All the best of Spirit in Action in one report!

All the best of Spirit in Action in one report!

Paying-it-forward, positive change in a high-poverty neighborhood, knowledge sharing, local leadership, and savings group formation – this update from our local coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya highlights so many of the best part of Spirit in Action.

Here is the exciting report directly from Wambui Nguyo:

Spirit in Action still continues to be a beacon of hope for the Korogocho people. With SIA’s help of the Small Business Fund many families continue to experience a different positive lifestyle. Many lives have been transformed, children can go to school, and they can eat better and even dress better.

Korogocho (called Koch for short) has been in the spotlight in the past for many negative aspects. Crime and unemployment rates are high. Basic services and sanitation are scarce. But the beneficiaries of the Small Business Fund have a lot to be thankful for.

There are 27 groups/families in Koch that have been funded by SIA. The first one was in 2013.

Ann, one of the SBF group leaders, prepares food and sells it to workers along the roadside.

Ann, one of the SBF group leaders, prepares food and sells it to workers along the roadside.

Among the 27 groups, two of them are Muslims. Amid the tensions within the faith divisions, the people have found time and place to spend together in prayer.  As Josephine [who is a local leader and who works with Wambui] puts it, “we all understand we come from different backgrounds, that we come from different religions, and from different lifestyle and upbringing. What brings us together is the enormous poverty that we encounter. That brings us together. Poverty bites really hard. We all know we worship the same God. Some call him Allah while we call him God. We usually say the same prayer because we were created by him.”

A plan is underway for Sharing the Gift. The beneficiaries of the Small Business Fund have each contributed and they are hoping to support another group to set up a business of their choice with $150. This will empower another family and also give them a chance to give back to the community.

Unlike in the rural village, where families live in their own piece of land regardless of the poverty level, Koch is different.  Here, families have to rent out houses. Because of rising standard of living, the rent can go up and then families are forced to move to a cheaper house. Luckily, only one group has left Korogocho area because of rising costs.

Chairs arranged for a meeting of the Small Business Fund groups in Koch. The meet at least once a month all together.

Chairs arranged for a meeting of the Small Business Fund groups in Koch. The meet at least once a month all together.

Plans to start a village savings project are underway! A concept note written by Josephine says, “We intend to initiate the Korogocho Women Economic Fund where women from the community can access flexible loan and flexible repayment model to start or expand their businesses. This initiative will be registered with the government and we shall use a model known as the village banking model.”

Canaan Gondwe from Malawi [Small Business Fund local coordinator and leader of his community’s savings and investment cooperative] has that experience and he can be very useful in helping to start it up. He wrote to inspire the team in Koch and said, “now, when people form a village savings team, it acts like a buffer. It cushions the members in times of eventualities. So I encourage you to unite and have one purpose which is economic empowerment.”

Will you be able to attend our 20th Anniversary Celebration on June 25th in Oakland? Click here for more information and RSVP to me at tanya@spiritinaction.org. See you there!

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.

A message of encouragement

A message of encouragement

In December, 200* girls from the Samburu tribe in Kenya celebrated an Alternative Rite of Passage, led by Pastoralist Child Foundation and witnessed by their parents and community members. The day-long celebration was an empowering ceremony of song, dance, and speeches, taking the place of the traditional genital cutting. Our partner Margaret Ikiara of CIFORD Kenya, who hold similar Alternative Rite of Passage celebrations in Meru (5 hours away), went to the event to represent Spirit in Action and share my message of encouragement with the girls. 

A message of encouragement from Tanya Cothran of Spirit in Action:

It is our great honor to celebrate with you today this important moment of your passage from childhood into womanhood. Today you go ahead empowered and knowledgeable about the power that you have as women, and the important role that you play in this community.

We pray for you: courage, strength, kindness, and love. Courage to stand up for your rights, and to stand up for honesty and respect in the home and in society. Strength to face the challenges that will come, so that even when you have a challenging day or week or month, you know that people around the world are praying for you and wishing you well. Kindness and a generous heart to promote peace and understanding between old and new ways of doing things. And Love to fill your days with a happy home and loving connection.

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.

We wish to share this poem by Marianne Williamson with you – to remind you of the power and greatness that is within each of you:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”

Though we are far away, we are with you and your families today in the spirit of friendship and solidarity, to celebrate you and to celebrate your life and future. Congratulations!

