Meanly’s Family Farm

The crew of friends that joined us along the way during a day of site visits. Here they are enjoying a donut made by Meanly.

The crew of friends that joined us along the way during a day of site visits. Here they are enjoying a donut made by Meanly.

It was still morning on July 10th and we were already visiting our fourth Small Business Fund (SBF) family in Manyamula Village, Malawi. The morning started with me, Boyd (SIA Advisory Board member), and Canaan Gondwe (local SIA SBF Coordinator) in the truck, along with our driver, Mr. Mango. By the time we reached Chisomo Place, several more people had hopped in the back of the truck. Two more followed along on the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative motorbike.

The crew of our escorts and on-lookers created a festive atmosphere around the site visits. They were there to see their friends from the cooperative, experience the exciting atmosphere of an international visitor, and to make sure we caught everything on camera.

Meanly shows us a bucket of donuts. She sells in the markets and to the local World Vision training center./

Meanly shows us a bucket of donuts. She sells in the markets and to the local World Vision training center./

Meanly Mbeye, a widow, runs Chisomo Place farm with her siblings, children, and elderly mother, a practice common on African small farms. Also typical, Meanly has pieced together several small enterprises to provide for everyone. Receiving the $150 SIA grant in 2013 helped to revive the family dairy production. They had a cow, but it desperately needed vaccines and better food. The grant went toward these necessities and now the cow produces enough milk to sell to surrounding families and to the local World Vision center.

In addition to the milk, Meanly also bakes and sells donuts four days a week, earning up to $120 each week. To help her with this work, she has hired another woman to help with the baking. SIA SBF owners are job creators!

The family cows, enclosed in a pen to keep them safe from disease.

The family cows, enclosed in a pen to keep them safe from disease.

Last week I talked about passing along the joy of giving. Meanly has not only hired another person to help with the business, she has also trained another woman, named Joyce Banda (but not the Malawian past-president!) in baking and marketing donuts. Joyce also received the gift of a bag of flour for her first round of baking.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family's farm.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family’s farm.

Another piece of the family investment is a small – and growing – Moringa farm. Del Anderson (SIA Founder) was really interested in the potential benefits of Moringa. Canaan remembered that and has encouraged people in his community to plant these fast-growing trees with leaves that provide countless medicinal and nutritional benefits. Meanly proudly showed us the 35 Moringa seedlings and Winkly eagerly picked and ate a few of the leaves. I tried a few too – not too bad tasting, and they’re good for you!

Meanly was delighted to be able to show us her thriving homestead. Canaan was pleased to share the accomplishments of the family he has mentored. And I was impressed to see Menaly’s strength and perseverance in the face of the needs of her large family. They received the grant less than a year ago and already they are reinvesting to expand their farm and create sustainable businesses. And they are able to provide better food and medical care for the whole family.

As we left, Meanly sent us (and the crew that followed us) a basket of donuts and “minerals” (soda) for the next visit. One more display of gratitude and generosity for the road!

Meanly with her family, including her elderly mother in the pink sweater, who has many health challenges.

Meanly with her family, including her elderly mother in the pink sweater, who has many health challenges.

Making me happy: Savings Groups, Moringa, & the Unexpected

I started my morning today with one of the things making me happy this week: Moringa Green Tea! And from there I read a great article about local leadership in Liberia and then received an encouraging update from the new savings and loans group in Zambia.

I guess you can say that there are a lot of SIA-related things making me happy this week. Here’s a taste to share with you:

1. Savings and Loans in Zambia

Chickens in a coop at a school campus in Kitale, Kenya.

Chickens in a coop at a school campus in Kitale, Kenya.

This new savings and loans cooperative in Mfuwe, Zambia started just last summer after SIA-partner Canaan Gondwe held a training workshop there. Below the cooperative’s new leader, Mrs. Misozi Kadewele, tells us how the group is working together to succeed:

“The co-operative is doing well although we met less days in December as everyone was busy with their families. We have started giving out small amounts of Loans to individuals with security. The chickens are doing very very well. We have now 25 active members in the co-operative. We give each other turns to clean up the chicken houses and those who can not make time pay a small fee towards the cooperative.”

Money raised from the chicken sales goes to build the loan fund. The group is considering buying an incubator for the eggs, in order to speed up the process of production and hatching.

2. Moringa Green Tea

moringa tea

Moringa, the “miracle tree,” is one of the plants that Del encouraged people around the world to plant. In part, this was because its leaves are highly nutritious. It’s said that Moringa contains amino acids, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, and so much more. Wow!

I bought Moringa powder a few years ago and made some tea out of it, but I wasn’t wowed with the flavor. However, this week I bought some Moringa tea that’s blended with green tea. The result is a very nice, earthly green tea – and it’s good for me too!

The brand I got in Canada is RootAlive. You can also find it in the US through Grenera. I’d love to try the Moringa Apple Infusion sometime!

3. Respect for the Unexpected

One of my general New Year’s resolutions is to “go with the flow” more. To allow for the unexpected in life and welcome that unknown as a chance to grow. This quote from the Swiss philosopher and poet Henri Frédéric Amiel speaks to that:

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God.

3 things and a newsletter

Canaan Gondwe found Moringa powder at a health fair in Malawi.

Canaan Gondwe found Moringa powder at a health fair in Malawi.

