Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

“We must translate our science into practice.” A simple statement which boils down a Moses Mukongo’s approach to farming in the western part of Kenya. Moses learned about the science of sustainable agriculture at Manor House, and now he and his team at Community Mobilization Against Poverty (CMAP) are passionate about sharing that science with small-scale farmers who can put it into practice. These are farmers who are growing food for their own families and to also sell some at the local markets in the areas surrounding Kitale in western Kenya.

Grant for Workshops

Since receiving a SIA Community Grant last December, CMAP has hosted a series of sustainable farming workshops, benefiting over 165 people. The trainings involve men and women, with women playing a major role in traditional farming in Kenya.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

The trainings involve sessions about double-digging (to promote healthy soil and create raised beds), companion planting (maximizes space and pairs plants that will grow well together), composting (healthy soil and nutrients for the plants), and the use of open-pollinated seeds (so that seeds can be saved from season to season). (Read more about these techniques here – you can implement them in your garden/farm too!)

Moses is passionate about promoting these techniques and telling people the many ways their farms can benefit from using them. “The practices are low-cost and non-polluting, they produce maximize agricultural yields, build soil fertility, and minimize inputs of water, energy, and fertilizers!” The practices not only help people grow more food to eat and sell, they also benefit the environment and help mitigate effects of drought or poor soil.

Sharing the Gift

We ask all our community-based organization partners to “share the gift” by helping others in their community. CMAP embraced this call by implementing the “Five-Farmer Challenge.” Every farmer who attends the workshop is challenged to reach out to five other farmers to share what they have learned. They have also reached out to one of the local primary school to start a school garden as part of their “Farmers of the Future” project. This is the ripple effect of SIA grants!

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Learning from Nature

“In sustainably producing food we must use nature as our guide,” writes Moses in one of his passionate letters to me, “we must escape from the poverty of affluence which is always striving to accumulate more of things and we must ‘seize the day’ in recognizing the opportunity for finding a new way of living in harmony with nature and humankind in the new millennium.” Well said!

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

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.


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.

5 things: Giving

5 things: Giving

A story of Giving

Last summer, when packing for my trip to Africa, I added a few gifts for the many people who would host me. Some were designated gifts and others (a few deflated soccer balls and two bike lights) were for spur of the moment gifts. One evening in Malawi our meeting with the local host team went late. It was long past sunset when Matthews hopped on his bike to ride home. There are no street lights in Manyamula Village and the moon was new. Suddenly I remembered the bike lights. “Wait!” I called and ran to my room. I brought out the light and attached it to Matthews’ handlebars. Everyone stood back to admire the bright LED light. Matthews clapped and gave me a hug. As he rode off, the light cast a satisfying glow on the dusty road. It was the perfect gift and the perfect moment!

The Joy of Giving

“There are some things that science says make us feel good. … And, counterintuitively in our individualistic culture, giving to others is one of those things.” (I can’t find the source for this quote.)

Sharing the Gift in Uganda

Rehema gives a package of groundnuts to Tanya as a gift. Rehema sells second hand clothes along the main road. She adopted 4 orhpans, 1 boy and 3 girls, into her family. (Kasozi Village, Uganda)

Rehema gives a package of groundnuts (peanuts) to Tanya as a gift. Rehema, received a Small Business Fund grant and now sells second hand clothes along the main road. She adopted 4 orhpans, 1 boy and 3 girls, into her family. (Kasozi Village, Uganda)

The Gift of Music

A body-moving, soul-filling song from the bank Songhoy Blues, from Mali. For a time, music was banned in northern Mali. This group wrote this song, during the ban, from another part of Mali.

Giving the Gift of Giving

A blog post from 2011 describing our Sharing the Gift pay-it-forward program. “The Small Business Fund and Sharing the Gift enables people who have grown up with very little to have enough to share with others and to be respected for their gifts to neighbors.”

Generosity is Catching

Sharing the Gift of piglets

These healthy piglets were raised by recent high school graduates, who received SIA grants. They are now ready to be shared to widows in the community.

Last week I heard another story of pay-it-forward generosity. A chain of 457 people each offered to pay for the drink of the person behind them at the Florida Starbucks drive-thru. There’s something about generosity. When we see other people giving we also want to give. My Facebook feed has been flooded (no pun intended) with buckets of ice water showing just how contagious and fun giving can be. When we see people who give, it creates a good kind of peer-pressure: the pressure to do good.

It is just this truth that underlies our “Sharing the Gift” initiative (or “Spread the Blessing” as one partner in Uganda called it). Families who receive SIA’s $150 Small Business Fund grants are receiving a huge act of generosity. I know our local coordinators are met with questions from the grant recipients about why people half-way across the world and from a country so different from their own would want to give them money to start a business.