*Correction 2/17/16: 60 girls attended the December workshop and 200 girls who attended all of PCF’s workshops in 2015 (April, August, December) came together for the Alternative Rite of Passage celebration.

Welcome another Small Business Fund coordinator team!

Spirit in Action is expanding and strengthening our Small Business Fund network!

I met Naomi Ayot when I was visiting Kampala, Uganda in 2014. She was working for Raising the Village at the time and I met with her to hear about an update on the Bucece sustainable agriculture grant. She also safely delivered me from a sketchy bus stop to my hotel, for which I will be forever grateful!

I was impressed with Naomi’s professionalism and passion for helping others, and so I am extremely pleased to be able to welcome her to the SIA SBF team! When I talked to Naomi, she knew immediately a village that could really benefit from our $150 grants and business training. Better still, she knew a local leader there that would work with her.

Naomi and Santa Enume reviewing the Small Business Fund materials.

Naomi and Santa Enume reviewing the Small Business Fund materials.

Santa Enume is a respected leader in the Akwiridiri village in northern Uganda, a midwife and community elder. This very rural village was heavily affected by the violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the last 20 years and as a result there are a lot of female-led households, widows, people living with HIV/AIDS, and orphaned children. Santa Enume is eager to work with these women and their families to help them start small businesses and improve their lives and the community in general.

This SBF Team model has been very successful in Nairobi, with Wambui and Josephine. Wambui is my direct contact and she works with Josephine who lives in the Koch slum where we give the grants. Josephine provides the hyper-local knowledge necessary to make the SBF work for the women, and Wambui helps prepare the reports and keep me updated.

Women from 8 SBF groups in Korogocho slum. Wambui, the local coordinator stands behind Tanya. Josephine is pictured left of Tanya.

Women from 8 SBF groups in Korogocho slum. Wambui, the local coordinator stands behind Tanya. Josephine is pictured left of Tanya.

The closest computer to Santa Enume is about 20 miles away. Clearly, it would be difficult for me to communicate directly with her. However, with cell phones ubiquitous throughout Africa, Naomi can easily keep in touch with her and relay information to me. Del would be impressed with all that is possible with technology these days!

In December, Santa Enume made the long journey to be with Naomi, so that they could review the SBF materials, report forms, and training tools. They also took time for prayer together. Last month we sent the funds for the first three new small businesses to a newly established SBF bank account. I’ll keep you updated as these new businesses get off the ground! In the meantime, please give Naomi and Santa Enuma a warm welcome!

Small Business Success in Kenya!

Small Business Success in Kenya!

Five small family businesses received $100 initial grants from Spirit in Action in March, 2015. These families live in Korogocho*, one of Nairobi’s informal settlements, under very marginal conditions. With their profits they are paying for school fees, rent, and buying more food for their families. 

Wambui Nguyo, the local SIA mentor and Small Business Fund Coordinator, send the following reports from three of these businesses:

Mwangaza (Light) Group – Cooked Maize

Ann, (pictured above) has bought a jiko (portable, charcoal burning stove) since her first grant and increased the amount of food she cooked per day. Currently, she is able to pay schools fees for her daughter who is in High School. Before this grant, she could buy maize floor in packets of 2-3 kilos, and she can now afford to buy dozens of kilos as a time. The only drawback to her business was that her structure was destroyed by some people who they felt she was doing better than them. In her own words, she said she felt ‘uplifted’ from her former status. During this meeting, she was called with news that her daughter-in-law was going into labour and she was needed. This was because her family depended on her financially to help them in every way she could.

photos quote wambuiNeema (Grace) Group – Tailoring Services

The leader of the group, Pheris has already bought a new sewing machine, just like she promised she would after her first grant. She can afford to pay rent and buy food, which was a challenge earlier on.

Ebenezer (Stone of Help) Group – Cooked Food

Pamela had done a survey on the schools around her area that did not offer lunch but where parents gave some money to their children for lunch. This was her target area and she has already got an informal contract with two schools to provide rice and beans during lunch time. She does not borrow anymore and is able to return her kid to school that had been sent away due to lack of fees. She can also provide her two children with some snacks which was a luxury in the past! Her challenge so far was that since she sells from the roadside, her structure that she used to do her business on was taken away during a construction of the road that was being extended. But she said, she can afford to buy another.

*More trivia! According to Wikipedia: Korogocho is one of the largest slum neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya. Home to 150,000 to 200,000 people pressed into 1.5 square kilometers.

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