Top 5 SIA Moments of 2015

Top 5 SIA Moments of 2015

This has been a good year for Spirit in Action and our partners! It is so exciting to look back and see all that we have accomplished, and all that our amazing partners have done to bring more prosperity to families in their communities.

  • fb logo_siaNew logo: The year started off with the unveiling of our new logo! We finally have a logo that really represents us to the world. The ripples in the logo continue to inspire and remind me of our focus to spark change that will naturally multiply and expand within communities. (Read the explanation of our logo.)
  • New Small Business Fund Coordinator: This summer we added a new local coordinator to the Small Business Fund team! Hastings Phiri has already begun mentoring families in rural Malawi to start and run new businesses. Hastings is a dedicated community organizer and passionate about reducing poverty and helping families get ahead. He lives in the same region as SBF Coordinator Canaan Gondwe and they two of them meet to share challenges and develop their mentoring and training skills. (Read more about Hastings.)
Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

  • Expanding Anti-FGM movement: SIA has supported girls’ empowerment workshops with sexual education and alternatives to the traditional female genital mutilation rite of passage. Just a few weeks ago some of the girls from the Meru workshops were able to attend the Alternative Rite of Passage in Samburu, two hours away. Margaret of CIFORD in Meru reported, “Some girls were excited as they could never have dreamt of going to the Samburu.” Also, CIFORD is gaining national recognition from Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper for their FGM workshops! Read the full article here!
  • Sewing Training Centre: I’m really excited about this grant project which has been able to train 79 women and 2 men and help them get employed in sewing operator jobs in Nairobi. Women who know how to use the industrial machines are paid higher wages and the SIA training center provides them access to these machines and trains them in the necessary skills. The center has been able to receive contracts for sewing projects and they are well on their way to becoming a self-sustaining operation. (Read more about the training centre.)
  • Construction Project: The new Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative conference hall, restaurant, and guest rooms are under construction! I loved visiting Manyamula and seeing the amazing transformation that has happened in the village since the formation of the savings and loans cooperative 6 years ago. This construction project represents a new level of development and I look forward to seeing how it will benefit the community and cooperative members in the years to come. (Read more about the COMSIP Cooperative.)

Bonus: I loved sharing this video made by SIA volunteer and supporter, Carmen Hernandez, about what makes me grateful about SIA.

What story about SIA stuck out to you in 2015?

A time to renew our shared vision

A time to renew our shared vision

“A time to renew our shared vision of working in the community so as to achieve a greater impact in alleviating poverty, and also share success stories!”

Wambui Nguyo, Small Business Fund Coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya, offered the above tagline summary of our Small Business Fund Coordinator Conference in Kasozi Village last July. We traveled from five different countries (United States, Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria, and our two hosts in Uganda), arriving at the end of a small dusty, dirt road to met for three days to discuss all things Small Business Fund.

Uganda is quite a bit more tropical compared with Kenya and Malawi, so we shed our warm sweaters (which we necessary in the cold Nairobi rain) and brought out the sun hats and gathered under a pop-up awning for our morning meetings and evening check-ins.

Our conference meeting room in tropical Uganda!

Our conference meeting room in tropical Uganda!

Our Coordinators range from 12 years to less than 1 year experience with our program and so that sharing between coordinators was rich and welcome. I also had chances to share my thoughts and experiences from the office side of things.

“I met with veteran coordinators of SBF who had a lot of successful stories,” Wambui wrote after the conference. “Just listening to them on how they try to conduct their training is something that I will take back with me. There is need to mentor the groups more before giving the initial $100.”

A Focus on Sustainability

One of our most vibrant discussions was about how to coach groups about conducting their new business with an eye toward sustainability; focusing on the long-term, rather than short-term activities that will leave the family in the same state of poverty. Ofonime Nkoko, SIA SBF Coordinator in Abak, Nigeria also highlighted how he will focus more on mentoring, “This training is very helpful to me. The areas to be noted most are: the mindset preparation; the need and the right time to give out the money; the demand, investment, reinvestment, sustainably, and Share the Gift theory.

