The Power of Hope

The Power of Hope

Finally! This week there was some great news about aid programs that really alleviate extreme poverty (less than $1.25/day). And – yay! – the programs with this long-term, positive impact are very similar to our Small Business Program. A recent multi-country study evaluated a program with range of interventions, including “cash to meet basic needs, training on how to earn a living, access to health services, and frequent check-ins from field workers.” In the same vein, our Small Business Fund provides business training, regular check-ins from our local coordinators, and start-up funds for a business of the group’s choosing.

Even a year after the program ended, the researchers found improvements in food security, women’s empowerment, and mental health. “But one of the most important effects of the approach,” the Christian Science Monitor article suggested, “could well be its tendency to spring participants from a mind-set that sees little or no hope of breaching the extreme-poverty ceiling.” The power of the program was that afterwards, people felt better about their future; they felt hopeful. And this, in turn, helps them continue to improve their lives.

"We began this work as if we were joking. Now it gives me joy." A Small Business Fund leader in Uganda makes clay pots and then sell them at nearby markets.

“We began this work as if we were joking. Now it gives me joy.” A Small Business Fund leader in Uganda makes clay pots and then sell them at nearby markets.

Del knew well the importance of self-esteem. It came across in our conversations and in the many letters he sent to me. “Within you is the power,” and “use what you already have and, step by step, uncover results that prove that we are greater than we realize,” he wrote. Perhaps we know from our own lives that money troubles can bring stress and make it even hard to get motivated to make a change. We can’t see beyond the immediate challenges or grasp the big picture.

On the other hand, as families in the Small Business Fund begin to see the great changes they have achieved through their own work, they get excited and hopeful. In part this hope comes from what Canaan Gondwe, Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinator in Malawi, calls “mindset preparation.” He has on-going conversations with group members helping them mentally prepare to make these big changes in their lives, to seize their future, and to put in the many hours necessary to make their business successful. After three months in business, 84% of his groups report feeling better about their future.Our family has really moved from a minus to a plus,” one family proudly wrote.

When we were in Malawi, Theu, who had received a SBF grant to start a restaurant, testified that the business is growing and that he "has bought everything he needs." Other SBF Members in Malawi  cheer him on!

When we were in Malawi, Theu, who had received a SBF grant to start a restaurant, testified that the business was growing and that he “has bought everything he needs.” Other SBF Members cheer him on!

Even our Sharing the Gift initiative, where SBF families are encouraged to pay-it-forward to another family in need, is part of building self-esteem. I have written about how it gives the gift of giving. Groups that have gone through the program and have been successful get to help someone else. They see how far they have come and then there is the opportunity to bring others along with them.

Was I surprised that hope turned out to be a factor in alleviating poverty? Not for a second. Still, it is exciting to have confirmed what I already knew from our Small Business Fund – that encouraging people, meeting people with dignity, and helping them work to realize their own dreams is the way we’re going to make the world a better place for all.

Pre-school students celebrate Easter in Malawi

Pre-school students celebrate Easter in Malawi

A year ago, the first preschool in Manyamula village was started with a Small Business Fund grant. Nellie, newly divorced, moved to Manyamula to start a new life. Nellie and two assistants – Deliwe and Tamara – each already had teaching skills and they were eager to help the 30 new students learn and grow. With the Small Business Fund grant they were able to purchase some books, crayons, mats, and cups for snack time. Thus was born the First Steps Pre-School.

The pre-school has already grown to 50 students and has created a ripple of business activity in town. Mary Phiri, who owns one of the shops in the market, has enrolled her youngest daughter in the pre-school, allowing her to concentrate her efforts of building her grocery business. And Chimwemwe, another shop owner and knitter, received a commission from the school to knit sweater uniforms for some of the students.

Children from the local SBF-supported school told us what they wanted to be when they grew up: a nurse; teacher; poilot.

Children from the local SBF-supported school told us what they wanted to be when they grew up: a nurse; teacher; pilot.

Recently the students, ages 1-4, put together an Easter pageant for the community called “Time to Come Together.” Nellie said that, “it has been my passion to organize such an auspicious occasion for the school so that children can share their experiences together and enjoy the love of God.”

The children sang, recited Bible verses, and danced together. Several community members gave speeches to encourage the children and thank them for putting together this new kind of event in Manyamula. Nellie was extremely happy to have the students appreciated by the community and was quick to say, “It is beautiful for our children of different churches to come together. This will strengthen their social structures and spiritual growth!”

Nellie, Canaan Gondwe, and Tanya with puzzles and toys from Tanya's nieces.

Nellie, Canaan Gondwe, and Tanya with puzzles and toys from Tanya’s nieces.

Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Back in October 2012 I shared the success story of Hastings and Ruth Fuvu in Malawi. They had received a $150 Small Business Fund grant in early 2012, ramping up their business of selling tomatoes and onions in the market. This expanded business increased the family income enough to buy school uniforms for their children and seek medical attention for their daughter Miness, who experiences periodic seizures. The 2012 post ended with Fuvu’s dream to build a house of their own, using burnt bricks.

Malawi, bricks

Hastings and Ruth with bricks for their house. (2012)

Well, in July, 2014, I got to visit that new house! We sat in their home, listening to their story of how their lives have improved since growing their business: “We have wealthy relatives,” Ruth told us, “and they have never given to us, but SIA has given to us.”

This week I received another exciting update from Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Manyamula: Hastings and Ruth have been able to connect to the new electrical grid.

Canaan reports:

“After making enough savings, they molded bricks, built a house and now they have electrified the house. One part of the building they are using it as a barbershop where they get the additional income. With the same power, they are renting to someone who is welding at the premises. This is an income diversification for the family.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

“The family was quick to tell me that very soon they are Sharing the Gift by assisting one person to begin as they began.

