“This is not a house of a poor person.”

“This is not a house of a poor person.”
shoes Malawi

Paulos discusses his business with us during our visit to Malawi in 2011.

One of the very cool things about my recent trip to Malawi is that I got to check in again on people I had visited on my previous two trips. Seeing the amazing changes since my first visit in 2011 blew me away!

In 2011, I visited Paulos Lungu at this shoe repair stand in the marketplace. The Saturday market mostly consisted of temporary stands, with a few roughly constructed shops. Paulos and his wife, Sequina, had received a Small Business Fund grant of $150 in 2005. They had invested in a shoe repair business, building off Paulos’ skills.

In 2011, he told me how he wanted to build a home for his family. He was already buying bricks (fired clay, to last longer than packed mud bricks) for their future home.

In 2013, they proudly posed in front of their new home – complete with a thatched roof!

The Lungu family in front of their own home in 2013.

During our visit in 2014, Paulos was eager to have us visit his house. He welcomed us inside, showing off the cement floor (no longer dirt!) and showed us where they were storing the iron sheets. They were slowly buying the corrugated iron whenever they had extra money at the end of the month.

Boyd and I with the Lungu family in 2014. Note the cement floor (rather than dirt), and how the windows can now be opened. Roof is still thatching, which needs to be replaced every year.

Seeing the Change

Just last month – 12 years after that small Spirit in Action grant, six years after my first visit – I had the honor of walking across the threshold of the beautiful, iron-roofed Lungu home. They will no longer live with leaks during the rainy season!

With the Lungu family in May, 2017. The floor is reinforced and they have replaced the thatch roof with iron sheets! They share some of their peanut harvest with us.

Before Spirit in Action, Paulos told us about how his life had been. He had no house of his own. He would stay at a relative’s house as long as they’d have him, then he would move onto another relative.

“This is not a house of a poor person,” Canaan Gondwe, local coordinator and mentor, said proudly of the Lungu home. If you have iron sheets over your head, you are doing well in Malawi. It is a sign that you have made it.

Paulos with one of his daughters. He is also a member of the local savings and loans cooperative, Manyamula COMSIP. His shirt – with the COMSIP logo – proclaims his entrepreneurial spirit.

Spirit in Action is 21 years old now, and it’s inspiring to witness and honor the deep roots we have, and the transformation we see, in places like Manyamula, Malawi.

Postscript: I can attest to Paulos’ good repair skills! When my sandals broke less than a week into the trip, I was annoyed. Then I remembered that I new a shoemaker! He reattached the toehold to the sole in a matter of minutes. He didn’t charge me for the repair – he said it was the least he could do after the incredible support he’s received from SIA.

In a matter of minutes, Paulos repaired my Kenyan sandals! The fix is holding tight!

The many ways a mill can benefit a community

The many ways a mill can benefit a community

Electricity coming to town changes everything. It provides new business opportunities: cellphone charging stations, welding shops, cafes where you can watch soccer matches. It also forces other businesses to adapt and change.

When the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (read more about them here) bought their gas-powered maize/corn mill in 2013, it was the best technology available. The mill grinds corn – the staple food – into a fine flour, adding value to the crops and processing the grain for eating.

Cooperative member feeding maize into the grinding mill. The ground corn is then made into a dry polenta-like meal.

People paid to grind their maize in town with the cooperative, with members paying a reduced price. Before the maize mill was there, they would have to walk long distances to other communities to grind. The cooperative took advantage of this business opportunity. In 2013, they earned over $600 from the maize mill facility.

Then the electrical grid arrived in rural Manyamula Village in northern Malawi. Mills that were connected to the grid could grind faster and cheaper. The cooperative saw their profits dropping. And so they adapted. Last year, they moved the maize mill from their building at the centre of town to the Matopoto zone, on the outskirts of town, where there is no electricity yet. The mill is profitable again, earning $35 every week!

Under Local Management…

The maize mill is collectively owned by all 150+ cooperative members. However, the mill is managed by the cooperative members who live in the Matopoto zone. (The cooperative has divided themselves into eight zones.)

Tanya singing with members of the Motopoto Zone.

