I won’t give in: How savings cooperatives help

I won’t give in: How savings cooperatives help

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in ’til I reach the end and then I’ll start again. No I won’t leave, I want to try everything, I want to try even though I could fail.” “Try Everything” by Shakira

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in,” proclaims Shakira in my current favorite you-can-do-it song, “Try Everything.” When we fall down, it usually helps when someone is there to pull us up again. In Malawi, COMSIP cooperatives are strong community organizations whose members pull each other up to the next level and to a better, more stable future.

COMSIP stands for Community Savings and Investment Promotion. It is a national project in Malawi that is more than a bank. From what I witnessed at a gathering of the Manyamula COMSIP cooperative, they were like a support group as well as a catalyst for economic growth – giving each other advice and encouragement in their endeavors.

“Our members of the Cooperative are entrepreneurs,” said Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Manyamula COMSIP, and a member of the national COMSIP Union Board. “The mobilized Savings form the capital base from which members borrow and engage in various forms of businesses, such as poultry, retail shops, irrigation farming, baking, pre-school and carpentry among others.”

After 3-4 months of saving money from her business, Beauty was able to use the savings as collateral for a larger, low-interest loan from the cooperative. Cooperative members can apply for loans in proportion to their savings shares. Beauty used the loan to buy high-quality feed and medication for her chickens. She knows that the medications are crucial for protecting her investment in the chickens. 

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Beauty with her daughter.

For Grace Banda, a widow, the COMSIP cooperative was just the kind of encouragement she needed to try again. Before joining COMSIP she had taken a loan from one of the traditional micro-finance lenders in Mzimba, the nearest city and 44km away. When an unexpected event caused her to business to flounder, she was unable to pay back the high-interest debt and had to forfeit her collateral.

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Grace in her shop in the Manyamula market.

COMSIP loans are not only low-interest, they also have repayment schedules that are adaptable to the business cycle – with longer terms for farming and cattle rearing. The local COMSIP leaders can work with the members to give them the highest chance of success. Grace’s Kikumala Shop is still going strong, and is a good source of fresh produce in Manyamula.

These are profound ways that COMSIP helps people start again. And the result is that lives are changed. Ninety-five percent of the 150+ cooperative members have improved their housing since joining. Many more can pay medical bills when illnesses arise. Grace Banda can now pay for school for her three children. “Life is continuing to become simple,” she told me with joy and relief in her voice.

This sentiment is echoed in a wonderful article from the World Bank about the successes of COMSIP groups. Gilaselia Denesi, who became responsible for her four grandchildren when her daughter and son-in-law died, shares how joining a COMSIP cooperative in central Malawi has led to positive change in her life. ““Look at me now!” she says. “God be praised, today my grandchildren, are in school, they are not hungry and even I have some time to have tea in my home. Can you imagine that? I am wearing a new dress today and I have some time for tea!””

For more about COMSIP:

After Finly joined the COMSIP cooperative and began saving, he used a small loan to buy improved Red Creole onion seeds for his farm.

After Finly joined the COMSIP cooperative and began saving, he used a small loan to buy improved Red Creole onion seeds for his farm.

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative – a truly locally-led savings and loans organization – has long been a fixture in this rural village in Malawi.The low-interest loans and safe savings have allowed its 180 members to invest in their future and prosper. Now they are building a meeting room (they will not have to pay rent anymore!) and an attached training center to teach people to run similar cooperatives in other villages.

“Apart from the social and economic impacts, the infrastructural image of buildings being erected at the Cooperative premises is the talk of the community,” reports Canaan Gondwe, long-time SIA partner and Manyamula COMSIP Coordinator. “This construction of the Training centre has completely changed the appearance and growth of Manyamula community.”

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

And it’s not just the talk of the village! Word is spreading: “The District Assembly of Mzimba which comprises of Government departmental leaders, Members of Parliament and Councilors paid a visit to the cooperative in their routine inspection of development projects. They were greatly amazed at the project in progress. We highlighted of our contributions and also of SIA as our partners.”

COMSIP Cooperative members have contributed all the bricks, lime and sand for the construction, in addition to two grants from the SIA Community Grants Fund.

One of their biggest challenges is that the Malawian currency keeps being devalued, increasing the prices of imported items like cement. The cooperative is planning to set aside savings each quarter to pay for future repairs, “to sustain our beautiful buildings.”

One of the shops in Mzimba - the larger town nearby - where they bought cement for the flooring.

One of the shops in Mzimba – the larger town nearby – where they bought cement for the flooring.

Canaan concludes: “The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in true partnership with Spirit in Action, is in the business of changing lives and communities. Manyamula community is indeed grateful to God for this abundant Grace.” We are honored to be in partnership with such a dynamic and impactful community organization!

See past construction updates here and read more about construction and electrification here.

A candid moment before the "snap" (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

A candid moment before the “snap” (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

 

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From skills training to employment

From skills training to employment

One of the exciting new groups that SIA is partnering with this year is Progressive Volunteers, a Kenyan grassroots organization that coordinates local volunteers to improve the poorest communities in Nairobi. We supported them with a grant to purchase several sewing machines and to rent a training space for dressmaking, tailoring, and sewing machine handling classes.

Onyango, the project coordinator, reports on their great success so far in helping people get trained and employed:

“The training center project runs classes for single mothers and girls, to give them relevant tailoring skills to enable them get skilled employment from Ruaraka industries. The first phase of the project saw 43 women trained on embroidery and sewing skills. The second phase began in mid-August and will run till 19th December with 39 trainees.

