5 Things Making Me Happy This Week

5 Things Making Me Happy This Week

1. One of the reason I’m happy today is that Tuesday is the day of my local farmer’s market! This is the height of the growing season here and so there are tasty strawberries, tomatoes, and squash for sale. Just over a year ago, I took a photo as we drove past the farmer’s market in Eldoret, Kenya. They also had a beautiful array of kale, tomatoes, and potatoes. Good food is making me happy this week!

Eldoret, Kenya Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market in Eldoret, Kenya

Toronto Farmer's Market

Toronto Farmer’s Market

 

2. Today, Canaan Gondwe of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, emailed me the plans for the cooperative’s future home. The building will house the savings and loans group’s office, as well as a new restaurant, conference room, and accommodation rooms. Canaan writes, “Preparatory work for the project is almost coming to completion. We are burning our last brick oven next week and once the funds come in, we will procure the rest of the materials for the project. By second or third week of September, we begin construction.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 4.30.23 PM3. Feeling myself beloved:

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

(Raymond Carver, 1938 – 1988)

4. New Small Business Fund (SBF) groups in Eldoret, Kenya! In the photo at the top of the page, Dennis Kiprop, SIA SBF local coordinator is conducting a training session for the 5 new business groups and helping them to fill out their detailed Business Plans. 

Magrate Kiplagat- Bsn Leader Gp# 59

Margaret, along with her husband and son, is starting a business selling plates, cups, and water jugs door-to-door. 

5. Spirit in Action is now on Instagram! This website and app enables us share the great photos from our trips and from our partners. There’s only a few photos so far and I’ll be posting more regularly. If you are on Instagram, check us out and start following us!

Have a great week!

Steria’s Donuts

Steria’s Donuts

On Sunday morning, I shared donuts with fifteen kids aged 4-12 at my church. We were on a virtual trip to Malawi. Passports were stamped and then we looked at photos from my trip to Malawi last summer. One of the photos was of Steria, a woman who received a SIA grant and now sells donuts in Malawi. At the end of the journey, one child remarked, “I learned that some of the foods in Malawi are the same as in Canada, and some are different!” 

Steria Lungu is a widow in Manyamula Village in rural Malawi. She received a Small Business Fund grant from Spirit in Action in 2010. (Our grants are $150, given in two installments, along with mentoring and training.) Steria bought some baking pans and fresh ingredients and started baking and selling donuts. And she is still doing that today! She attends three markets a week, some days walking as far as eight miles, and leaving at 4:00am, to reach bigger markets.

I got to visit Steria last summer and sit inside her house – the house she built with money saved from her donut business. We sat on the puffy couches with crochet doilies on the arms. We saw a photo of us together during our last visit in 2011. She said “thank you for coming under my roof.” And she told us that she now has “no problem with food”; that she and her family are still eating from last year’s maize harvest. That is a huge accomplishment because it means that they are food secure.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home, she told me her story of transformation.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home. She reassured us, “your support is not going in vain.”

Steria and four other women in the neighborhood came together to do their own bit of helping a neighbor. We call it Sharing the Gift. They each contributed some flour and sugar and took turns helping another woman sell donuts at the markets.

Importantly, Steria told us that she contributed to Sharing the Gift because she saw in our local coordinator, Canaan Gondwe, also modeling generosity. Because Canaan was generous with his time and with sharing his expertise, Steria and the other women were also willing to give.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

DSC04559_1024

Stereo’s house in 2014 – with a new roof! She saved enough to replace the thatch with the iron sheets and so no longer experiences leaks!

Not only was it inspiring to see Steria’s house – one with tin roofing sheets, which she was saving when we visited in 2011, and with stronger bricks – and knowing that her daughter can now attend a good high school. It was also good to affirm that when we are caring and generous (like Canaan is) – when we are being spirit in action – other people see that, notice that, and they want to give and serve also.

In a way, we were just helping one person when we gave Steria a grant. In another way we were helping her daughter, her other children, her neighbor, her community (because it is a grant, all the money stays in the community), and all the people who get to eat her yummy donuts!

