Helping their children to have a better life

Helping their children to have a better life

All around the world, parents have the common hope that their children will have better lives than their own. This was the hope of Chimwemwe Beza and Timothy Mtambo in Manyamula, Malawi.

Chimwemwe left high school after her second year and never was able to return. She didn’t have the support of family to continue her education, especially since they were struggling to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and a home. Still, Chimwemwe and Timothy held onto the hopethat their children – Mphatso (15), Jestina (13), and Constance (10) – might be able to attend high school.

In 2014, when the family was invited to join the Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) program, the dream of sending their children to school felt far-off. They used their $100 initial grant to open a small retail shop in the Manyamula marketplace. They also bought a piglet, since pigs are a good way to invest savings in rural Malawi. Timothy and Chimwemwe worked long hours to save some money for their children’s education.

Chimwemwe in her first retail shop in 2014, after receiving the $100 Small Business Fund grant.
Malawi

A year later, the family changed their business from a retail grocery shop to a second-hand clothes shop. This is a good business because they are able to buy the second-hand clothes for a good price and there is lower competition in the marketplace.

The Best School in the County

The business has been so successful that for the last two years, Mphatso and Jestina have been able to attend one of the best elementary boarding schools in the county! The test results are now in and the parents are so proud that both children were selected to attend one of the top high schools next year.

Chimwemwe is so proud to be able to afford a top quality education for her children!

When Small Business Fund local coordinator, Canaan Gondwe talked to Chimwemwe, he reported: “She was all joy to tell me that the Small Business Fund has impacted her children tremendously. She says, ‘had it been not for SBF, her children could not have attended boarding school and would not have been able to make it to high school.”

The business continues to this day – 4 years after the initial grant! – and the family is working hard to continue to support the children in having a brighter future! Instead of Spirit in Action paying for school fees directly, we are helping families earn enough so that they can pay for the school fees themselves.

Chimwemwe in her roadside clothing shop

#GivingTuesday – Support entrepreneurs in Malawi and Kenya!

#GivingTuesday – Support entrepreneurs in Malawi and Kenya!

#GivingTuesday is here! As we receive, so are we called to give. And as other receive, they also pay-it-forward to help another. This ripple of giving is embodied in our Spirit in Action logo, and it is at the core of what we do. Start a new ripple of hope today by donating to Spirit in Action now!

Supporting Families

Wilson Nikosi (Manyamula, Malawi) “I did not even have a piece of soap or a blanket. I was using a sack to sleep on. I was failing to send my child to school. And then I met Canaan Gondwe and he talked to me about Spirit in Action. And with the Small business fund I bought groceries supplies and paid school fees. Now my children are eating. Now I have a house made of baked bricks and I have iron sheets as a roof on my house.

“Yes, I have been sharing the gift. I have assisted two people by giving them tomato seeds and sharing compost. Without the grant, I don’t know where I’d be. I am all thanks.”

Thomas Nkhonde, Wilson Nikosi, and Tanya Cothran in Wilson’s shop in May.

Supporting Women

Pheris Amati (Nairobi, Kenya): “I’m grateful for the Small Business Fund support. I can now feed my family. Kids are going to school. I can pay the rent. My husband has been sick and now I can get medicine for him. With my business, I am making bags like this backpack. For Sharing the Gift I have taught a friend to also sew these bags.”

Support Girls’ Education

Rose (Meru, Kenya) I met with Rose in June and had tea in her house. Four years ago, Rose received a water tank from Spirit in Action through the local organization CIFORD Kenya. In her garden she grows kale and green onions, alternating rows of each. The green onions keep away the aphids and screens keep the chickens out of the garden. She also uses manure from chickens as compost.

With the profit from her garden, Rose bought flour to make ugali, the staple food in Kenya. She now doesn’t have to buy as much food, because they are growing it themselves. Both of her daughters attend university! Rose told me, “Now I can pay for school fees for my daughters. University is subsidized, but it still costs $350 a year.”

Today, with giving in the air, please consider supporting families, entrepreneurs, and girls’ education with a donation to Spirit in Action. Thank you!

“Mindset preparation” on the path to success

“Mindset preparation” on the path to success

Guest post by Michael Hegeman, SIA Advisory Board Member. He traveled with me to Kenya and Malawi this year.

