How can we promote peace?

How can we promote peace?

(Pictured above: A craftswoman in Kasozi, Uganda tells Tanya about how she weaves baskets, dying the rafia to get different colors.)

Why do Americans care about bombings in Paris and seem to dismiss bombings that happen in Kenya? Maybe because it’s easier for people everywhere to connect and empathize with people who look like them, and with cultures that are familiar to them. I can picture myself in Paris. I may even know people who live there. Knowing this tendency, and wanting to work for world peace, I must find more ways to connect with, listen to, and understand people from around the world. Paul K. Chappell, a peace activist who I heard speak last month, calls these “peace literacy” skills.

Chappell has defined seven forms of peace literacy. We know that reading literacy is important; lets not forget that developing tools to navigate peace is important too. Two forms of peace literacy that I am developing through Spirit in Action are literacy in our shared humanity and literacy in the art of listening.

Literacy in our Shared Humanity

“Think about how difficult it would be to dehumanize people if we were all literate in our shared humanity,” muses Chappell. Quakers talk about recognizing that, “there is that of Good, of God, in every person.” A group of peace-building Quakers use this concept in their work in eastern Africa, during which they bring together “enemies” and encourage them to listen to and learn from each other. In one of his fantastic blog posts about the transformative power of the workshops, David Zarembka writes, “participants often express how liberating the concept is when first they realize that their “enemy” also has goodness in him or her and, just as important that, regardless of what they have done or what they have gone through, there is still goodness within them that they can tap into.”

Next time you hear a news story of violence against (or violence perpetrated by) someone of a different culture, take a moment to connect with the Good in them.

mlk quote

Literacy in the Art of Listening

Part of my intention in writing each Spirit in Action blog post is to develop our literacy in the art of listening. I like when I can include words directly from our grant partners, so that we can listen more closely and discover the similarities and differences in our experiences. This listening is more than a shallow hearing of words, says Chappell, “when we listen with empathy we also hear their emotions, hopes, and fears. We hear their humanity.”

When I make trips to visit our SIA partners, most of my time is spent listening. I hear the challenges, the successes, the accomplishments, and the hopes for the future from our grant partners.

When I met Theu at his cafe (which he started with a Small Business Fund grant) in Manyamula, Malawi, I learned that he had recently returned to his home village after working in South Africa for several months. Many laborers in Malawi make the journey to South Africa where they can find temporary (and often illegal) jobs in the construction and service industry. Sound familiar? But life in South Africa as an undocumented worker is hard – you may suffer abuse from your employer and have no one to turn to for relief. The Small Business Fund grant from SIA meant that Theu could stay in Malawi, rather than leaving his family to find work. “I’m free because this is my country,” he told me.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

I encourage you to read more stories of SIA partners:

Turn to Love

Once we recognize the Good in ourselves and in others, and once we truly listen with empathy, then we are creating space for peace.

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women in Kasozi, Uganda meets twice a week to weave mats under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money],” one of them told me during my visit.

SIA’s pay-it-forward model in the news

SIA’s pay-it-forward model in the news

In January 2013, Lackson Lungu bought two piglets with a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant. We gave the $150 as a grant, without the high interest rates and short repayment schedule that so often come with microfinance loans.

However, there was a string attached. We asked Lackson to pay-it-forward to help someone else in need, once his business was successful. Lackson was happy to comply and in May 2014 he gave one of the piglets from his successful piggery to Tiwonenji, one of the widows in his village of Manyamula, Malawi. (Read more of his story here.)

This pay-it-forward aspect of the Small Business Fund means that each grant sets off a ripple of change. Sharing the Gift can take the form of sharing piglets, teaching other women to bake and sell donuts in the market, teaching sustainable agriculture skills, and sharing seeds or food with more vulnerable members of the community.

Yesterday, Humanosphere, a news agency that focuses on stories of the fight against poverty, gave a shout-out to Spirit in Action for our pay-it-forward model. In her article, “Pay-it-forward model shows potential for microfinance in developing nations,” Lisa Nikolau notes that we are part of a movement that is looking at new ways to help people thrive, without getting them trapped in cycles of debt.

Nikolau quotes Muhammad Yunus, the man who helped develop and popularize micro-credit around the world, who said“Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity.” And we whole-heartedly agree!

I encourage you to read the full Humanosphere article here.

The ripple of change continues with Tionenji paying-it-forward to Msumba.

The ripple of change continues with Tionenji paying-it-forward to Msumba.

More amazing technology & Some challenges

More amazing technology & Some challenges

I had two interesting conversations this week after my blog on how technology is improving our work. (I also added another 2 SIA partners to my WhatsApp contacts!)

Mobile Banking

I had another thrilling moment of wonder at technology as I was talking to Josephine Ameyo (pictured above) about the community bank she wants to start with women in her informal settlement in Nairobi. I know the area can be dangerous – several business leaders have had supplies stolen, and our Small Business Fund Coordinator always arranges for protection when she visits the groups. So I asked Josephine how they would keep the savings safe, and how they would safely transport the savings to the bank.

She responded with good news, “We shall not deal with cash. We have a popular money wire transfer app in Kenya known as M-Pesa which is available in mobile phones here. When people apply for loans we shall remit the cash through that service. And when they repay their loans we shall give them bill-pay number, which is also available from the mobile service provider. There shall be no money exchanging hands hence it will be the safest mode of money transfer.”