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

New grants!

New grants!

The SIA Board of Directors gathered last month for our semi-annual meeting. If the mention of a meeting makes your eyes glaze over, let me assure you that our gatherings are inspirational and I always leave feeling encouraged!

We collected grant reports from all SIA grants in the past two years, and we also consider new grant proposals. Our meeting was harmonious (we always make decisions by consensus) and we even finished before the official end time!

Please keep all these dedicated, energetic partners in your prayers. They will receive their funding soon and then the new work will be underway.

  • Habiba Sabuno showing off some of the beaded purses that are models for the training workshop.

    Habiba Sabuno showing off some of the beaded items that are models for the training workshop in Nairobi.

    Additional 6-months rent for Progressive Volunteers’ Dressmaking Training Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Already, 42 woman have been trained in sewing and tailoring skills and classes start again soon for a new group of women.

  • 50 guardians of orphans and vulnerable children will attend a beadworking skills training workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. The workshop will extend over two months and the grant covers the cost of the materials.
  • A new building for the very successful Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi. The building will be used as a restaurant, guesthouse, office space, and conference room for the local savings and investment cooperative. The Cooperative is contributing the bricks and labor for the project. I can’t wait to stay there during my next visit!
  • 13 new Small Business Fund grants. And a new SBF Coordinator, Hastings Phiri, in Malawi, who will be trained by experienced Coordinator Canaan Gondwe.
Tanya at the site of the future Manyamula COMSIP Training Centre, guest house, and restaurant! (Malawi)

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

We believe that these grants will be impactful drops in these communities, which will ripple out to amplify the positive power of the drop:

“Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling… As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together. No one is an island.” — Frederick Buechner

Let’s pledge to set the web a-tremble with kindness!

“A partner who has walked with us side by side”

[Above: A video snippet of Canaan’s speech; with Winkly Mahowe interpreting into the local language.]

It was exactly a year ago that I was in Malawi and witnessing the amazing change happening in Manyamula Village. When I was there, Canaan Gondwe, who has been an honest and dedicated leader in his community, gave a wonderful welcome address to us and the gathered SIA friends. Imagine you are in a crowded, cinder block meeting room, the smell of dust outside, the music from the band and the clapping and singing are dying down. Over 100 of us settle ourselves in the plastic chairs and give our attention to Canaan:

Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members sing a song of welcome. (Malawi, 2014)

Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members sing a song of welcome to Tanya. (Malawi, 2014)

“On behalf of Traditional leaders, Area Development Committee, Government Staff present here, all Cooperative and Small Business Fund members and all people gathering in this room and on my own behalf, I feel greatly honored and excited to sincerely welcome Tanya Cothran (SIA Administrator) and Dr. Boyd Cothran (SIA Board Member) in Malawi and in particular here in Manyamula COMSIP (Community Savings and Investments Promotion) Cooperative, “where together we grow.” Feel free and feel at home in the warm heart of Africa (Malawi) to interact with each of us and hear remarkable stories of positive change in our lives.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Society, formerly known as MAVISALO, and the Small Business Fund project, supported by Spirit in Action, have played a critical social and economic role in enabling members to escape poverty and marginalization. I am saddened to recall and report the situation of our members before these institutions were established in this area:

  • About 80% had never used a bank
  • About 90% had poor housing infrastructure (houses that are grass thatched, houses that leak during rainy season, houses built of mud and with poor ventilation
  • Members of the cooperative had to travel 44km each direction to access commercial lending institutions with high interest rates, high demand of unaffordable collaterals, coupled by short period of loan repayments
  • About 60% of our people were food insecure; members could not afford fertilizer

I am extremely excited and pleased as a leader of the Cooperative and the Small Business Fund (SBF) that these programs can and have begun to reverse the above mentioned trend. Both the cooperative and SBF project have continued to post continued economic growth on its members from year to year.