“I’ll always be poor.” “I’ll never make enough money to feed my children.” “I don’t deserve to have a good life.” “I have only known poverty.” “I don’t know how to build a successful business.”

These are self-defeating thoughts. We can find them in any culture around the globe. And not only are these thoughts self-defeating; they are self-fulfilling as well. If you think you will always be poor, you most likely will always be poor.

The first thing that Spirit in Action coordinators encounter with potential grant recipients is a way of thinking that cannot see past present circumstances: the necessity to escape dire circumstances, provide immediate nutritional needs for one’s family, and send children to school. Because SIA coordinators “target” the most vulnerable members of their communities to receive SIA grants, they are sure to encounter a “mindset” that has pre-determined failure as the only option.

Canaan Gondwe, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Malawi, is passionate about mindset preparation and helping people live up to their God-given potential.

Power of Positive Thinking

Norman Vincent Peale, sixty-five years ago, published his now famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking, in which the reader is “encouraged to achieve a permanent constructive and optimistic attitude through constant positive influence of his or her conscious thought (that is, by using affirmations or visualizations) and consequently achieve a higher satisfaction and quality of life.”

Many of us are quite familiar with the practice of using positive affirmations to shift one’s way of being in the world. For SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) grant recipients, the circumstances of poverty seem overwhelming. The principles of “mindset preparation” are crucial for coordinators to use to help others get ready for big changes in their lives.

The SIA team visiting Malawi and Kenya in May of 2017 heard testimony after testimony from SBF grant recipients about how changing the way they thought helped them take actionable steps to positive change in their lives. And the results were evident. Paul Lungu told the group: “At one time I had only a blanket to my name, and I slept in empty houses, begging for food. Now, I have a home of my own, a small farm, and a business that helps me provide for myself and my family.”

Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grantees

The Lungu family have been able to build this brick home since starting their shoe repair business in 2005. Paul says, “life is no longer the same.”

Mindset Preparation

The key elements in “mindset preparation” are”

  1. Training the body, mind and spirit to say, “Yes, I can do it.” “Yes, I can succeed.” “Yes, I am worthy of a good life.” Change doesn’t happen overnight. SIA SBF Coordinators tell us that they need to be vigilant with support during the process. “Don’t sink back into that stinking thinking! You can do it.”
  2. Hosting motivational sessions: These positive messages need to seep into the subconscious mind, and the most powerful way for this to happen is to hear the testimony of those who have succeeded and to witness the changes that others have made in their lives.
  3. Reminding people of their God-given potential, and how, through Spirit, they can co-create a better life. “You can do something different from what is currently happening.” ~ Canaan Gondwe, SIA SBF Coordinator, Malawi
  4. Using biblical passages that speak to the need for perseverance: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23
  5. Supporting them to see what each of them “brings to the table.” When we discover our own natural gifts, we can use those gifts to help ourselves build a successful life.
  6. Encouraging them build a network of support with like-minded people, that is, others who are using their full potential to succeed.
  7. Urging them to Share the Gift, pay-it-forward in some way, whatever that gift is. The expression of gratitude is healing to the weariest soul.

 

The perception of poverty effects every aspect of one’s being: mentally, emotionally, socially, economically, physically, and spiritually. Genuine and lasting change comes through thoughtful and diligent mindset preparation. The realization of this success creates a joyous experience in every aspect of one’s being as well.

“I never thought I could be leading the life I now live. I respect myself and my community respects me. I have become a leader and an example to others. I want to pass on this happiness I’ve found.” ~ Sylvester Nkhoma

“I never thought I could be leading the life I now live. I respect myself and my community respects me. I have become a leader and an example to others. I want to pass on this happiness I’ve found.” ~ Sylvester Nkhoma

Ripples of success even when a project “fails”

Ripples of success even when a project “fails”

Mbwenu is not satisfied with the status quo. He is always looking at new ways of doing things. After visiting Mbwenu in 2014, I wrote about how Mbwenu was bringing new irrigation and solar power technologies to the rural areas about the rural town of Manyamula Village in Malawi. He was also starting a new bio-gas project to use manure to produce energy.

Last May, I visited Mbwenu again. He again showed me the structure of the bio-gas contraption. “This is a failed project,” he said without no trace of despair. He had started this project to try to combat climate change and deforestation. In the end, the project required the expertise of a professional to finish the container. They couldn’t persuade the professional to come all the way out to this far-off farm, and so the project is uncompleted.