“Life is new because they no longer go for fuel to light up their house. Life is made easy as darkness is simply cured up with pressing the ‘on’ switch in the house.

Imagine such a difference in just three years! This $150 small grant is continuing to pay amazing dividends to the Fuvus and others in the community.

Malawi, house, home

Tanya in front of the guest room of the Fuvu family’s new home. They invited me to “take a sleep” at their house next time we visit!

The rental market in Manyamula

The rental market in Manyamula

I often mention that when families are successful in their Small Business Fund businesses they begin to invest in burned bricks for their home. In rural Malawi there is a lot of space and land is relatively inexpensive. That means that even poor families can access land where they might build a home.

Harriet in front of the house she built with business profits and a low-interest loan and now rents out to a school teacher.

Harriet in front of the house she built with business profits and a low-interest loan and now rents out to a school teacher.

When we visited Malawi I was fascinated to be in a place where most young families dreamed of (or were actually working towards) building their own home.

Most of the houses in Manyamula Village are made of brick. Adobe might be a more accurate word, since the bricks are made of earth, and they may or may not be fired. The fired bricks last much longer because the rain easily breaks down the bricks that are only sun-dried. And they are also much more expensive: 10 Kwacha (USD $0.02) per burnt brick, compared with just 3 Kwacha for a dried one.

The Manyamula Rental Market

Brick maker in the pit of red earth which will be used to make the adobe bricks.

Brick maker in the pit of red earth which will be used to make the adobe bricks.

Because almost everyone builds their own homes, there aren’t a lot of places available for rent. So a few of the successful Small Business Fund groups have invested in building secondary buildings on their land to rent out to visiting school teachers, doctors, and other government officials to the village. A widow, Harriet now lives with other family members so that she can rent out her home for additional income. A school teacher pays her 3500 Kwacha (~USD $7.50) per month.

Across the street and down a few hundred yards, Reverend Isaac bought a plot of land for under $200. He hopes to have the rental house built in seven months. We visited while they were in the process of forming the 15,000 bricks needed for the home.

Bricks drying in the sun

Bricks drying in the sun

Red dirt is mixed with water and then slopped into a wood frame. The brick maker makes sure the earth is settled and leveled in the frame and then carries it to the drying area. With a *th-wunk* sound the bricks are dropped out of the frame onto the ground. The lines of bricks are covered with straw and left to dry in the sun for three days (we were there in the dry season, with no chance of rain). Then they will be stacked into kiln-like structures for firing.

Rural Electrification

People like Harriet and Isaac are taking advantage of the new electrification that is coming to Manyamula. We saw a few shops that were already tapped into the new grid. Mostly people are setting up wiring and electric boxes and are eager for the day they will be able to connect. The general consensus in Manyamula is that the electrification will bring more people to the village. When it does, some savvy business people will have nice burnt-brick rental places ready to offer them.

One of the first electricity towers in Manyamula Village. July 2014.

One of the first electricity towers in Manyamula Village. July 2014.

 

[UPDATE: In the comments, Marsha Johnson asked about solar power use. Here is a blog post about one of the solar panel systems that I saw in Malawi.]

Success Story: Fikani Bicycle Transporting Service

People hire bicycle ferries to ride across town (sitting on the back of the bikes) or carry goods like fertilizer and crops to/from market. The rough roads are hard on the tires.

People hire bicycle ferries to ride across town (sitting on the back of the bikes) or carry goods like fertilizer and crops to/from market. The rough roads are hard on the tires.

Business Members: Stanly Kumwenda (23), Janet Banda (20), Harry Kumwenda (child)
Product: Bicycle Transportation Services
Area served: Manyamula, Malawi
Received SIA grant: $100 on October 9, 2014
Profit after 3 months: $105

Stanly and Janet married young. His parents never had money for enough food or clothing for everyone. The newlyweds were eager to start a good life together and yet they faced many challenges. They came to Canaan Gondwe, Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) coordinator and mentor, for advice on building a more successful future for their family.

I kept on explaining about the God-given potential within us,” writes Canaan in his report on their progress. “I had series of talks, even citing some people in the village who had changed their situation for the better.” Stanly was an enthusiastic learner, eager to move forward and put what he was learning into action. Canaan talked to him about dreaming and visioning for the future, business research, getting focused, working hard, and also about “getting disciplined with any money that comes his way.”

Stanly, Janet, and other new grant recipients completing their business plans with the guidance of Canaan Gondwe (standing).

Stanly, Janet, and other new grant recipients completing their business plans with the guidance of Canaan Gondwe (standing).

Stanly likes bicycling and so Canaan told him about the Small Business Fund program and suggested that he start a transportation business to carry people and goods around the village on a bicycle. Stanly and Janet attended the official SBF Training sessions with Canaan and prepared a business plan together. When they received the first grant of $100, they went straight to buy their first bicycle.

Within three months of hard working, Stanly bought another “fairly used” bicycle to expand the business. He has recruited a friend to work for him – job creation! – and now two bicycles are on the road every day for the Fikani Bicycle Transporting Service.

Stanly happily reports an income of about $7.50-$12.50 each day! Canaan continues to mentor him about expanding the business and saving for the future. He is pleased with the family’s progress reporting that, “Stanly and the family are now food secure and are progressing well in life. They plan to buy iron roofing sheets and build a better house of their own soon.”

A step up with a small grant, dedication and hard work, and mentoring support all have helped Stanly and Janet build the life and business they had only dreamed was possible. A grateful Stanly writes that “God is gracious and faithful; I never expected such a turn around on my family.”

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