75% of the profit goes to the main cooperative office, for low-interest loans and other community development programs, such as hygiene and healthy diet programs. The remaining 25% stays in the Matopoto village compound, benefiting the sixteen members and their families. These members also benefit from having the maize mill nearby. They can process their food right outside their homes!

But wait, there’s more!

At the end of 2013, the cooperative used their saved profits to start a “pig pass-on project.” They bought twelve pigs and distributed them to all the zones. The zone members were charged with raising the pigs and then passing on the piglets to the vulnerable members in their group. A pig is a valuable gift.

A grown male pig can sell for $50 and female pigs can have 6-9 offspring, generating more wealth. 

So far, 55 members across all zones have received piglets through the program! The members in the Matopoto zone have shared ten piglets amongst themselves. And the day that I visited them last month, they had another one to share. This time, they were sharing with a young boy in their community. He is not a cooperative member (yet) but they saw that he – who had lost his mother, and whose father drinks all day – could use some extra support.

The blessing of the pig.

It is this community spirit, this generosity, that fills my spirit and inspires me. When we support Manyamula COMSIP they use the funds effectively, they adapt to the changing business opportunities, and they spread the wealth so that everyone is uplifted.

Seeing change in Malawi

Seeing change in Malawi

(Please excuse any formatting errors! This is coming direct to you from my iPhone in Malawi.)

“When God’s Spirit is in action, good things happen,” said Mbueno thoughtfully, as we wrapped up our finally meeting in Manyamula village just a few days ago. When the spirit of generosity and cooperation are in action, good things happen. When the spirit of partnership is in action, good things happen.
This is my third trip to Manyamula, Malawi. I visited in 2011, and 2014, and this time, more than ever before, I can really see the positive change that is happening in the community. I am so proud of the work we are doing there, and I am excited for the future projects we will take on together.

Wednesday, the day we arrived in Manyamula, was the day of the grand opening of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training and Development Centre! This is a compound of buildings that SIA supported in a cost-sharing agreement with the cooperative. The Mzimba District Commissioner (equivalent to the governor) was there, and was clearly impressed with the buildings and the show of support from the community.


Caption: Tanya holding up the ribbon officially pronouncing the training centre open for business!

In 2014, I did a small ground-breaking ceremony in front of 5-6 members. The grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony was a different story: We were joined by several other top level non-profit partners, and 150+ cooperative and community members!

It was truly an afternoon to remember. This savings and loans cooperative is strong and its future is bright!


Caption: Small Business Fund coordinators from Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda, and the SIA North America team.

The next three days, we held a Small Business Fund Conference and Training. We trained two new coordinators from northern Malawi, and one more from Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was part program review and evaluation, part peer-to-peer learning, and part field visits to see the successful Small Business Fund businesses in the area.


Caption: Tanya meets Sophia Banda in her shop in the Manyamula market. Sophia started a tailoring shop with a Small Business Fund grant. She has already trained two more people about tailoring as part of Sharing the Gift.


Caption: The team visited Uncle Gly’s Computer Services shop which used a Small Business Fund $150 grant to buy a printer and scanner. This is just one example of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the electricity that has recently arrived in the town.

One of the most exciting things to see and hear was how strong the culture of Sharing the Gift is tied in with the Spirit in Action programs in Manyamula. Everyone we talked to eagerly told us how they had helped someone else after receiving their grant from SIA. Poodle have shared skills, supplies, piglets, chicks, seeds, time, and more.

We met a group of women who were all part of the same “ripple” of Sharing the Gift. Lackson received the SIA grant and he passed a piglet to the widow Tionenge. She passed a piglet to Meekness. And just this month, Meekness passed a piglet to Winifi. Four ripples away from the “drop” of SIA, the impact continues!


Caption: Tanya with Meekness and Winifi. Meekness has shared the gift of a piglet with Winifi, continuing the ripple of SIA’s impact in the community. 

On Sunday, we said good-bye to Manyamula and all our friends there. I will miss their bright spirits and their beautiful songs. I will cherish their stories. And I will be sharing many more if their stories of success with you in the months to come.

On Friday we fly to Kenya to meet with more Small Business Fund groups, and meet with more of our wonderful, dedicated partners.