The women will be able to borrow money and repay loans through their phones, using the vast network of certified M-Pesa dealers to securely manage the cash. Amazing! (Read more about mobile phones in Kenya.)

Those Left Behind

The second conversation was a sober reminder of the growing technology divide. Margaret Ikiara, director of Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya), is a local leader in a very rural community in central Kenya. She works with many women who are caring for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS; women who are struggling to grow enough food for themselves. Sure, some of these women have cell phones, but they are not phones that can handle WhatsApp.

“I saw the update in the SIA Website and surely technology is fascinating and changing so fast,” wrote Margaret. She continued with a troubling contradiction, “In our community what puzzles me and leaves me with no words is that even in the fast changing world there are parents who are not taking their children to school. That means there are people who will be 3 decades behind others. They can not write letters, emails, nor use WhatsApp.”

It is a clear reminder that even as technology is making lives easier it is not close to reaching or aiding so many people in the places where SIA works. This, in essence, is the call for Spirit in Action. Let us strive even harder to support these women so that we are all progressing and benefiting together.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.  In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate. In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

Am I too comfortable?

Am I too comfortable?

These are my own reflections and may not reflect the opinion of the SIA Board of Directors:

Sometimes praying for peace can seem like the easy way out. Picturing myself in the flow of life, as a Being of light, I feel the peace within me. But those prayers, I am increasingly realizing, are coming from a place of comfort, from a comfortable life.

Around New Year’s I was faced with a slightly unsettling question from Kayla McClurg in her inward/outward email reflection, “Will this be the year we move from ‘wishing for a nicer world’ to making intentional contributions and distributions of light?”

Is now the time to go from wishing and even praying towards making some concrete steps and intentional contributions to justice in the world?

That might be uncomfortable. It might shake me out of my peaceful prayer.

Philanthropy and charity can get pretty comfortable in its work to address the immediate needs of food, clothing, clean water. In that rush, it may never get to confronting the systems that are creating the poverty and inequality.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, writes about giving to charities during the holiday season, “I worry that through these acts of kindness, I absolve myself of asking deeper questions about injustice and inequality. We Americans are a remarkably bighearted people, but I believe the purpose of our philanthropy must not only be generosity, but justice.”

Justice might be uncomfortable. It might mean that I have to give up something. It might mean that I have to do more than just pray for peace and give money.

Source: OutFront Minnesota

Walker continues, “Philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.” We must ask: Why is it still so hard for people in rural Africa to access loans? Why is it still so dangerous for our local coordinator to visit the slum in Nairobi? How do we get more youth educated and then employed in stable jobs? And we will likely find that those answers take more than easy money.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was way more radical than the collective memory suggests. In a passionate lecture to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in 1966, King calls on those gathered to wake up to action. “One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.

There are the beginnings of a revolution now. A revolution of people demanding justice for black lives, demanding rights for women, demanding for their voices to be heard. Will this be our year to wake up and do more than throw money in the bucket, hoping for change, wishing for a nicer world?

*Pictured above: Working with local leaders in Malawi for economic justice through their savings and loans cooperative is part of SIA’s role in the revolution. Here I am pictured with the leadership of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Acting our faith – Welcoming the immigrant

Acting our faith – Welcoming the immigrant

This week, with all the news about refugees and migrants running from dangerous situations and lured by hope, we have an extraordinary opportunity to put our spirit into action.

I have been heart-wrenched after hearing about the monumental journey that families are deciding to take, either together or apart, to search for that hope and that peace that is our right. Sadness and death are all around. Fear keeps people from reaching out a hand.

And yet, there are also promising stories of radical acceptance, of people welcoming strangers, giving encouraging words and nourishing food. Churches and secular communities are coming together saying, “We must do something. We must act to make the world better NOW.” And they are finding ways to act, by pressuring governments to accept more refugees and even sponsoring families to come to live in safety.

Welcoming the Stranger

This act of making space for, and welcoming the stranger, is core to my faith. Three years ago I came to appreciate this on a deeper level. (Reposted from my 2013 blog post):

“It surprised me just how much is in the Bible about the stranger. For example, “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Over and over again, the Bible makes it pretty clear: treat people fairly, no matter where they come from; welcome them, because you never know when you might find yourself in need of hospitality.

Hospitality builds community, in part, because it is a gift to both the giver and receiver. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Both the host and the hosted have the opportunity to meet angels. [blog link]. Eight months ago I came to Canada – an immigrant – and I’ve received so much of the generous hospitality to newcomers. But just last week I was able to help a woman in the grocery store find what she needed, “I’m new in town,” she said by way of explanation. And so, I helped her, because I once was the newest newcomer. Plus, who knows, she might be an angel.”

“respect myself and my brothers and my sisters

In the coming weeks may we get down to pray and then get up off our knees and act to show our true respect for those members of our global family who are courageous enough to leave what they know to seek a better future.

Am I young enough to believe in revolution
Am I strong enough to get on my knees and pray
Am I high enough on the chain of evolution
To respect myself and my brothers and my sisters
And perfect myself in my own peculiar way.
~Kris Kristoferson, from Pilgrim’s Progress

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