Mbwenu, in the white shirt, talks to us about why the bio-gas project failed.

The innovation mantra is “fail fast.” Try something and if it doesn’t work, move on. Following this mindset, Mbwenu’s entrepreneurial spirit is not broken by this setback. “We invested in another way. We hired someone to care for the cow. Now we get milk and sell 15 liters a day. Our boys can go to school.”

ABE: Always be expanding

The entrepreneurial mindset of the SIA Small Business Fund teaches people to diversify. Always be looking for new opportunities to invest and expand. Mbwenu’s family also has a side project of raising goats. They have a grocery kiosk in town, where they can sell the milk. And like any rural resident in Malawi, they also farm. One failure definitely didn’t stop this family from succeeding!

Goats in their pen, which is off the ground to keep them healthy and safe.

Sharing the Gift

Before I had a chance to ask Mbwenu about how he’s Sharing the Gift, he volunteered the information. (When people receive our grants we ask them to pay-it-forward to someone else in need, so that the blessing ripples out in the community.)

Mbwenu told us that one of the ways he is Sharing the Gift is through training others. He has a model garden with drip irrigation – a great innovation in an area where water for crops is hauled by hand. (More on irrigation in another post!)

Mbwenu is not only Sharing the Gift by training, he also shared the entire Sharing the Gift concept with his church! The church members pooled resources to purchase ten pigs. They are raising them together and sharing the piglets with different families in the congregation. So far 17 families have received piglets – a great asset in Malawi!

I look forward to my next visit to Malawi and to seeing what new projects Mbwenu is exploring!

Mbwenu, with one his sons, in front of their home.

Beyond Grants: Rebuilding After Conflict

Beyond Grants: Rebuilding After Conflict

Rebuilding a life and a community after years of conflict, violence, and trauma is no easy task. The pain doesn’t go away immediately. The healing doesn’t happen automatically. Those who remain must figure out the way forward.

The Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) is helping with this rebuilding, with more than just cash grants. Naomi Ayot is the coordinator for SBF in the Kole District in Uganda. This is where the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted girls in 1996 and years of conflict broke up families and forced people into refugee camps. Many of the families in the area are missing family members, with many women now in charge of running households.

The Small Business Fund provides grants of $150 and business training. And it also is providing psychological support through peer support groups and encouragement.

Members from different SBF groups meet to discuss their businesses and lives.

Turning Lives Around

Imat Milly is the main breadwinner in her family. During the peak of the conflict with the LRA, when it was no longer safe to stay at home, her family moved into a camp for Internally Displaced People. When the violence ended, they settled into a grass roofed house.

Now, with their successful farming business – growing food for sale, in addition to home consumption – they have built a iron-roofed house!

Imat Milly proudly stands next to her new house.

Imat has also bought a plow, so that they don’t have to plow by hand anymore! They are producing better quality and quantity of crops now. They have even adopted a five year-old girl and paying for her school fees. This generous act of caring for children in need is just part of rebuilding community after conflict. 

“She thinks her life has really turned around,” reported Naomi. The sentiment is perhaps understated, but the satisfaction and joy in Naomi’s voice told me just how big this change is for Imat and her family.

Thinking Beyond Basic Needs

I wrote in April how Samsa used the profit from her agricultural business to send her daughter to pre-primary (nursery) school. When I met with Naomi in May, she told me again how much that meant to Samsa.

When Samsa’s daughter finished the school year, the school had graduation and Samsa was so proud to see her daughter receive the honors and be able to move onto primary school! For this community in rebuilding mode, education has not been a priority. However, Naomi reported that part of the success of SIA is that our program, “helps them think beyond basic needs to think about education.”

Naomi Ayot is the wonderful SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Uganda. She mentors others with passion and skill.

Counseling for Healing

In addition to these business successes, Naomi and her team on the ground in Kole District have created a spiritual counseling group, for anyone in the community who wants to join. SBF members and those who have not yet been chosen for grants come together to share about their challenges and to motivate each other to move forward. When I met with Naomi in May, she told me that these groups were helping to reduce domestic violence and levels of alcoholism in the group members.

SIA is on-going,” says Naomi. “It not just a one-off project. This encourages teamwork and cooperation between families.” Rather than competing against each other, SIA SBF groups are working together, sharing their grief and joy, and helping to rebuild their community in the wake of conflict.

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