Thank you for all your prayers and keep them coming!


Caption: Dressed in our Sunday finest! Boyd and Tanya Cothran, and SIA Advisory Board members and all-around support team, Mike Hegeman and Dana Belmonte.

Spring Newsletter – Fresh Stories!

Spring Newsletter – Fresh Stories!

The 2017 Spring/Summer Spirit in Action newsletter is here! You can view a PDF version here and hard copies will be in the mail next week!

In this newsletter we feature:

  • Hope for Relief in Malawi is a new grant partner. They are helping girls stay in school by making and distributing feminine hygiene pads to girls in rural Malawi. In this story, we feature Mary, one of the girls who is now promising not to miss a day of school. Mary is just one of 630 girls who have received free pads, with a total of 1,890 pads distributed overall!

One of the tailors distributes cloth feminine pads to girls.

  • The Manyamula Community Savings and Investment Promotion Cooperative in Malawi is named Best Performing COMSIP cooperative in Malawi!

I get to visit the Manyamula cooperative and stay in their new building in just three weeks!

  • Welcome new Spirit in Action Board Members, Wendy and Terry Silverthorn!
  • Descriptions of our six on-going grant projects.
  • Collective farming in the Small Business Fund program in Uganda.

Read the full newsletter and donate now to support the work of Spirit in Action. Your support helps empower more families and communities in Africa!

Planning a ribbon cutting ceremony in Malawi

Planning a ribbon cutting ceremony in Malawi

Three years ago, August 2014, I helped the Manyamula Community Savings and Investment Cooperative (COMSIP) in Malawi break ground for their new training centre and office building. This summer – in just seven weeks, to be exact – I’ll be there to commemorate the official opening of the building. And I’ll be staying a few nights in their guest rooms!

“We are planning that as you come to the community, there will be an official opening of the building facility,” shares Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative. “You and the other SIA team members will lead the procession and be the Guest of Honour. Traditional leaders, COMSIP Union staff, as well as Government representatives, and all cooperative members will be there to celebrate.”

Tanya at the site of the future Manyamula COMSIP Training Centre, guest house, and office building! (Malawi, 2014)

This ribbon cutting ceremony will kick-off my three-week trip to visit SIA partners in Kenya and Malawi. The days will be filled with visiting Small Business Fund group shops, and homes that have been renovated as a result of business profits. I will be greeting, celebrating successes, and listening to their thoughts on how we can improve our work to have a greater impact.

Trip highlights:

Visit SIA projects in Malawi (3 days)

    1. Manyamula Savings and Loans Group Cooperative
    2. Small Business Fund groups
    3. Youth entrepreneurs in Blantyre

Conference for SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators (4 days)

  1. Program evaluation and peer-to-peer learning
  2. Training for new and potential coordinators

SBF Coordinators canaan Gondwe (Malawi) and Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) at our conference in Uganda in 2014.

Visit SIA projects in Kenya (7 days)

    1. Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge’s Samro School
    2. Small Business Fund groups in Nairobi and Eldoret
    3. CIFORD Kenya (girl’s empowerment)
    4. Megabridge Foundation (piggery)
    5. Dressmaking and beadworking training in informal settlements around Nairobi

Training to Expand 

Over the last two years we have been expanding our SIA Small Business Fund program. We have added new local coordinators in Malawi, Uganda, and two more in Kenya. Families are able to best use these $150 business grants when they are also mentored by our wonderful local coordinators. This means that we are only able to expand the Small Business Fund program as fast as we can find dedicated, reliable coordinators. During my last trip to Africa I realized the need for a more robust training program for recent and incoming coordinators. This time, we will take two days to train new coordinators so that we can ensure our coordinators are ready and prepared to lead and mentor the new business groups.

Tanya and Mike Hegeman leading a song.

Traveling with me will be my wonderful husband, Boyd, and also two very dear friends, Dana Belmonte and Mike Hegeman. Boyd, Dana, and Mike are all SIA Advisory Board members and passionate about our work. Traveling with a group will give me more space for true listening and connection, while leaving the documentation and logistics to our capable team.

If you would like to contribute to the travel fund for the Small Business Fund Coordinators to attend our conference in Malawi, please click here!

 

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