer on TV, and as an internet café so that youth can learn computer skills.”

“Hope is our Greatest Weapon”

“Hope is our Greatest Weapon”

I was so encouraged by this letter from SIA partner, Samson Turinawe. Samson is the Director of Universal Love Ministries, which works to promote an inclusive and diverse society in Uganda, free from gender- and sexuality-based violence. May we follow his call to stay hopeful in our work for justice. 

2017 is coming to a close and it is a good time to take measure of what we’ve accomplished together this past year. I want to recognize your good efforts on behalf of Universal Love Ministries and acknowledge the relationship that we’ve developed as a consequence of those efforts. Your goodwill and the commitment that you’ve demonstrated made a real and substantial difference in the lives of marginalized people whom ULM supports. 

I don’t know how the year went for you, but surely each of us faces challenges. We must own up to the errors we’ve made in addressing those challenges. We must come to terms with personal weakness that perhaps exacerbated the situation. Yet each of us has strength and wisdom too, which sometimes allows us to transcend circumstances and make things better.

There is more to life than regrets over the past. Never allow challenges to keep you down for long. You are strong and you can do better.

Samson surrounded by Inclusivity Club members.

Everybody Can Serve

If you are a teacher, kids in your class look up to you; their parents trust that you are teaching their kids well even if they don’t say that to you directly. If you are an activist, there is more to stand for; more good change that is needed. If you are a researcher, the future is waiting for your work, discoveries that can help people and make their lives better. If you are a doctor, remember that the society needs you, sick people to restore their health. If you are a writer, don’t forget that we expand our minds through what we read, what we see and feel.

This is what makes our society complete. Nobody is a lesser person. Our individual contribution is what makes us greater as a people.

Sharon Kukunda, Associate Director of ULM, presenting at the Inclusivity Club conference. The theme was “The Role of Youth in Celebrating Diversity.”

Hope is our greatest weapon

Hope is our greatest weapon for facing the future. No matter the challenges we confront today, we must not let pessimism keep us down.

Maybe our politics failed us. Maybe you were betrayed by people you had previously trusted. As we end 2017, make this your oath: never fail yourself and never be destructive because society mistakenly thinks its right to do destructive things on behalf of the majority. We can make this world better than it was yesterday. We can make it better for all people.

However little start, share, learn, network and strive to inspire others, even if it is just one other person.

You have our best wishes and prayers for the New Year. We believe you’ll arrive at the New Year with dreams and an uplifting vision for our world, for our generation and the next generation. The ULM team will never stop to stand with those who are threatened; we’ll stand to make those who have been silenced to speak out for themselves. We are committed to this journey. We do not go to bed blissful, satisfied with the way things are. Every challenge is an injustice to overcome and this gives us reason not to relax. 

Turinawe Samson
ULM-Uganda

Local and school leaders at the Inclusivity Club Conference in November.

Partner Spotlight: Matungu Community Development Charity in Kenya

Partner Spotlight: Matungu Community Development Charity in Kenya

A group photo of the members of the Matungu Community Development Charity in Kakamega County, Kenya. Vincent Atitwa sits on Tanya’s right. (June, 2017)

Every six months we check in with our grassroots grant partners to ask how their programs are going and how they are impacting their members. We like to hear about their challenges as well as their successes, and about how they are reinvesting to make their programs sustainable outside of SIA’s funding. Today, I am sharing this wonderful report from the Matungu Community Development Charity in Mumias, Kenya. They received a Community Grant from Spirit in Action in May and I visited them in June and got to see them collect their weekly dues for the table banking cooperative.

The following report is from group leader, Vincent Atitwa:

Vincent Atitwa, the gracious leader of the Matungu Community Development Charity

The approved purpose of the grant: We will start a table banking and a collective poultry project. Our project is empowering small-scale farmers by helping them to improve farming practices and gain access to credit and financing.

Estimate the number of people who have benefited from this project: 20 members benefited directly and 80 members benefited indirectly as family members and friends.

Our biggest success has been:

  • We were able to construct poultry house/ structure that can a accommodate 300 birds
  • Purchased 250 poultry birds for the project. We also bought chicken feed, feeding and water troughs and vaccines
  • Disbursed 15 small loans to 15 group members, each getting 12,500 Kenyan Shillings ($121)

Chicks collectively reared by the members of the cooperative raise funds for low-interest micro-loans.

Our biggest problem has been: We have not yet been able to register our intended savings and loaning cooperative. The registrar of societies suggested we register either a company or multi-purpose cooperative since we are also running the poultry business.

Has profit been used to reinvest back into the project? Yes, by purchasing more 30 birds that were given to 5 more new group members.

How have you been able to participate in Sharing the Gift? We were able to purchase and  pass a gift of 10 birds to 2 elderly women who are caring for orphans.

Please explain how this project has affected you and others involved. Have you seen changes in your community? This project has impacted positively on our group members’ lives. Before, some lacked money to start their own small businesses and now at least 15 members are comfortably running and operating their small business ranging from: farming of maize, growing and selling of local vegetable, horticulture, selling of cereals, and tailoring.

Profits made from these businesses are being used to buy books, uniforms and even other basic needs for the beneficiaries’ children. For example, Judith Were, a single mother who operates a tailoring shop, used the loan funds to expand her tailoring business through purchasing more garments and material stock. Judith reports, “This coming festive season around Christmas, I am prepared to do more work. I hope to realize good profits now that I have enough material in stock.”

