The many ways a mill can benefit a community

The many ways a mill can benefit a community

Electricity coming to town changes everything. It provides new business opportunities: cellphone charging stations, welding shops, cafes where you can watch soccer matches. It also forces other businesses to adapt and change.

When the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (read more about them here) bought their gas-powered maize/corn mill in 2013, it was the best technology available. The mill grinds corn – the staple food – into a fine flour, adding value to the crops and processing the grain for eating.

Cooperative member feeding maize into the grinding mill. The ground corn is then made into a dry polenta-like meal.

People paid to grind their maize in town with the cooperative, with members paying a reduced price. Before the maize mill was there, they would have to walk long distances to other communities to grind. The cooperative took advantage of this business opportunity. In 2013, they earned over $600 from the maize mill facility.

Then the electrical grid arrived in rural Manyamula Village in northern Malawi. Mills that were connected to the grid could grind faster and cheaper. The cooperative saw their profits dropping. And so they adapted. Last year, they moved the maize mill from their building at the centre of town to the Matopoto zone, on the outskirts of town, where there is no electricity yet. The mill is profitable again, earning $35 every week!

Under Local Management…

The maize mill is collectively owned by all 150+ cooperative members. However, the mill is managed by the cooperative members who live in the Matopoto zone. (The cooperative has divided themselves into eight zones.)

Tanya singing with members of the Motopoto Zone.

75% of the profit goes to the main cooperative office, for low-interest loans and other community development programs, such as hygiene and healthy diet programs. The remaining 25% stays in the Matopoto village compound, benefiting the sixteen members and their families. These members also benefit from having the maize mill nearby. They can process their food right outside their homes!

But wait, there’s more!

At the end of 2013, the cooperative used their saved profits to start a “pig pass-on project.” They bought twelve pigs and distributed them to all the zones. The zone members were charged with raising the pigs and then passing on the piglets to the vulnerable members in their group. A pig is a valuable gift.

A grown male pig can sell for $50 and female pigs can have 6-9 offspring, generating more wealth. 

So far, 55 members across all zones have received piglets through the program! The members in the Matopoto zone have shared ten piglets amongst themselves. And the day that I visited them last month, they had another one to share. This time, they were sharing with a young boy in their community. He is not a cooperative member (yet) but they saw that he – who had lost his mother, and whose father drinks all day – could use some extra support.

The blessing of the pig.

It is this community spirit, this generosity, that fills my spirit and inspires me. When we support Manyamula COMSIP they use the funds effectively, they adapt to the changing business opportunities, and they spread the wealth so that everyone is uplifted.

Update from Nairobi, Kenya!

Update from Nairobi, Kenya!

Should we call Korogocho a slum? It’s complicated. The residents in this sector of Nairobi are extremely poor. There is no running water or sewer. People often skip meals and may work full time to earn only $1/day.

But calling it a slum brings up images of desperation, despair, and depravity. And from what I saw yesterday, that is not the mentality of everyone in Korogocho (called Koch for short).

Using the term “informal settlement” as an alternative to slum is perhaps more descriptive. The houses are made of corrugated iron and are built without permits or foundations. They have no address and the whole area could be bulldozed down by the government at any time.


Even in these conditions (or maybe because there is so much need here), the SIA Small Business Fund is thriving in Koch, and people are transforming their lives for the better.

Last weekend, we met with about 15 Small Business Fund grant recipients in a classroom in Koch (pictured above). The group greeted us with celebratory song. They thanks us for the $150 grant which had sparked such change in their life. They clapped and cheered for each other as, one-by-one, they told us their stories of moving from desperation and hopelessness to pride, hope, and self-sufficiency.


“We don’t struggle the way we used to struggle,” said Jamarose Anyango (pictured above), whose second-hand clothing business has enabled her to pay for rent and school fees for her children (plus two orphans she has taken into her care).

Sarah Owendi (pictured below), who sells grains along the roadside, proudly told us that, after starting her business, “now I stand on my own two feet.” She used to wash clothes for $2/week, now she is making enough money from her business to pay the $15/month rent. She also can pay for school fees and has enough to eat.


Caption: Sarah can now earn $10/week from her grocery kiosk, where she sells grains and other staples. 

We heard similar stories over and over. Whereas before people were barely making ends meet day to day, now they are expanding their businesses, reinvesting, and planning for the future.

They are also Sharing the Gift, by passing on the blessing to others. They are encouraging others, training them how to select the shoes that people want to buy, how to run a roadside cafe, and how to sew and tailor clothes.


Caption: Tanya with local mentor Josephine and her daughter, Dorcas, who has trained to me a new SBF Coordinator. 

At our Small Business Fund conference in Malawi last month, we trained another coordinator who will also be working in Koch. Dorcas Okoti lives in Koch (which she calls a slum) and she is well positioned to work with the most desperate families to help them chart a better future for themselves. Dorcas knows the reality of Koch, and also the great potential for entrepreneurship, hope, and change.

Thank you again for all your prayers! We have another week here in Kenya and we’ll be visiting more grant recipeients all over the country!

With faith and gratitude,

Tanya

Seeing change in Malawi

Seeing change in Malawi

(Please excuse any formatting errors! This is coming direct to you from my iPhone in Malawi.)

“When God’s Spirit is in action, good things happen,” said Mbueno thoughtfully, as we wrapped up our finally meeting in Manyamula village just a few days ago. When the spirit of generosity and cooperation are in action, good things happen. When the spirit of partnership is in action, good things happen.
This is my third trip to Manyamula, Malawi. I visited in 2011, and 2014, and this time, more than ever before, I can really see the positive change that is happening in the community. I am so proud of the work we are doing there, and I am excited for the future projects we will take on together.