“To date, 26 of the trained women and girls have managed to secure employment with Rafiki Clothing Industry as machine operators. Two of the trainees were retained in the training centre to help with the management of the centre. The rest of the trainees have been absorbed in private businesses in Kariobangi North and Mathare North markets. This is our success so far this year.” Congratulations to these women and the trainers!

In 2016, Progressive Volunteers hopes to help five women secure funding – grants or low-interest loans – to purchase sewing machines and start their own small tailoring businesses.

New Businesses in Malawi

New entrepreneurs ready to start their small businesses in Malawi, with the help of a SIA grant.

New entrepreneurs ready to start their small businesses in Malawi, with the help of a SIA grant.

A new round of Small Business Fund (SBF) groups in northern Malawi have submitted their business plans and received their initial $100 grant! The first three listed are being mentored by our newest SBF local Coordinator in Malawi, Hastings Phiri. We welcome and wish the best to these new businesses:

  • Tyezee Bakery
  • Mtenthe Winne Tea Shop
  • Gregory Grocery Shop
  • Monily Welding Shop
  • Tawona Grocery
  • Malonje Crop Sales
  • Wangani Cattle Selling
  • Towera Grocery

Grant Update: Samro School in Kenya

Grant Update: Samro School in Kenya

Last week I wrote about SIA’s partners – the people who are implementing change in their communities with our support – and I mentioned that we like to create long-lasting relationships with these partners. Del Anderson’s partnership and friendship with Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge began even before Spirit in Action was officially formed in 1996. Talk about a long-lasting relationship!

Over those 20 years, the Teimuges’ Samro School has gone from a dream, to a single student in an informal classroom, to a well-respected elementary school where 214 students (including several refugees from South Sudan) are challenged and encouraged. “We have seen that seed of faith and vision grow, which were powerful gifts from Del and Jim [Thomas],” Rhoda told me when I visited Samro School in Eldoret, Kenya in 2014.

Samuel and Rhoda show Tanya the 6 classrooms that SIA built in 2002.

Samuel and Rhoda show Tanya the 6 classrooms that SIA built in 2002.

Last year, SIA supported 16 Samro students with their school fees. The funds were used primarily for staff salaries, with some also going to school supplies, food for the students, and occasional class trips. Paying the teachers on time and with competitive salaries helps ensure that there is no interruption in the teaching schedule (Kenyan public school teachers were on a month-long strike this fall), and that the students are getting the attention and high-quality education they want and deserve. Over the weekend, the school community held a graduation and Prayer Day for the 8th grade students.

Samro students performing for parents, teachers, and community members at the 8th grade graduation last weekend.

Samro students performing for parents, teachers, and community members at the 8th grade graduation last weekend.

Six of the students supported by the SIA funds are Samro Polytechnic students, in the tailoring and dressmaking program. Over the past two years, they have learned to make skirts, trousers, shirts, lab coats, pajamas, kitenge (east African casual wear), jackets, and children’s clothing. They are preparing now for their final exams in the first week of December.

Boyd is measured for a t-shirt, to be sewn on sewing machines purchased with the SIA grant. The teacher is on the right, wearing a shirt he made. This student is the class leader.

Boyd is measured for a t-shirt, to be sewn on sewing machines purchased with the SIA grant. The teacher is on the right, wearing a shirt he made. This student is the class leader.

Samuel Teimuge reports, “This year has been one of the best years when our teachers, pupils, parents, and the committee members celebrate the students’ performances with great joy. Our teachers were very committed and the pupils did their best both in academics and extra curricula activities. We realized that a lot of talents were brought forth and we are closing the year with very high self esteem!”

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One of the Grade 5 students supported by SIA this year.

We look forward to continuing this partnership with the Teimgues and supporting their blossoming vision for Samro School as a supportive environment for Kenya’s youth.

Who are SIA’s partners?

Who are SIA’s partners?

I often toss around the word “partner” when I talk about our work. Who are these partners? How did we come to know them? Canaan Gondwe and the members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi are some of our partners. Moses Chibanda, director of Welfare Concern International in Zambia, is another. Our partners are individuals and grassroots organizations who are implementing the real work of Spirit in Action in their communities. Our partners are dedicated, generous local leaders. They are groups of people who are passionate about making things better in their communities, and they are already putting in the hard work to spark that change.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

Perhaps you know some leaders like this in your own community – the president of the parent teacher association, the rec-league soccer coach, the soup kitchen volunteer, or the passionate leader of the local environmental group.

I first connected with our partner Samuel Leadismo, director of the Pastoralist Child Foundation in Kenya, through email. He had met another SIA partner, Margaret Ikiara of CIFORD Kenya, at a workshop and he reached out to tell me about himself and his work. We emailed back and forth. I asked him about the girls’ empowerment workshops and anti-FGM campaign that he led. I told him about myself, and about SIA’s philosophy and how we operate. Eventually I invited him to submit a grant request application for an upcoming workshop. I also reached out to Margaret to get a recommendation from her, since I was unable to visit Samuel in person. Our first email was in March of 2014 and we still email back and forth to continue to build our relationship, to understand each other better, and to follow up on the grant we gave to his organization.

Certificate of Registration copy

Pastoralist Child Foundation’s Registration Certificate

We don’t just drop money into a community. The grants are part of our on-going relationship with these partners. And the partner organizations are whole, independent groups outside of Spirit in Action. For example, the Pastoralist Child Foundation is an officially registered community based organization (CBO) in Kenya. Their work is funded by a patchwork of supporters, from individual donors in the US, to other grant organizations like SIA, and local volunteers in Samburu, Kenya. We use the word “partner” to recognize that we each bring something to the relationship.

(*Read Canaan Gondwe’s presentation entitled “A partner who has walked with us side by side”)

Partners together. Tanya with the leadership of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative

Partners together. Tanya with the leadership of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

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