Judith Were in her tailoring shop. She used her loan to buy more material to make dresses for the holiday season!

What have you learned from this process of project implementation? I have learned that sometimes when people (especially our group members), are supported with unconditional small loans they tend to work hard and make good profits. This is much less stressful compared to working and using loans borrowed from cooperate banks/institutions with strings attached on it. With SIA-supported unconditional small loans, members become custodian of their own funds.

Tanya displays a dress made by Judith Were. Judith tells her story, “I run a boutique. I have a shop, and I am a tailor. I make colorful dresses and skirts.”

Lessons from a coworking space in Malawi

Lessons from a coworking space in Malawi

This is reposted from the blog Centre for Social Innovation’s blog. I wrote it for my coworking community in Toronto.

Halfway around the world, stepping into the Blantyre Entrepreneurs Hub was reassuringly familiar. Even though the dusty streets and tin-roofed houses of Malawi, a tiny country in southern Africa, are very different from the condo towers and streetcars of Toronto, spaces of social innovation around the world seem to share more similarities than differences.

Motivational quotes from famous innovators decorated the lime green walls. Bright orange chairs surrounded the black glossy work tables. The office was quiet on the cool evening in May when I visited. Most of the entrepreneurs – the photographers, caterers, and website developers – had already gone home to their families or guest houses for the evening. Dineo Mkwezalamba, Program Manager for Entrepreneurs Motivation Network (EMNET), greeted me with a warm smile. She was excited to show me around the cooperative’s facilities.

Tanya with Dineo (pictured left) the HUB director, and one of the top entrepreneurs (pictured right).

The Hub, as it’s known, is a coworking space for entrepreneurs in Blantyre, which is the financial and business capital of Malawi, and a city of one million people. The space provides access to high-speed internet, meeting rooms, electricity, and security. These are big perks for the entrepreneurs, most of whom do not have access to the electrical grid at home. The collective buying power of the Hub makes the amenities affordable. In addition to the monthly memberships, they’ve begun to offering day-pass for about CAD$1.75. The hope is that once entrepreneurs visit the Hub for a day, they’ll become sustaining new members.

On the tour, Dineo pointed out the ocpen-seating desks for Silver Members (like CSI’s HotDesk space), the café (with member discounts!), and the closed offices that can accommodate up to four people in a single business. One of the offices stood empty and Dineo assured me that this was because the interior design company had recently “graduated” up to an office building of their own.

The vibrant Hub space for entrepreneurs in Blantyre, Malawi.

Training Youth to Be Entrepreneurs

In addition to providing space for entrepreneurs, EMNET also hosts a local Pitch Night (read an article from the BBC about their pitch night) and runs a youth entrepreneurs training program. I eagerly listened and took notes as she told me about how they frame the concept of entrepreneurship for the youth. I wanted to be able to remember the way she described their mentorship program, connecting local business leaders and high school youth, and the way she connects the concept of entrepreneurship with ideas that the youth already understand.

“All youth know vendors,” Dineo explained to me, “because many of their parents and family members are vendors.” According to the latest labor statistics, 89% of people who are working in Malawi are in the informal employment. Informal employment covers farming and, especially for women, buying and reselling food and household items.

When Dineo talks to youth about entrepreneurship, she wants them to think beyond selling eggs. “Youth know that vending is the first step to being an entrepreneur. Our goal is to help them get to business success, and to make sure entrepreneurship doesn’t seem like a scary thing.”

Dineo and her team use the motto, “train to sustain,” when teaching the youth about adapting a mindset of starting a sustainable and scalable business. I am incorporating this process of helping people imagine themselves as entrepreneurs into my work with Spirit in Action International.

“I have not failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Animating Community

Similar to my experience at CSI, perhaps the most important perk of the Entrepreneur’s Hub is the access to community and to those serendipitous moments of collaboration. I told Dineo about one of my favorite parts of CSI – Salad Club. Some of the best conversations and exchanges of ideas at CSI have been over a plate of salad. When I mentioned this, Dineo smiled with a twinkle of excitement in her eye. She’d been working on creating more buzz around the Hub office. In July, I got a text message from her, “Keep an eye on our Facebook page today! Your visit sparked some new activities!” That day, the Hub kicked off their #SocialFridays, showing a movie in the lounge space. Generating ideas for animation from their community, they’ve also established: Leadership Mondays, Startup Tuesdays, Business Wednesday, and She Leads Malawi Thursday.

It’s so easy to focus on the differences between places like Blantyre and Toronto. In my experience, Malawians are just as likely as Canadians to think that there’s little we could have in common. Representations of North America arrive in Malawi through the distorted examples of volunteer programs, television shows, and music videos. These leads to a belief that Americans (and Canadians lumped in with them) are all rich people who don’t have any worries or challenges.

Similarly, representations of Malawi (lumped in with all of Africa) mostly arrive in Canada through calls for charity and news about poverty. There are not many opportunities for each of us to see the wealth of experiences and cultural diversity in each country or to experiences each other as individuals.

My conversation and exchange of ideas with Dineo felt different. It gave us a chance to connect as individuals and peers. I left feeling like we were on the same team. Around the globe, there’s always a need for spaces like CSI and the Hub. Places to build community, to bring people together, and to share costs so that entrepreneurs can get our ideas and products out in the world.

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