Our members of the Cooperative and SBF project are entrepreneurs. The mobilized savings (shares), which currently are 4.8 million Malawian Kwacha [about $10,000 USD], form the capital base from which members borrow and engage in various forms of business: such as poultry, retail shops, irrigation farming, livestock production, baking, bicycle repair, shoe repairing, carpentry, tomato sales, fish marketing, transport, music shows, restaurants, pre-school, barber shops, photography, and winery sales among others.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

Impact

I am extremely excited to openly expound the positive change and better life that members of the project enjoy:

  • All 167 members (with 47% women) have embraced a culture of savings and investment.
  • Members of the cooperatives and SBF have created self-employment
  • There is increased income and general economic empowerment at household level because of improved skills and experience in entrepreneurship
  • Better housing for 95% of cooperative and SBF members (Houses with burnt bricks and iron sheets)
  • Increased asset acquisition by members (eg. Motorcycles, bicycles, band equipment)
  • Improved health at household level (good nutrition); our members afford to go to private clinics and pay medical bills.
  • Members of the cooperative support their school-going children well (uniforms, fees, transport)
  • Improved food security amongst members.
  • A total of 20 members have either done electrical wiring of their houses or are completely connected to the power grid.
  • Increased cooperation among members
  • Reduced marital violations (including income abuse)

Support from Spirit in Action

Through and over the years of our operation in the Cooperative and Small Business Fund, Spirit in Action has been a true and faithful partner; a partner who has walked with us side by side on our growing of the institution. SIA has assisted the Cooperative with grants that have moved the organization to acquire relevant assets and projects like the maize mills, motorcycle, poultry project, camera, and a laptop.

Through its Small Business Fund project from 2004 to date, SIA has supported 102 families with business training and skills with $150 paid in two installments. Over and above, all traditional leaders, SBF and Cooperative members are grateful to SIA for these landmark projects.

Conclusion

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative, as a rural-based economic vehicle, embarked on the journey to economic empowerment of its members. With the assistance of Spirit in Action, our true and faithful partner, the cooperative and SBF project want to achieve positive change in our members. Finally, I am pleased to report that the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in a recent supervision missions by government officials and COMSIP Cooperative Union national leaders, has been rated a national model and a success story amongst all rural economic cooperative in the country. I believe SIA is very proud to be associated with such remarks. We believe that this partnership will grow even to greater heights in the future.

COMSIP sharp! [Cutting through poverty!]

SIA sharp!”

The band (who had also received a low-interest loan from the cooperative) played before the presentations.

The band (who had also received a low-interest loan from the cooperative) played before the presentations.

How do their lives change?

How do their lives change?

Last week I highlighted the 5 most common businesses that Small Business Fund (SBF) grant recipients typically start. The groups received $150 and are mentored over the course of a year. This week I received a batch of final One-Year Reports from our two SBF local coordinators in Uganda. These are shorter reports that check in to see how each business is doing one year after receiving with grant. The report also asks how the lives of the groups members have improved and what they have used their profits to buy. Again, the responses seem to fall in 5 categories. These are the 5 basic needs that families are empowered to meet after starting an SBF business:

SCHOOL FEES

Paying for school fees is by far the most common goal and use of SBF profits in Uganda. There is supposed to be free universal education in Uganda, but the public schools quickly fill their limited spaces and the families must pay for private schools. School fees for the average private school near Kasozi Village, Uganda are about $12 per term for each student (with 3 terms per year). This adds up quickly with many children and with the additional costs of uniforms and school supplies!

Yuba Robert and his extended family show  us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator is seated on the right.

Yuba Robert (right, standing) and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator, is seated on the right. (Uganda)

MEDICINE

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

IMPROVED HOUSING

Before…

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

During…

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda and they are slowly building the house that will also be a storefront. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda. They are slowly building the house that will also have a storefront for their pottery. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

After!

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani started a business in photography and also selling vegetables. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in his house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani’s family has both a photography and a retail vegetable business. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in their house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

More stories about improved housing:

BETTER DIET

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

FURNITURE

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other families are able to buy beds and other simple, yet profound, dignities.

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other business groups have been able to buy beds and couches – simple, yet profound, dignities.

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