Sharing the Gift

Seeing how the SBF program is implemented in each unique community situation (rural or city, in different countries) was part of the fullness of the conversation. “It was helpful to know there are several ways of Sharing the Gift e.g. mentoring, training others on certain skills, etc.” wrote Wambui, the newest coordinator in attendance.


Wambui and Canaan during a tea break between conference sessions.

Canaan, whose community in Malawi has a thriving culture of Sharing the Gift for SIA participants reflected, “I learned how Sharing the Gift implementation can spur more community empowerment and development.”

Dennis Kiprop, SBF Coordinator in Eldoret, Kenya captured the enthusiasm of the group and our willingness to learn from each other in his evaluation, “The time at the conference was good. The discussions in the mornings as a team were especially helpful and encouraging. I learned from the other coordinators and from Tanya and Boyd to be effective coordinator in creating sustainable business groups to the point of Sharing the Gift. We can do it better in the future as coordinators!

What is an OFSP??


Women proud of their sweet potato harvest, at CIFORD Kenya.

OFSP? Orange flesh sweet potato. Or, as I call them, those vegetables that are really tasty baked and topped with butter!

While I’m used to the orange variety of sweet potatoes in North America, in Africa the white or yellow sweet potatoes are much more common. They taste similar but the white and yellow varieties are not nearly as nutritious as the vitamin A/beta-carotene-rich orange ones. It’s only in the last few years that the UN and many others have begun promoting the OFSP as a way to combat malnutrition and disease especially among women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiencies. The food we ate in Africa this summer was high in starch, with a few vegetables depending on what was in season – I could see the need for more vitamin-rich foods.

That is why I am happy to report that SIA is working with two partners who are promoting OFSP growth in their communities.

CIFORD Kenya, in Meru, Kenya, has been holding workshops to train farmers in growing, managing, and preparing OFSP. This work in their rural community is designed to both improve food security (ex. people have enough to eat all year) and reduce the environmental degradation of the soil. The CIFORD trainings are include classroom time and also get-your-hands-dirty practical time with farmers being brought to the CIFORD training garden for demonstrations. The OFSP helps protect the soil because its big leaves cover the soil, which reduces run off and erosion.

Many parts of the sweet potato can be used:

  • Vines are used as animal feed
  • The leaves can be eaten as the leafy green
  • The potato root can be boiled, roasted or made into chips, French fries, or flour
Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo by Raising the Village)

Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo from Raising the Village)

Also, Raising the Village has just completed a round of trainings in Bucece Village, Uganda with farmers who wanted to plant the OFSP seeds. OFSP can sell for much higher prices in the market because it is still rare to see them and because people know they provide a health benefit to their diets. The hills around Bucece are very steep and so the OFSP will be important for keeping the soil from running down into the lake.

Hopefully, next time I’m in Uganda I’ll get to try the local OFSP, eating it alongside the steamed bananas, rice, and boiled kale, and peanut sauce. Yum!

Education and a New Job for Gladys

Five classic sewing machines and one high-tech machines are available for students.

Five classic sewing machines and one high-tech machines are available for students.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Even more than in the US, people in Kenya are desperately seeking jobs that pay the bills and help their families thrive. Also like the US, people in Kenya turn to education to increase their job opportunities.

Samro Polytechnic school in Eldoret Kenya, supported in part by a SIA grant, is focused on providing training in marketable skills, like tailoring, sewing, and computer skills, to help people transition to more steady jobs.

Gladys is learning to sew dresses, shirts, and blazers. Machines and cloth are provided at the school.

Gladys is learning to sew dresses, shirts, and blazers. Machines and cloth are provided at the school.


One student at Samro Poly is Gladys.

Gladys is a single mother of four children: one son and three daughters. Until recently, she was renowned for making the best (illegal) brew in the area. But too much drinking by her husband led her to separate from her husband and go to live with her parents. Last month, Gladys was one of some 80 brewers who were invited to Samuel Teimuge’s Ukweli Training Centre for a workshop in alternative business skills and development.

