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.

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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.

“A partner who has walked with us side by side”

[Above: A video snippet of Canaan’s speech; with Winkly Mahowe interpreting into the local language.]

It was exactly a year ago that I was in Malawi and witnessing the amazing change happening in Manyamula Village. When I was there, Canaan Gondwe, who has been an honest and dedicated leader in his community, gave a wonderful welcome address to us and the gathered SIA friends. Imagine you are in a crowded, cinder block meeting room, the smell of dust outside, the music from the band and the clapping and singing are dying down. Over 100 of us settle ourselves in the plastic chairs and give our attention to Canaan:

Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members sing a song of welcome. (Malawi, 2014)

Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members sing a song of welcome to Tanya. (Malawi, 2014)

“On behalf of Traditional leaders, Area Development Committee, Government Staff present here, all Cooperative and Small Business Fund members and all people gathering in this room and on my own behalf, I feel greatly honored and excited to sincerely welcome Tanya Cothran (SIA Administrator) and Dr. Boyd Cothran (SIA Board Member) in Malawi and in particular here in Manyamula COMSIP (Community Savings and Investments Promotion) Cooperative, “where together we grow.” Feel free and feel at home in the warm heart of Africa (Malawi) to interact with each of us and hear remarkable stories of positive change in our lives.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Society, formerly known as MAVISALO, and the Small Business Fund project, supported by Spirit in Action, have played a critical social and economic role in enabling members to escape poverty and marginalization. I am saddened to recall and report the situation of our members before these institutions were established in this area:

  • About 80% had never used a bank
  • About 90% had poor housing infrastructure (houses that are grass thatched, houses that leak during rainy season, houses built of mud and with poor ventilation
  • Members of the cooperative had to travel 44km each direction to access commercial lending institutions with high interest rates, high demand of unaffordable collaterals, coupled by short period of loan repayments
  • About 60% of our people were food insecure; members could not afford fertilizer

I am extremely excited and pleased as a leader of the Cooperative and the Small Business Fund (SBF) that these programs can and have begun to reverse the above mentioned trend. Both the cooperative and SBF project have continued to post continued economic growth on its members from year to year.

Our members of the Cooperative and SBF project are entrepreneurs. The mobilized savings (shares), which currently are 4.8 million Malawian Kwacha [about $10,000 USD], form the capital base from which members borrow and engage in various forms of business: such as poultry, retail shops, irrigation farming, livestock production, baking, bicycle repair, shoe repairing, carpentry, tomato sales, fish marketing, transport, music shows, restaurants, pre-school, barber shops, photography, and winery sales among others.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.

Impact

I am extremely excited to openly expound the positive change and better life that members of the project enjoy:

  • All 167 members (with 47% women) have embraced a culture of savings and investment.
  • Members of the cooperatives and SBF have created self-employment
  • There is increased income and general economic empowerment at household level because of improved skills and experience in entrepreneurship
  • Better housing for 95% of cooperative and SBF members (Houses with burnt bricks and iron sheets)
  • Increased asset acquisition by members (eg. Motorcycles, bicycles, band equipment)
  • Improved health at household level (good nutrition); our members afford to go to private clinics and pay medical bills.
  • Members of the cooperative support their school-going children well (uniforms, fees, transport)
  • Improved food security amongst members.
  • A total of 20 members have either done electrical wiring of their houses or are completely connected to the power grid.
  • Increased cooperation among members
  • Reduced marital violations (including income abuse)

Support from Spirit in Action

Through and over the years of our operation in the Cooperative and Small Business Fund, Spirit in Action has been a true and faithful partner; a partner who has walked with us side by side on our growing of the institution. SIA has assisted the Cooperative with grants that have moved the organization to acquire relevant assets and projects like the maize mills, motorcycle, poultry project, camera, and a laptop.

Through its Small Business Fund project from 2004 to date, SIA has supported 102 families with business training and skills with $150 paid in two installments. Over and above, all traditional leaders, SBF and Cooperative members are grateful to SIA for these landmark projects.

Conclusion

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative, as a rural-based economic vehicle, embarked on the journey to economic empowerment of its members. With the assistance of Spirit in Action, our true and faithful partner, the cooperative and SBF project want to achieve positive change in our members. Finally, I am pleased to report that the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in a recent supervision missions by government officials and COMSIP Cooperative Union national leaders, has been rated a national model and a success story amongst all rural economic cooperative in the country. I believe SIA is very proud to be associated with such remarks. We believe that this partnership will grow even to greater heights in the future.

COMSIP sharp! [Cutting through poverty!]

SIA sharp!”

The band (who had also received a low-interest loan from the cooperative) played before the presentations.

The band (who had also received a low-interest loan from the cooperative) played before the presentations.

How do their lives change?

How do their lives change?

Last week I highlighted the 5 most common businesses that Small Business Fund (SBF) grant recipients typically start. The groups received $150 and are mentored over the course of a year. This week I received a batch of final One-Year Reports from our two SBF local coordinators in Uganda. These are shorter reports that check in to see how each business is doing one year after receiving with grant. The report also asks how the lives of the groups members have improved and what they have used their profits to buy. Again, the responses seem to fall in 5 categories. These are the 5 basic needs that families are empowered to meet after starting an SBF business:

SCHOOL FEES

Paying for school fees is by far the most common goal and use of SBF profits in Uganda. There is supposed to be free universal education in Uganda, but the public schools quickly fill their limited spaces and the families must pay for private schools. School fees for the average private school near Kasozi Village, Uganda are about $12 per term for each student (with 3 terms per year). This adds up quickly with many children and with the additional costs of uniforms and school supplies!