1. Fall newsletter is here!

The newsletter is off to the printers! You can get early access to the stories and photos of local empowerment (in FULL COLOR!) by downloading a copy here.

2. Grant impact continues in Ghana

In 1992, even before SIA was officially born, Del Anderson sponsored Newton Amaglo to learn about the “miracle tree” Moringa. The encouragement, support, and information has made a lasting impact. For the last three years, Newton has been traveling back and forth between his native Ghana and China where he is researching Moringa as part of a PhD in Food Science!

A 2008 SIA grant to Newton and his team of researchers in Ghana helped them start Moringa garden plots in schools and prisons. (Read about the prison project here.)

Moringa is highly nutritious and fast-growing, which makes it a good supplement for the poor diets of vulnerable Ghanaians. Newton wrote me this week saying, “The legacy [of the project you funded] still lingers on and has been taking different impacts and dimensions.”

Further proof that a small grant can ripple out to reach many more people than ever imagined.

For more about Newton and Moringa, see here and here.

3. When things don’t work out, share.

Feel-good story of the day: Family Hosts 200 Homeless People for Dinner After Daughter’s Wedding Gets Called Off

4. Pray for Kenya

The standoff between militants and Kenyan forces at a Nairobi mall seems finally to be over, after three full days of terror and over 70 deaths. (Read the latest news here.) There are reports that some of the militants were Somali-Americans from Minnesota, though it hasn’t been confirmed. The situation worries and saddens me and so I ask you to keep all involved, including Somali communities around the world, in your prayers.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Local Action Shapes Lives in Ghana

Women with fuel-efficient stoves in Ghana.

Women with fuel-efficient stoves in Ghana.

“Even though you might not see face-to-face how lives are changing, I want to let you know that your support is transforming so many lives in our community,” began Alexander Kedje of Shape Lives Foundation, Ghana in a recent email to me.

When we think of charity in Africa, big name organizations are probably the first to come to mind. We hear about World Vision, UNICEF, and Heifer International but it’s the small, unknown, local organizations like Shape Lives Foundation that are perfectly situated to help people in their own communities.

These local organizations, as the blogger Jennifer Lentfer points out, are able to best understand the situation on the ground, and are already rooted and integrated into the community. Where the large international organizations have to work hard to meet people and promote projects, local leaders like Alexander are already known and respected by the people they serve.

I’ve been in contact with Alexander and Shape Lives Foundation for two years now and I am always so excited to see the progress they are making toward empowering the poor and raising the standard of living for the women in their area.

Part of Del Anderson’s mission for Spirit in Action was to encourage and promote local leaders and so, although we have not given a grant to Shape Lives Foundation, I share with you a few highlights from 2011 so that you too can appreciate their local work and service:

* Twenty-five women are now employed in their Moringa Processing Center, plucking the leaves and grinding them into a powder. This great video shows how they process the Moringa leaves into a highly nutritious dietary supplement.
* 1200 Moringa trees have been replanted to grow more leaves to process in 2012.
* Seven women received fuel-efficient stoves and training. Not only will the stoves produce less smoke, they also make it so the women do not have to gather or buy as much wood to cook meals.

Congratulations, Shape Lives Foundation! And we stand with you as your continue your important work in 2012.

Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it. –Ezra 10:4

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A Phone Call from Ghana

Ring, ring…. “Hello?”

“Hello, it’s Newton from Ghana! The world just got a lot smaller…”

So began my Skype conversation yesterday with Newton Amaglo, one of Spirit in Action’s partners in Kumasi, Ghana. Using Skype to “call” me for free online, Newton could see and hear me in real time! It was an exciting experience to hear his voice and catch a quick update on his work growing Moringa plants.

SIA Board member, John Bayer, recently returned from a trip to Senegal and has been enthusiastically networking to see how Moringa might be used in prisons there. John wrote in an email, “We visited the prison while we were there and were shocked at the really terrible conditions with the 700 inmates all living in very cramped facilities with only one meal a day unless they had families in the area to bring them food in the afternoons. Many were malnourished and some were suffering from skin disease/parasites from the very thin infested mattresses they slept on. Don’t need to go on for you to see the huge need here. All I can think of is Newton Amaglo and the Moringa leaf powder and the results he has had, especially with the prison inmates.

In July 2010, I wrote about how Newton and others on his research team used a SIA Community Grant to train prison employees to grow Moringa. This fast growing and important nutritional supplement can be added to the food of the inmates in the prison infirmaries to great benefit.

Yesterday, Newton told me that they recently trained two more prison employees to grow and process the Moringa. Together, they are building a drier to dry the Moringa leaves, and a mill to grind them into a fine powder to add to the inmates’ soup.

The most efficient way to grow Moringa is in a densely packed square-foot garden and in one season the plants can grow 7 meters (23 ft) over a number of harvests! Above is a picture of one of the researchers demonstrating how to cut the leaves and still keep the plant alive.

Newton said that the prisons all had garden plots that had fallen into disuse. With the gift of training and Moringa seedlings, Newton has since seen a revived interest in gardening at the prisons. He is hopeful that more people will discover the immense health benefits of Moringa and use it more often as a food supplement.

Spirit in Action’s mission is to create a “worldwide network” and this connection between Senegal and Ghana is just part of it – and the Skype call with Newton Amaglo helped that worldwide network feel a little bit more close-knit!

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