Last post of 2013! Maize Mills Photos!

Canaan Gondwe had seen other non-profits come and go through his village in rural Malawi. Some came to build things (things that sometimes didn’t last) and some came to start programs.

But Canaan had a vision for something that would last because of local involvement, because of local investment, and because of local leadership. And so in 2009, he and a small group of people started the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative. Today, this group, MAVISALO, is thriving. It’s grown to over 150 people. And each year it helps people save more and access loans at reasonable interest rates.

Each year MAVISALO continues to become more stable as an organization; keeping a vision of sustainability and independence.

Last year, a SIA Community Grant supported part of this vision by helping them purchase two maize mills. Photos below tell the story of how these mills are helping the people of Manyamula and the MAVISALO cooperative.

Kondwani waters his maize crop. Maize is used in creating the staple food, nsima, similar to polenta.

Kondwani waters his maize crop. Maize is used in creating the staple food, nsima, similar to polenta.

The mills, one for shelling and the other for grinding, both add value to the staple crop, maize corn.

The mills, one for shelling and the other for grinding, both add value to the staple crop, maize corn.

Before MAVISALO's mills, maize processing was done across the border in Zambia.

Before MAVISALO’s mills, maize processing was done across the border in Zambia.

Money generated from small milling fees help cover costs of running the savings and loans cooperative. This helps keep interest rates low.

Women with the milled maize flour. Money generated from small milling fees help cover costs of running the savings and loans cooperative. This helps keep interest rates low. So far, the maize mills fees have increased MAVISALO’s loan capital by $500!

Woman putting maize in the sheller.

Woman putting maize in the sheller. Milled flour can be sold for 61 cents per kg, instead of 15 cents per kg for whole kernels.

Through investment projects like these maize mills, SIA is supporting local development that continues to impact the community for years to come! Thank you so much for your support in 2013. See you next year!

Donate now to support more local organizations in Africa! 

Options: Better than Teaching a Man to Fish in the Desert

Today’s post is by Jerry Elmer, a long-time friend of Spirit in Action.*

Glory Tembo sells boiled fish in the Manyamula market (Malawi).

Glory Tembo, who received a SIA grant in 2006, sells boiled fish in the Manyamula market (Malawi).

Most everyone has heard the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It sounds very profound – until you realize that teaching someone to fish is relatively useless if he lives in the desert.Recently, I’ve been in a sort of desert, myself, advising an organization building a homeless shelter on the southern-most edge of Santa Clara County, which comprises most of California’s illustrious Silicon Valley. With county population about 1.8 million people, some seven thousand of them are homeless. For eight years I was one of them.

In his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Sterns, President, World Vision U.S., says, “What I have discovered in my travels to more than forty countries with World Vision is that almost all poverty is a result of lack of options. It is not that the poor are lazier, less intelligent, or unwilling to make efforts to change their condition. Rather, they are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change.”

When I read this, I was sure he was talking about the homeless problem right here in California. I realized that World Vision and our budding homeless shelter were trying to help people address the same problem: lack of options.

But it appears Del Anderson figured that out a long time ago. And although I have never seen it stated in so many words, he founded Spirit in Action to increase people’s access to a range of self-help options. He realized that by creating options for people – giving them choices – you give them the opportunity to make their own way in their own environment.

Del started out sending people seeds to grow vegetables and fruit, which they could use to feed their own families or sell for profit (Remember Oral Roberts’ seed-faith? Here it is in action!). Then Spirit in Action began giving small business grants so people could choose their own businesses and path to prosperity. Here in Silicon Valley, our shelter will include a job training center in cooperation with local businesses, as many of the homeless have no marketable job skills.

James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2: 18-26). So along with World Vision, Spirit in Action and our homeless shelter work to the same task. And the options we create – they’re in the works. I have faith. How about you?

*Editor’s Note (2/22/12): This post originally included a link to a book written by Jerry Elmer. The author has now taken this book off the market because of a problem with the publisher. He does not want people to buy this book.

More than Wealth: Justice

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It is justice.” – Leonardo Boff

One of Spirit in Action’s callings is to create more opportunities for social justice – working towards a world based on equality, solidarity, and human dignity. One project that we have supported is the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Group (MAVISALO), a community-based organization in Mzimba, Malawi, which helps bring security and credit to this rural community of subsistence farmers.

Since the group started this loan fund, using individual contributions and profits from a poultry project, MAVISALO has made steady progress towards encouraging saving and increasing access to loans for its members.

“The private financial lending institutions and the commercial banks of Malawi were not providing the opportunity to village members to save their money. These institutions provide loans at high interests rates and ask for collaterals, which village members can’t afford.” As the quote at the top implies, MAVISALO is driven to do more than just create wealth among members – they are also creating a system that honors and trusts the village members by allowing even traditionally disadvantaged people to access financial services.