Yuba Robert and his extended family show  us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator is seated on the right.

Yuba Robert (right, standing) and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator, is seated on the right. (Uganda)

MEDICINE

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

IMPROVED HOUSING

Before…

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

During…

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda and they are slowly building the house that will also be a storefront. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda. They are slowly building the house that will also have a storefront for their pottery. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

After!

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani started a business in photography and also selling vegetables. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in his house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani’s family has both a photography and a retail vegetable business. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in their house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

More stories about improved housing:

BETTER DIET

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

FURNITURE

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other families are able to buy beds and other simple, yet profound, dignities.

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other business groups have been able to buy beds and couches – simple, yet profound, dignities.

What kind of businesses do people start?

What kind of businesses do people start?

One of the unique parts of our SIA Small Business Fund program is that groups can start the business of their choice. We do not choose a business for them. Before they receive the initial $100 grant, the new business groups work with the local coordinator to evaluate their strengths, interests, skills, and current assets to help them decide on a business. They also look at market demand in the area. Sometimes the families already have a business that needs an injection of cash for it to flourish.

Once they decide, the group then fills out a Business Plan worksheet, which outlines initial costs, on-going expenses, expected sales, and defined roles for each group member. So, what kinds of businesses do people start with their SIA grant?

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY (Chickens, pigs, goats, etc.)

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This family started their poultry business in 2014. They are saving to pay for school fees for their children. “I am proud of my business,” says the woman. Her husband wants to build a bigger pen to keep the chickens safe. (Uganda)

KIOSK RETAIL SHOPS

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Chimwemwe buys stock from the city and resells it in Manyamula Village. She sells soap, shampoo, snacks, cooking oil, and other small items. (Malawi)

FARMING

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Kondwani stands in front of the harvest of maize from his family’s farm. (Malawi)

POTTERY / HANDICRAFTS (Mat making, basket weaving, etc.)

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Members of a Small Business Fund group in Uganda demonstrate how they make pots. They are sold to people who use them for cooking and storing water. (Uganda).

SERVICES (Baking, cooking, hair braiding, photography, etc.)

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

Read more about our Small Business Fund, including our FAQs, here.

Updates from Ghana and Kenya

Updates from Ghana and Kenya

Who’s that lady?

Reader question! “I love the SIA newsletter. What is the story behind the pic of the beautiful woman with the lovely smile on page 6? Looks like she has a big tray of maize or something and I’m wondering if you can tell me her story.”

Tanya’s Response: I’m sorry that I neglected to add a caption to her photo. This woman is one of the 50 women who attended a sustainable agriculture training at Shape Lives Foundation in Ghana, sponsored by Spirit in Action. The woman in front is holding a tray of brown rice and the trees surrounding her are Moringa trees. Moringa is a highly nutritious plant and the leaves can be ground up and added to food as a vitamin supplement. (Read more about Moringa here and here.) Shape Lives has been integrating Moringa in with the rice at their demonstration farm to help improve the nutrition in their community. The plants grew well together and they are planning to train more women to add Moringa to their home gardens. The women who attend the training and help with the harvest get to take home some of the rice!

New Businesses in Nairobi, Kenya

Five new groups in Nairobi, Kenya received their initial $100 Small Business Fund grants in February.

The new business leaders: Back row - Wilkister, Pheris, Ann & Pamela. Front row-Tina & Josephine

The new business leaders: Back row – Wilkister, Pheris, Ann & Pamela. Front row – Tina & Josephine (Josephine is one of the local business mentors.

  • Ann Ayuma and her husband George Mungai and their daughter Phyllis Ayuma are the members. They chose the group Mwangaza which means light and they will sell cooked food.
  • A family group of mother Wilkister Akumu, father Ronald Omondi Okumu, and their child Juliet Ochieng. They chose the name Hekima – Wisdom for their kiosk.
  • Pheris Amati has an existing business of making bags with her husband Kennedy Adai. Their daughter Sela Obanda will join them.
  • Pamela Anyango is the group leader. She has a small shop and sells by the roadside items like tissues and diapers, and also cooks and sells githeri (beans and corn). Their groups name is Ebenezer.
  • Mama Tony Boutique is the name of their business. The leader’s name is Tina Violet Amati and she does hair but doesn’t have a place – she is a free lancer.

And a New Sewing Machine!

Caroline with her new sewing machine, working on a school uniform.

Carolyne with her new sewing machine, working on a school uniform.

Carolyne joined up with other two friends to start the God’s Favor Tailoring Group with a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant a year ago and their business is going strong. With the second grant installment of $50, in addition to reinvesting their profit, they bought a new machine and added to their stock. They are now able to pay school fees, eat better, and pay rent from their profits. Judy, who had taken her kids to stay with her mother in the village, said she would bring them back to live with her because life had improved. Alfayo, a high school student, is able to pay his fees and meet his other basic needs. The only down side so far is that because they specialize on school uniforms, the business went down once school started. However, they did get some new orders for other types of clothes around Christmas and Easter.

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