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.

Opening a Savings Account in Uganda

Opening a Savings Account in Uganda
Rehema us tells about how the savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.

Rehema us tells about how the savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.

We sat on very small wooden stools and faced a group of about Ugandan 25 women sitting on woven leaf mats. In between us sat a green metal box with three locks. I listened with growing excitement as Rehema Mutesi told me and the other Small Business Coordinators about the Kasozi Village Savings Group.

If the women kept the profit from their business endeavors in their houses, the money would be quickly spent, with none of it going to savings. So, about two years ago they started talking to the local Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, who helped them form their own micro-savings group. The 30 members meet once a week and commit their savings to the secure green box, in increments as small as the equivalent of 5 cents.

DSC05615Each transaction – how much each person has saved and how much they have borrowed – is recorded in a green ledger book. Then the money is placed in the green box, which is secured with three locks. Three different women have keys, and “the ones with the keys are not neighbors. They are all from a different place,” Rehema told us, assuring us of the safety of the saved funds. Then she added, above the loudly mooing cow, “and the person with the box also is not one with a key.” All these safety measures are important because at the end of last year’s saving cycle the box held over 3.8 million Ugandan Shillings (about $1,800)!

Each member can borrow a portion of their savings for a one-month period. They are charged a small interest rate, which is included back in the savings fund and disbursed to members at the end of the annual cycle. One of the group members took a loan this year to pay for a certification course in hair braiding. Now she is braiding hair in the village and in the nearby town, as well as mentoring and training some girls who have dropped out of school.

Canaan gives advice to the Kasozi savings group and encourages them. "You need to be organized and have strong leadership."

Canaan gives advice to the Kasozi savings group and encourages them. “You need to be organized and have strong leadership.”

I was impressed to see how these women were working together to encourage each other to save for those bigger expenses. Things like re-thatching their homes, paying for school fees, and medical expenses. I saw that the women supported each other emotionally too. They did a skit for us, showing how to care for a child with fever. They clapped for each other and laughed together. One of the members is a district counselor, but within the group she is on equal footing with all the others.

Before we ended our visit, Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator from Malawi who also leads a savings group, stood up to give the women a few words of encouragement. Speaking from his own experience, he assured them,  “This is a journey towards economic empowerment. In five year’s time, you will never be the same.”

*See* Spirit in Action! New video!

*See* Spirit in Action! New video!

SIA Volunteer Extraordinaire, Carmen Hernandez, created this beautiful film for us using footage and photos captured by Boyd Cothran during our visit to Africa (Summer 2014). Her aim was to show what we do, and how we try to have a positive attitude in all our endeavors. Thank you, Carmen!

(For more of Carmen’s non-SIA work, visit her website: http://www.isntitbeautiful.co.uk)

What is an OFSP??

sweet_potatoes_ciford_9-14

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!

All together again!

The SBF Coordinators all together! (L to R) Back Row: Godfrey (Uganda), Dennis (Kenya), Boyd (Board member). Front Row: Canaan (Malawi), Ofonime (Nigeria), Tanya (me), Nalu (Uganda), Wambui (Kenya)

The SBF Coordinators all together! (L to R) Back Row: Godfrey (Uganda), Dennis (Kenya), Boyd (Board member). Front Row: Canaan (Malawi), Ofonime (Nigeria), Tanya (me), Nalu (Uganda), Wambui (Kenya)

We’re all home, safe and sound! A little (ok, a lot) jet-lagged and sifting through the 1,200 photos from three weeks in Africa. There’s so much to process – so many moments of joy, pride, learning, gratitude, and exhaustion – and overall I return with a sense that Spirit in Action is indeed a mighty seed that is planting hope and opportunity for a prosperous future for many, many families in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and Nigeria.

The SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) is part of this seed. And it depends on and thrives because of our dedicated, passionate, and skilled local coordinators. Last week, in Kasozi Village, Uganda we brought together our six coordinators for three days of training, improving our program, and visiting SBF groups in the area.

The coordinators each benefited from the time together. Wambui Nguyo (Kenya) is our newest coordinator, joining us just one year ago, and for her the conference was a great opportunity to connect with the other coordinators and see how difference aspects of SBF are implemented in each community.

Listening and making notes as we visit a family who invested in a plow for farming.

Listening and making notes as we visit a family who invested in a plow for farming.

Ofonime Nkoko (Nigeria) was the very first SBF coordinator, beginning over 11 years ago. He really knows the grassroots and empowering nature of SIA and was able to share that with the group. Even for Ofonime the conference was a learning experience. “This training was very helpful to me,” write Ofonime. “It opened a great opportunity for me to learn more and expand my knowledge, especially on mindset preparation, the right time to give out the grants, and the importance of reinvestment for sustainability.”

I also benefited greatly from having all the coordinators together. I appreciated the vibrant experience of having all 6 coordinators (plus me and Boyd) together for the SBF site visits. We met over 25 SBF groups in Kasozi and, rather than me asking all the questions about the group’s progress, the other coordinators chimed in with their own questions and comments. Canaan Gondwe (Malawi) gave pig-rearing advice to groups. Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) asked questions about what other businesses farmers did during the off-seasons. Ofonime offered prayers to the groups that gathered together to meet and share with us.

Nalu, Dennis, and Boyd fill their plates and share a laugh at dinner.

Nalu, Dennis, and Boyd fill their plates and share a laugh at dinner.

Tanya learning about how this groups makes their baskets to sell in the local market.

Tanya learning about how this groups makes their baskets to sell in the local market.

These visits felt filled with the spirit of teamwork and of camaraderie. And there was a good dose of friendly advice for each coordinator to be able improve in their role as mentor. I came away so grateful for their dedication – the time they give to serve others – and for their openness to be continually learning and sharing.

I can’t wait to share many more photos of the business groups we visited and share some of their stories of leaving poverty behind and moving towards a brighter future!

Boyd with our conference mascot, Divine Shalom, Nalu's 2.5 month old baby girl!

Boyd with our conference mascot, Divine Shalom, Nalu’s 2.5 month old baby girl!

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