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.

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative – a truly locally-led savings and loans organization – has long been a fixture in this rural village in Malawi.The low-interest loans and safe savings have allowed its 180 members to invest in their future and prosper. Now they are building a meeting room (they will not have to pay rent anymore!) and an attached training center to teach people to run similar cooperatives in other villages.

“Apart from the social and economic impacts, the infrastructural image of buildings being erected at the Cooperative premises is the talk of the community,” reports Canaan Gondwe, long-time SIA partner and Manyamula COMSIP Coordinator. “This construction of the Training centre has completely changed the appearance and growth of Manyamula community.”

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

And it’s not just the talk of the village! Word is spreading: “The District Assembly of Mzimba which comprises of Government departmental leaders, Members of Parliament and Councilors paid a visit to the cooperative in their routine inspection of development projects. They were greatly amazed at the project in progress. We highlighted of our contributions and also of SIA as our partners.”

COMSIP Cooperative members have contributed all the bricks, lime and sand for the construction, in addition to two grants from the SIA Community Grants Fund.

One of their biggest challenges is that the Malawian currency keeps being devalued, increasing the prices of imported items like cement. The cooperative is planning to set aside savings each quarter to pay for future repairs, “to sustain our beautiful buildings.”

One of the shops in Mzimba - the larger town nearby - where they bought cement for the flooring.

One of the shops in Mzimba – the larger town nearby – where they bought cement for the flooring.

Canaan concludes: “The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in true partnership with Spirit in Action, is in the business of changing lives and communities. Manyamula community is indeed grateful to God for this abundant Grace.” We are honored to be in partnership with such a dynamic and impactful community organization!

See past construction updates here and read more about construction and electrification here.

A candid moment before the "snap" (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

A candid moment before the “snap” (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

 

Donate online to support more projects like this!

Grant Update: Community Ownership in Bucece Village

Grant Update: Community Ownership in Bucece Village

Bucece has persevered. Through difficult situations, like poor crop yields and weather conditions, and delays in materials and supplies, the village has remained steadfastly committed to the work.”

Bucece Village in rural Uganda has partnered with Toronto-based Raising the Village (RTV) and Spirit in Action to improve their village and benefit the local farm economy. Two years ago, a SIA grant supported a sustainable agricultural training program and RTV has served as an ongoing on-the-ground partner. Now, the village is committed to continuing the program with their own local leadership and community ownership.

Early on, the the agricultural program suffered from poor weather conditions and after the initial training the crop was lost to rain and floods. However, the 2015 fall harvest season was successful and the village famers are finally being rewarded with benefits from new agricultural techniques and crop diversity. Increased use of compost fertilizer and double digging techniques, which enhance soil health, are having real, positive outcomes!

A Bucece household crop field using a double-dug agricultural row technique.

A Bucece household crop field using a double-dug agricultural row technique.

Community Organizing & Savings

The members of Bucece Village are working both as individual households and as a whole community to increase trade opportunities locally. After the recent bountiful harvest, the villagers are organizing a market in Bucece to draw buyers to the village instead of having to transport their own to the market across the lake. This will have huge material benefit for famers, because transport to market was long and severely impacting profit!

Bucece Village is also coming together each month to contribute to a village savings and loans association. From January through April 2015, collections average 25,000 UGX ($7.50 USD), and from May through December they have increased the savings to 50,000 UGX ($15 USD)! These funds are loaned out to households, in turn, to replenish seeds. They have also invested in new seed varieties, and individual households are re-investing their profits in diversified crops.

A Bucece villager brings back crops harvested from her field.

A Bucece villager brings back crops harvested from her field.

Community Leacership & Ownership

Although Bucece began this work in partnership with SIA and RTV, by January RTV will hand over all of the management of the interventions to the village, with monthly monitoring by RTV representatives. I really like RTV’s method of initial collaboration and ongoing leadership development, which over time leads to full community ownership of their own development. This is true partnership, with each group contributing from their strengths. It results in lasting change that perseveres long after the initial grant investment. 

(Pictured at the top is the view of the lake from Bucece Village.)

From skills training to employment

From skills training to employment

One of the exciting new groups that SIA is partnering with this year is Progressive Volunteers, a Kenyan grassroots organization that coordinates local volunteers to improve the poorest communities in Nairobi. We supported them with a grant to purchase several sewing machines and to rent a training space for dressmaking, tailoring, and sewing machine handling classes.

Onyango, the project coordinator, reports on their great success so far in helping people get trained and employed:

“The training center project runs classes for single mothers and girls, to give them relevant tailoring skills to enable them get skilled employment from Ruaraka industries. The first phase of the project saw 43 women trained on embroidery and sewing skills. The second phase began in mid-August and will run till 19th December with 39 trainees.

“To date, 26 of the trained women and girls have managed to secure employment with Rafiki Clothing Industry as machine operators. Two of the trainees were retained in the training centre to help with the management of the centre. The rest of the trainees have been absorbed in private businesses in Kariobangi North and Mathare North markets. This is our success so far this year.” Congratulations to these women and the trainers!

In 2016, Progressive Volunteers hopes to help five women secure funding – grants or low-interest loans – to purchase sewing machines and start their own small tailoring businesses.

New Businesses in Malawi

New entrepreneurs ready to start their small businesses in Malawi, with the help of a SIA grant.

New entrepreneurs ready to start their small businesses in Malawi, with the help of a SIA grant.

A new round of Small Business Fund (SBF) groups in northern Malawi have submitted their business plans and received their initial $100 grant! The first three listed are being mentored by our newest SBF local Coordinator in Malawi, Hastings Phiri. We welcome and wish the best to these new businesses:

  • Tyezee Bakery
  • Mtenthe Winne Tea Shop
  • Gregory Grocery Shop
  • Monily Welding Shop
  • Tawona Grocery
  • Malonje Crop Sales
  • Wangani Cattle Selling
  • Towera Grocery
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