Ukweli and Samro Polytechnic are on the same site and there is lodging as well as a supportive community for people wanting to change their lives. Gladys started classes in tailoring. She was even able to bring her daughter Irene, who had been doing housework away from home, to join her in training at Samro Polytechnic.

Gladys' daughter Irene is also learning about sewing and alterations at Samro Polytechnic school.

Gladys’ daughter Irene is also learning about sewing and alterations at Samro Polytechnic school.

Samuel Teimuge, who is head of centre and school shares his gratitude, “Thank you SIA for helping us purchase these items. We hope many like these two ladies will find their way to Samro Poly.”

Gladys does not know what will happen after the three-week training is over. However, she is grateful to be on her new path toward being a tailor; on her path to a job that is respectable, stable, and enjoyable. Isn’t that what most of us are looking for in life?

For more from Samuel Teimuge read my post “Leading with Honesty and Integrity” here:

Do-It-Together Savings!

Some of the CIFORD guardians at their weekly meeting.

Women at a savings group meeting in Meru, Kenya.

Have you noticed that many DIY (do-it-yourself) projects are best done DIT (do-it-together)? A friend’s DIY deck-building work party is much more done as a group rather than a drawn-out process done on his own. And the project is competed much sooner working together with everyone contributing!

So maybe it’s no surprise that the same is also true for DIY saving.

What is DIY saving?

It could be anything from the informal savings and loans group in Malawi (and the recently trained group in Zambia), to borrowing money from family members, to stuffing cash under the mattress for safekeeping.

DIY savings does not just happen in Africa, but in North America too, as highlighted in an NPR Planet Money podcasts* over the summer. This 15-minute episode discussed a man who gave small ($20) loans to friends and a woman in Harlem who was part of an informal savings group called a susu.

I got SO excited listening to the story about the susu because that’s exactly what SIA is helping to start in Kenya. The susus, also called merry-go-round funds, were something Del promoted back at the beginning days of SIA.

So what is a susu? In the story, the susu was a group of 13 colleagues who got together every-other week and at each session they contributed a set amount of money to the pot. Then they drew lots to set the order for when each person got to take the whole collected amount. For example, if there are 10 people in the susu and each person contributes $10 each week, then every week one person gets to take home the $100 pot. Clever, huh?!

It’s DIY because it is under the radar of the formal banking system. But actually, it is DIT with the group aspect making it a more fun AND more effective way of saving.

The group on the podcast mentions three benefits of a susu compared with formal banking. And the benefits are confirmed by stories I’ve heard from similar groups in Kenya:

ciford savings group

The group recorder makes sure that everyone has paid their part for the week.

Benefit #1: Peer Pressure

Raise your hand if you are sometimes temped to buy something that you can’t really afford. Well, a susu provides the good kind of peer pressure to get you to save at a consistent time and at a consistent rate. If you don’t contribute every session, you can get kicked out of the group and people will be mad at you!

If you didn’t raise your hand in answer to the question, you might have some valuable knowledge to share with other group members, providing extra peer pressure to save and ideas about how to do it.

#2 Limiting Access

DIT makes sure your savings are locked in for the duration of the savings cycle. Think of it like a CD savings account – you can’t access the funds once they are paid into the pot, thus saving you from impulse purchases. For women in Kenya, a savings group can help them save money from a harvest to have it ready when school fees become due.

After the savings group business is over; the women sing and dance together.

After the savings group business is over; the women sing and dance together.

#3 FUN!

This is a key part of DIT savings. Saving in a group might make it feel less like a chore, especially when you get to share your plans and dream with friends. People might get excited when they know they are helping you save to buy your first car or take a trip to an international CFO camp (two actual stories of savings usage that I heard in Kenya).  It also has the potential to open up conversations about money that might never happen otherwise.

Many things are more fun and easy when they are done together with friends. Why would saving money be any different? If you are interested in starting a susu – whether you are in North America or Africa – email me and I’ll send you some simple guides to help you get it going and keep it successful! Happy saving.

*A podcast is a short audio file that can be played online, or downloaded onto a listening devise like an iPod or iPhone. Planet Money discusses economics topics, making them understandable to the lay-person.

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