“Today, an institution is born mobilized by the village people themselves and it provides a sound atmosphere that promotes saving culture.” Local leaders have shown interest in supporting the group and using it as a model for others. “This is a great idea indeed to have our own economic institution that helps my people save,” says Group Village Headman, Yesaya Shumba.

Canaan Gondwe, leader of the group of 52 members (20 women and 32 men), has seen a great impact on the community, “Members of MAVISALO are able to smile at the impact the loan project on its members. The impact is not only confined to members but also outsiders as they are served by entrepreneurs who are members. There are youths, widows, HIV people all incorporated in one community institution living together to uplift and empower themselves.

Great job MAVISALO. Keep up the great work!

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Thank you from SIA & Updates from Uganda

Happy New Year!

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed financially to Spirit in Action in 2010. Your contributions helped us exceed our end-of-the-year $10,000 goal (we raised $13,341 since November!) In the whole of 2010, 92 individual donors gave for a total of $31,616. Wow! Spirit in Action is blessed to have so many supporters.

Thanks to our generous matching donors from the SIA Board of Directors, your gifts will go twice as far toward helping us expand our micro-grants, self-help programs, and solar cooker projects.

Because of your support, we’re able to help grassroots community organizations around the world improve their villages through skills training, micro-savings programs, and small-scale, responsive financial support.

The latest Business Reports I received were from coordinator Nalu Prossy in Uganda. She trained five new small business groups in June 2010, including Mariam Nakidde’s Maize growing business. Three months after a $100 initial grant from SIA, the business has generated $58 in profit. Perhaps most importantly, “It has made them to plan for their future,” reports Ms. Prossy.

Thank you —without your support, projects just like this one would not be possible. If you donated in the first quarter of 2010, it is possible that your donation directly helped Ms. Makidde’s business!

We also welcome your prayer support for favorable farming weather in eastern Africa this year!

CIFORD Kenya: Compassionate Community Action

The women leaders of CIFORD in front of their office.

In April of this year, I got an email from Margaret Ikiara. She works for Community Initiatives for RuralDevelopment (CIFORD Kenya) in the Meru North district of Kenya, and was writing to begin a partnership between CIFORD and SIA. I receive many emails every year from people asking for assistance but Margaret’s letter caught my eye. I could hear her dedication and passion for her work as she told me about the people that CIFORD had helped over the last year. I want to share that passion with you and tell you about some of the amazing work CIFROD is doing for those most in need.

Since 2002, CIFORD Kenya has focused on community capacity building, sustainable agriculture, HIV/AIDS, and information transfer to work toward their vision of creating “a self-reliant rural community that is able to evolve a sustainable community development.” The organization, which works closely and effectively with individuals and local groups, is a good example of the local indigenous organizations that Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters thinks are particularly poised to “unleash social change” in developing countries.

I was amazed to read about the many different projects that CIFORD is working on and the great range of people they work with directly. Here are some highlights from Margaret’s reports:

HIV/AIDS Support Programme: In 2009, CIFORD trained 37 HIV/AIDS caregivers. “The effect of HIV/AIDS has been unbearable with many children are orphaned at an early age. These children are left with the grandparents who are elderly and can barely feed them.” This program helps orphans pay their school fees and helps grandmothers start income generating activities to support the children. Helping the grandmothers get ahead financially means that they children can remain living with family, rather than being sent off to orphanages in different communities. Margaret writes, “This has made many people who were hopeless to have a smile on their faces.”

Margaret Ikiara (on left) presents the gift of a goat to Agnes Acuri and Susan Nkatha. The goat will help these women, who are living with HIV/AIDS, earn money to care for themselves and their families.

Margaret Ikiara (on left) presents the gift of a goat to Agnes Acuri and Susan Nkatha. The goat will help these women, who are living with HIV/AIDS, earn money to care for themselves and their families.

Sustainable Agriculture Programme: Currently, CIFORD Kenya is working with 10 groups (365 people total) in agriculture activities. These groups are being trained to use techniques that will keep the soil healthy and eliminate the need for expensive farm inputs, including:

  • Compost Making – adds nutrients to the soil
  • Integrated Pest Management – uses good bugs to control pests
  • Double Digging – loosens the soil to help the roots and retain moisture
  • Raised and Sunken Beds – mixes the soil

The farmers have been trained on the compost making for use at their farms.

The farmers have been trained on the compost making for use at their farms.

CIFORD has partnered with Kilili Self Help Project in Mill Valley, CA to train on bio-intensive farming and Amistad International in Palo Alto, CA on women empowerment. So far, SIA has contributed to CIFORD only with a mini grant for them to buy local kale and onion seeds, which were given to people living with HIV/AIDS. I hope also that the letters and good conversation between Margaret and me since her first letter in April helps fan her passion and keeps this great organization going strong.

You can read more about CIFORD on their website or on their Facebook page.

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