“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.

Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Back in October 2012 I shared the success story of Hastings and Ruth Fuvu in Malawi. They had received a $150 Small Business Fund grant in early 2012, ramping up their business of selling tomatoes and onions in the market. This expanded business increased the family income enough to buy school uniforms for their children and seek medical attention for their daughter Miness, who experiences periodic seizures. The 2012 post ended with Fuvu’s dream to build a house of their own, using burnt bricks.

Malawi, bricks

Hastings and Ruth with bricks for their house. (2012)

Well, in July, 2014, I got to visit that new house! We sat in their home, listening to their story of how their lives have improved since growing their business: “We have wealthy relatives,” Ruth told us, “and they have never given to us, but SIA has given to us.”

This week I received another exciting update from Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Manyamula: Hastings and Ruth have been able to connect to the new electrical grid.

Canaan reports:

“After making enough savings, they molded bricks, built a house and now they have electrified the house. One part of the building they are using it as a barbershop where they get the additional income. With the same power, they are renting to someone who is welding at the premises. This is an income diversification for the family.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

“The family was quick to tell me that very soon they are Sharing the Gift by assisting one person to begin as they began.

“Life is new because they no longer go for fuel to light up their house. Life is made easy as darkness is simply cured up with pressing the ‘on’ switch in the house.

Imagine such a difference in just three years! This $150 small grant is continuing to pay amazing dividends to the Fuvus and others in the community.

Malawi, house, home

Tanya in front of the guest room of the Fuvu family’s new home. They invited me to “take a sleep” at their house next time we visit!

“Life has improved”: Updates from Kenya Small Business Fund

“Life has improved”: Updates from Kenya Small Business Fund

Wambui is the local coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. We spent a week together in July 2014 evaluating and improving our Small Business Fund program.

Exciting updates! Just yesterday I received a whole packet of business reports and new business plans from the latest 10 Small Business Fund grant recipients in the Korogocho area of Nairobi, Kenya. It’s thrilling to see our investment (in the form of small grants) making a positive impact in so many families!

Below are 3 updates from Wambui Nguyo, our Nairobi local coordinator, about groups that received their initial grants in September, and 2 profiles about groups that are just beginning this month:


God’s Favour Group – Tailoring Services

These are a group of friends and are still keeping the business strong. They bought a new sewing machine and added to their stock. Carolyne said they are 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 will bring them back because life has improved. Alfayo, who is in high school can pay his school fees and meet his other needs.

Playstation Group – Video Game Cafe

Wako, age 17, the leader is so hard working. He bought a new game terminal for the Playstation. The other Small Business Fund women in the area (who would be Wako’s mum’s age) are so pleased with him. He is not engaged in drugs or alcohol like most of his peers. They are orphaned and Wako does care for his 6 siblings and takes care of them. Josephine [a leader in the community and a mentor/trainer in the SBF groups] adds that he was able to pay the exam fees for his siblings who are at Josephine’s school in the slum.

Imarisha Maisha Group – Grain Shop

Sarah the group leader could afford a smile. She no longer goes to Josephine to beg for some food for her and family. She is able to pay her rent and has not been locked out [because of non-payment] so far. She bought cereals [rice, beans, barley] with her grant and still sells by the roadside and at times takes them around to people to buy. She has the plan of adding plastic stuff like buckets and soap to add to her stock. [Tanya’s note: I wrote 2 weeks ago about how SIA Small Business Fund is specifically designed to get people out of cycles of begging. It’s so good to hear these stories of the grants doing just that!]


Josephine shows Tanya and Wambui the pot of beans cooking for the lunch meal for students at her school.

Josephine shows Tanya and Wambui the pot of beans cooking for the lunch meal for students at her school.

New Business Grants in Korogocho, Kenya

Wambui and Josephine met with five new groups on the February 26th, explaining about SIA and what is expected of them as they received their initial $100 grants. Here are profiles of two of the new groups:

Ebenezer Shop and Cafe

Pamela Anyango, the group leader, has a small shop and sells items like tissues, diapers and also cooks githeri (a dish of beans and corn) by the roadside. Her husband, Misael, is unemployed and looks for casual work. If in any particular day he does not succeed, he comes to help Pamela. Most of the time they rely on this small shop for the family income. With the grant, they will start cooking rice and sell it to school children over the lunch hour. She has done her research and feels this will be successful.

Mwangaza (Light) Shop and Cafe

Ann Ayuma is already in an existing business of cooking food from her house and taking it to the neighbouring town by motorcycle. She targets the construction workers over lunch hour. Her husband, George Mungai doesn’t have a permanent job – he works with a handcart to carry people’s luggage. With this grant Ann hope to get a place close to where she supplies food and add more foodstuffs. They have 5 children and 2 grandchildren in their care.


For more updates from Kenya:

Success Story: Fikani Bicycle Transporting Service

People hire bicycle ferries to ride across town (sitting on the back of the bikes) or carry goods like fertilizer and crops to/from market. The rough roads are hard on the tires.

People hire bicycle ferries to ride across town (sitting on the back of the bikes) or carry goods like fertilizer and crops to/from market. The rough roads are hard on the tires.

Business Members: Stanly Kumwenda (23), Janet Banda (20), Harry Kumwenda (child)
Product: Bicycle Transportation Services
Area served: Manyamula, Malawi
Received SIA grant: $100 on October 9, 2014
Profit after 3 months: $105

Stanly and Janet married young. His parents never had money for enough food or clothing for everyone. The newlyweds were eager to start a good life together and yet they faced many challenges. They came to Canaan Gondwe, Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) coordinator and mentor, for advice on building a more successful future for their family.

I kept on explaining about the God-given potential within us,” writes Canaan in his report on their progress. “I had series of talks, even citing some people in the village who had changed their situation for the better.” Stanly was an enthusiastic learner, eager to move forward and put what he was learning into action. Canaan talked to him about dreaming and visioning for the future, business research, getting focused, working hard, and also about “getting disciplined with any money that comes his way.”

Stanly, Janet, and other new grant recipients completing their business plans with the guidance of Canaan Gondwe (standing).

Stanly, Janet, and other new grant recipients completing their business plans with the guidance of Canaan Gondwe (standing).

Stanly likes bicycling and so Canaan told him about the Small Business Fund program and suggested that he start a transportation business to carry people and goods around the village on a bicycle. Stanly and Janet attended the official SBF Training sessions with Canaan and prepared a business plan together. When they received the first grant of $100, they went straight to buy their first bicycle.

Within three months of hard working, Stanly bought another “fairly used” bicycle to expand the business. He has recruited a friend to work for him – job creation! – and now two bicycles are on the road every day for the Fikani Bicycle Transporting Service.

Stanly happily reports an income of about $7.50-$12.50 each day! Canaan continues to mentor him about expanding the business and saving for the future. He is pleased with the family’s progress reporting that, “Stanly and the family are now food secure and are progressing well in life. They plan to buy iron roofing sheets and build a better house of their own soon.”

A step up with a small grant, dedication and hard work, and mentoring support all have helped Stanly and Janet build the life and business they had only dreamed was possible. A grateful Stanly writes that “God is gracious and faithful; I never expected such a turn around on my family.”

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