Wednesday, the day we arrived in Manyamula, was the day of the grand opening of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training and Development Centre! This is a compound of buildings that SIA supported in a cost-sharing agreement with the cooperative. The Mzimba District Commissioner (equivalent to the governor) was there, and was clearly impressed with the buildings and the show of support from the community.


Caption: Tanya holding up the ribbon officially pronouncing the training centre open for business!

In 2014, I did a small ground-breaking ceremony in front of 5-6 members. The grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony was a different story: We were joined by several other top level non-profit partners, and 150+ cooperative and community members!

It was truly an afternoon to remember. This savings and loans cooperative is strong and its future is bright!


Caption: Small Business Fund coordinators from Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda, and the SIA North America team.

The next three days, we held a Small Business Fund Conference and Training. We trained two new coordinators from northern Malawi, and one more from Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was part program review and evaluation, part peer-to-peer learning, and part field visits to see the successful Small Business Fund businesses in the area.


Caption: Tanya meets Sophia Banda in her shop in the Manyamula market. Sophia started a tailoring shop with a Small Business Fund grant. She has already trained two more people about tailoring as part of Sharing the Gift.


Caption: The team visited Uncle Gly’s Computer Services shop which used a Small Business Fund $150 grant to buy a printer and scanner. This is just one example of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the electricity that has recently arrived in the town.

One of the most exciting things to see and hear was how strong the culture of Sharing the Gift is tied in with the Spirit in Action programs in Manyamula. Everyone we talked to eagerly told us how they had helped someone else after receiving their grant from SIA. Poodle have shared skills, supplies, piglets, chicks, seeds, time, and more.

We met a group of women who were all part of the same “ripple” of Sharing the Gift. Lackson received the SIA grant and he passed a piglet to the widow Tionenge. She passed a piglet to Meekness. And just this month, Meekness passed a piglet to Winifi. Four ripples away from the “drop” of SIA, the impact continues!


Caption: Tanya with Meekness and Winifi. Meekness has shared the gift of a piglet with Winifi, continuing the ripple of SIA’s impact in the community. 

On Sunday, we said good-bye to Manyamula and all our friends there. I will miss their bright spirits and their beautiful songs. I will cherish their stories. And I will be sharing many more if their stories of success with you in the months to come.

On Friday we fly to Kenya to meet with more Small Business Fund groups, and meet with more of our wonderful, dedicated partners.

Thank you for all your prayers and keep them coming!


Caption: Dressed in our Sunday finest! Boyd and Tanya Cothran, and SIA Advisory Board members and all-around support team, Mike Hegeman and Dana Belmonte.

Grants underway and I’m on my way!

Grants underway and I’m on my way!

We sent out the latest round of grant funds last month and the community projects are already well underway!

Women’s Group Curio Shop

The women of the Namaiyana Women’s Self-Help Group completed their roadside jewelry shop just in time for tourism season! This was the first major construction project undertaken by these women, who are jewelers and members of the Samburu tribe in central Kenya. The first SIA grant was not quite enough to finish the shop and so they asked for a small additional grant to be able to add the final touches. Just a few weeks after receiving the additional $500 grant, the building is ready to go! Look how beautiful it turned out! Supporting these woman was definitely a “smart risk.”

Poultry House Construction

The folks at the Matungu Community Development Charity were eager to get started! Soon after receiving the grant funds they were already hard at work building the new poultry house in western Kenya. Community members worked together to make the bricks and built up the walls. Group leader, Vincent Atitwa wrote, “The poultry house is under construction and in particular we are working hard to lead families and community out of malnutrition and poverty once more.”

They hope that the building will be completed by June 1st. They already have a supplier for the chicks and they will have them delivered soon. The profits from the poultry project will serve as a loan fund for the table banking and low-interest loan program!

I’m on my way!

I leave today for a month-long trip in eastern Africa. After a short vacation, I will meet with all the SIA Small Business Fund partners for a conference and training workshop in Malawi. We will have coordinators from Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi there to discuss and evaluate our program. The manual is printed and ready to be packed!

I’ll try to share my experience with you along the way and post what I can here on the blog, and on Facebook and Instagram. Thank you for your prayers!

Spring Newsletter – Fresh Stories!

Spring Newsletter – Fresh Stories!

The 2017 Spring/Summer Spirit in Action newsletter is here! You can view a PDF version here and hard copies will be in the mail next week!

In this newsletter we feature:

  • Hope for Relief in Malawi is a new grant partner. They are helping girls stay in school by making and distributing feminine hygiene pads to girls in rural Malawi. In this story, we feature Mary, one of the girls who is now promising not to miss a day of school. Mary is just one of 630 girls who have received free pads, with a total of 1,890 pads distributed overall!

One of the tailors distributes cloth feminine pads to girls.

  • The Manyamula Community Savings and Investment Promotion Cooperative in Malawi is named Best Performing COMSIP cooperative in Malawi!

I get to visit the Manyamula cooperative and stay in their new building in just three weeks!

  • Welcome new Spirit in Action Board Members, Wendy and Terry Silverthorn!
  • Descriptions of our six on-going grant projects.
  • Collective farming in the Small Business Fund program in Uganda.

Read the full newsletter and donate now to support the work of Spirit in Action. Your support helps empower more families and communities in Africa!

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