Building friendships as they work

Building friendships as they work

With a grant from Spirit in Action, LUWODEA, a grassroots organization in Kamuli, Uganda, purchased high-tech equipment for making biomass fuel briquettes. Earlier this month 160 rural women attended learned to make this cheap, reliable cooking fuel. Instead of having to collect wood (resulting in deforestation), they now are making their own fuel by compacting green waste.

“We are so happy to report that women enjoyed the training and they have started off very well producing briquettes for home use. They are also selling off the surplus briquettes for income earning,” reports Sharon Mudondo, LUWODEA’s coordinator.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Don’t touch that dial!

As I reviewed Sharon’s report, I was fascinated to learn that LUWODEA is promoting their new product on the radio!

“We held a 15-minute radio talk show at local radio Ssebo, in Kamuli town. We were able to respond to questions from community members about briquette fuel as a business and a environmental conservation initiative. This gave us a chance to create massive awareness about the project and also inform the general public about prices and where they can get the briquettes made by our beneficiaries.”

They talk about how the briquettes burn faster, last longer, and are more efficient compared with traditional wood charcoal fuel. The briquettes are also cheaper!

“Our area being remote, the most common means of communication to masses is radio,” explains Sharon. “About 90% of rural families own small radios, so it is easy to listen to news and other programs like the briquette talk show. We have found the program very effective in terms of creating awareness. It also is helping us to reach more villages than we would if we had to do house-to-house outreach.”

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Women making briquettes in the market place. Biomass materials are pressed to create a dense pellet.

“We smile as we share challenges”

The LUWODEA team report that the women who are diligent about making and selling the briquettes can earn $3-8 per day! This income benefit the family in tangible ways. They can eat more meals per day, and pay for school fees. We learn from the testimony of Nora Karule, that the project also has intangible benefits:

“This briquette program comes with health advantages. These briquettes are smokeless and my children have not been sick in the past one and half months. This also means I can save more money because before I would spend such money that I earned on their treatment. I also find it interesting working with my fellow group mates at the briquette center. We are able to talk freely about issues in our families and even make jokes. We smile as we share challenges and other life experiences we face as women.”

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

The mission of the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre in Nairobi is to train women and men to use the industrial sewing machines to enable them to get jobs. And, as I reported in June, 124 of the 181 trainees have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases the trainees are only able to get the skilled machine operator jobs because of the training centre.

Studying factory jobs

I consider this employment a great success! And so I was interested to read this study that looked at the effect of low-wage manufacturing jobs on workers in Ethiopia. Now, this is in Ethiopia, not Kenya, and I do not know if the workers are taking the same sort of skilled jobs that the Mathare trainees are able to secure.

What did the study find? “It turned out that for most people, working in a factory didn’t significantly improve their income relative to the people in the control group. But getting cash to help start your own business did.”

The researchers, Chris Blattman and Stephan Dercon, summed it up like this:

  • Most people who applied for these factory jobs didn’t like them or intend to stay, rather the jobs were low paid and unpleasant and used as a safety net of sorts, while people looked for other entrepreneurial activities or less difficult wage work
  • But the health risks of industrial work were high and there’s evidence that serious health problems doubled if you took the factory job
  • When you gave them $300 cash [instead of the factory job], they started a small business and earnings went up by a third.
Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

What does this mean for SIA?

I wasn’t sure what this all meant for SIA partners. So I emailed Jeremiah Mzee, who is director of the training centre project. He wrote:

“I completely agree with the writer of this article.

“It is true that when a factory establishes in Kenya, it creates new jobs for both the skilled and unskilled laborers. A majority get low wages and there is nothing they can do. Most of them try to work in these factories for low pay with a hope of getting something better. In Ruaraka these factory jobs are considered to be for women simply because they pay low wages, though to the women they believe these factories provide valuable employment opportunities for them. I AGREE.

“Most people working in these factories get wages enough only to meet basic needs and it is true that entrepreneurial women running small businesses in Ruaraka have better income and financial independency.”

It is always useful to get this kind of feedback. It is the great benefit of our long-term partnership with grassroots leaders who know the reality of the situation on the ground. Luckily, Jeremiah Mzee is one of our newest Small Business Fund coordinators. He is already working with these women to help them become entrepreneurs. Another five business groups received their $150 grants last month. And the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre will continue to train people to be able to apply for the higher paying jobs at the factories, until they can find something better.

Training leads to jobs in Nairobi

Training leads to jobs in Nairobi

“This is an opportunity for me to change my life from idling and gossiping around in the community. I am happy that the number of cases involving me with other women will now reduce with this lifetime opportunity to gain embroidery and tailoring skills. I would like to specialize in school outfits like track suits and girl’s skirts. Thank you so much Progressive Volunteers.’’

Rosemary Ochieng is 19 years old and dropped out of school after elementary school. She lives in the Ruaraka community – one of the poorest areas of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. There aren’t a lot of good opportunities for women like Rosemary to turn their lives around. The opportunity that Rosemary credits for changing her life is attending the Mathare Dressmaking Training Centre. The centre runs classes for four months with skilled training in tailoring, machine embroidery, and fashion design.

Rosemary is not the only one to benefit. She is one of 168 women and 13 men who have completed the training course.

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Trainees gather around a table to practice their sewing.

Training leads to jobs

Of the 181 trainees, 124 have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases these women and youth are working as skilled machine operators, meaning that the classes directly opened this employment opportunity for them. There are also 27 trainees who are working for independent dressmaking businesses. Four more are remaining in the Dressmaking Centre to help with training and management.

George is one of the instructors and is a skilled machine operator.

George is one of the instructors and is a skilled machine operator.

With a Community Grant from Spirit in Action, the Mathare Dressmaking Training Centre rented a place to hold the trainings. They also bought high-tech sewing and embroidery machines, and hired instructors to develop the training curriculum.

The Centre continues to improve their offerings by changing as they learn from each training cycle. They found that many women were missing the evening classes because of family obligations. For the next round of classes, they will focus on morning and afternoon classes to better accommodate the busy schedules of their students.

The training team is also looking into ways to make their program more sustainable and they are considering a Sharing the Gift component. This would encourage the trained students to give back to the Centre, especially after they have been able to secure steady jobs.

Congratulations to the Mathare Dressmaking and Training Centre for truly empowering poor women and giving them hope for the future.

 

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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