It’s pretty amazing, really. Imagine getting a (legitimate) email in your inbox from someone – someone you didn’t know – who wanted to give you money. You might have questions, rightly so. Our Small Business Fund coordinators explain that SIA gives because we see potential in them and we feel compelled to help them improve their lives – to lead more stable and prosperous lives. The best grant recipients see and recognize this generosity and our honest intentions.

Winkly and his wife invited us in their home to tell how they both received and gave piglets through Sharing the Gift. They are proud of their brick house.

Winkly and his wife invited us in their home to tell how they both received and gave piglets through Sharing the Gift. They are proud of their brick house.

And so Sharing the Gift is a way for them to respond to that generosity. They have received. One year after receiving the grant, they are asked to also give.

That’s all a big preamble to say that Sharing the Gift – just like other acts of generosity – is contagious. When Small Business Fund families see other people giving, they also want to give.

Culture of Giving in Malawi

Years ago, Winkly Mahowe received a “Sharing the Gift” gift of a piglet from a neighbor. That was the start of Winkly’s SIA journey towards building a new house, expanding his piggery unit, investing in poultry. He has a life now that he is proud of. In July, with a twinkle in his eye and a huge smile on his face, Winkly told us how he has also Shared the Gift of a piglet to another family, who is starting their own piggery. He knows deeply what an honor and opportunity it is to receive a piglet through SIA Sharing the Gift, and he was so pleased to be able to pay-it-forward to another person.

Hi there piggy!

Hi there, piggy!

SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) in Malawi is full of Sharing the Gift moments. Visiting over 50 small businesses in Manyamula Village this summer I saw that there was a real culture of generosity in the community. People were proud to be able to share and give to others. And that pride was contagious. As Fikire Chima told us about sharing the gift of a piglet to a widow who lived nearby, she added solemly, “It is all thanks to Canaan [the SIA SBF Coordinator] who models generosity for us. If he was greedy, I would not have considered Sharing the Gift.” 

So there you go. When we see someone give, we want to give. When we have received a gift, we want to also share gifts. Perhaps this is a call to make your giving show, and to recognize the call to give when you see others giving. Maybe the next viral charity challenge will be to call on friends to live without electricity for 24 hours, or to hand wash your clothes – and then to support a SIA family with a small grant so that they won’t have to do those things anymore.

Read more stories of SIA generosity in Malawi:

Donate to SIA Small Business Fund here.

Sharing the Gift in Malawi (x2)

Sometimes giving the perfect gift is more fun than receiving and unwrapping a gift, right? Do you know that feeling of knowing just the right gift for someone, and being in the position to get it for them? It’s exciting!

This excitement of giving is right at the center of our Small Business Fund (SBF) program. Spirit in Action gives grants of $150 to families to start a small business and then this family is called to “pay-it-forward” to another family. They get a chance to be the givers in their community and share their success with someone else in need. This passes on the prosperity and the excitement!

Lackson caring for the 6 new piglets.

Lackson caring for the 6 new piglets.

Lackson Lungu, one of the youth business leaders in Manyamula Village, Malawi, recently got to experience this joyful moment of Sharing the Gift. In January 2013 he and his family used their SBF grant to buy two piglets. Lackson, age 20, took charge in caring for them, building them a pen, and giving them necessary medications. And this year his diligence was rewarded with the birth of six piglets!

Knowing about the Sharing the Gift initiative and being grateful for the six healthy piglets, Lackson decided to give one of the piglets to Tionenji Mumba, a widow in the community. This is just one example of how a gift can ripple out to help many more than the original gift recipient! Thank you for passing it on, Lackson!

Lackson generously shared one of the piglets with Tiwonenji.

Lackson generously shared one of the piglets with Tiwonenji.

Another ripple is happening in Manyamula. Last month I sent a book from the SIA office, The Small Scale Pork Producer, to Canaan Gondwe, the SBF Coordinator in Malawi. Canaan has long been an advocate for pig farming in rural Malawi and so I knew that he could put the book to good use. I had the joy of sending him a present I knew would help others.

True to Canaan’s spirit of Sharing the Gift in all aspects of his life, he is taking the information from the book to share it with many more people. “The [Manyamula Savings and Loans] cooperative management will arrange for training sessions for pork producers and tackle relevant topics so that we maximize the productivity of swine. At the moment, the leadership will take time to read the booklet and mark all relevant topics for training. Thank you for the book.”

It’s good to see the spirit of giving alive and thriving in Spirit in Action!

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