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.

Steria’s Donuts

Steria’s Donuts

On Sunday morning, I shared donuts with fifteen kids aged 4-12 at my church. We were on a virtual trip to Malawi. Passports were stamped and then we looked at photos from my trip to Malawi last summer. One of the photos was of Steria, a woman who received a SIA grant and now sells donuts in Malawi. At the end of the journey, one child remarked, “I learned that some of the foods in Malawi are the same as in Canada, and some are different!” 

Steria Lungu is a widow in Manyamula Village in rural Malawi. She received a Small Business Fund grant from Spirit in Action in 2010. (Our grants are $150, given in two installments, along with mentoring and training.) Steria bought some baking pans and fresh ingredients and started baking and selling donuts. And she is still doing that today! She attends three markets a week, some days walking as far as eight miles, and leaving at 4:00am, to reach bigger markets.

I got to visit Steria last summer and sit inside her house – the house she built with money saved from her donut business. We sat on the puffy couches with crochet doilies on the arms. We saw a photo of us together during our last visit in 2011. She said “thank you for coming under my roof.” And she told us that she now has “no problem with food”; that she and her family are still eating from last year’s maize harvest. That is a huge accomplishment because it means that they are food secure.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home, she told me her story of transformation.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home. She reassured us, “your support is not going in vain.”

Steria and four other women in the neighborhood came together to do their own bit of helping a neighbor. We call it Sharing the Gift. They each contributed some flour and sugar and took turns helping another woman sell donuts at the markets.

Importantly, Steria told us that she contributed to Sharing the Gift because she saw in our local coordinator, Canaan Gondwe, also modeling generosity. Because Canaan was generous with his time and with sharing his expertise, Steria and the other women were also willing to give.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

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Stereo’s house in 2014 – with a new roof! She saved enough to replace the thatch with the iron sheets and so no longer experiences leaks!

Not only was it inspiring to see Steria’s house – one with tin roofing sheets, which she was saving when we visited in 2011, and with stronger bricks – and knowing that her daughter can now attend a good high school. It was also good to affirm that when we are caring and generous (like Canaan is) – when we are being spirit in action – other people see that, notice that, and they want to give and serve also.

In a way, we were just helping one person when we gave Steria a grant. In another way we were helping her daughter, her other children, her neighbor, her community (because it is a grant, all the money stays in the community), and all the people who get to eat her yummy donuts!

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

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