Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Today is the UN’s International Day of the Girl and at Spirit in Action we are honored to partner with many wonderful women who are working to improve the lives of girls and women in their community. We are part of a large network of positive change! Today I highlight three inspiring SIA female leaders:

Margaret Ikiara, Director of CIFORD, Kenya

Empowering girls and fighting the practice of female genital mutilation. (Read about her SIA connection.)

Today is International Day of the Girl Child!

We’re proud to work with CIFORD, who fight against the harmful practice…

Posted by Child.org on Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Naomi Ayot, Small Business Fund Coordinator, Uganda

For her day job, Naomi is the Program Manager of Gender & Human Rights at Action for Community Development – Uganda (Read about her SIA connection.)

#WEaretheLEADERS: If we want to change the status quo in development, recognize grassroots leadership. BIG YES! Thank…

Posted by One World Children’s Fund on Monday, October 10, 2016

Wambui Nguyo, Small Business Fund Coordinator, Kenya

A peace-builder and trainer with Initiatives of Change, Kenya. (Read about her SIA connection.)

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-00-01-pmFrom the article: “We are often too afraid to take the lead because of fear of the unknown,’ Susan commented. Before the end of the three days training, she had already taken the initiative to reconcile with one of her long time rivals. She even bought an item from her rival’s shop- something she had avoided for a long time. She was amazed at how well her enemy responded to reconciliation after such a long time. ‘Today I have learnt to let every good thing begin where I am before I can pass it on to others. Even my dad, who caused our family so much pain – after selling our family land and misusing all the money drinking. Today I forgive him and will make peace with him.” (Read the full article.)

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

The mission of the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre in Nairobi is to train women and men to use the industrial sewing machines to enable them to get jobs. And, as I reported in June, 124 of the 181 trainees have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases the trainees are only able to get the skilled machine operator jobs because of the training centre.

Studying factory jobs

I consider this employment a great success! And so I was interested to read this study that looked at the effect of low-wage manufacturing jobs on workers in Ethiopia. Now, this is in Ethiopia, not Kenya, and I do not know if the workers are taking the same sort of skilled jobs that the Mathare trainees are able to secure.

What did the study find? “It turned out that for most people, working in a factory didn’t significantly improve their income relative to the people in the control group. But getting cash to help start your own business did.”

The researchers, Chris Blattman and Stephan Dercon, summed it up like this:

  • Most people who applied for these factory jobs didn’t like them or intend to stay, rather the jobs were low paid and unpleasant and used as a safety net of sorts, while people looked for other entrepreneurial activities or less difficult wage work
  • But the health risks of industrial work were high and there’s evidence that serious health problems doubled if you took the factory job
  • When you gave them $300 cash [instead of the factory job], they started a small business and earnings went up by a third.
Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

What does this mean for SIA?

I wasn’t sure what this all meant for SIA partners. So I emailed Jeremiah Mzee, who is director of the training centre project. He wrote:

“I completely agree with the writer of this article.

“It is true that when a factory establishes in Kenya, it creates new jobs for both the skilled and unskilled laborers. A majority get low wages and there is nothing they can do. Most of them try to work in these factories for low pay with a hope of getting something better. In Ruaraka these factory jobs are considered to be for women simply because they pay low wages, though to the women they believe these factories provide valuable employment opportunities for them. I AGREE.

“Most people working in these factories get wages enough only to meet basic needs and it is true that entrepreneurial women running small businesses in Ruaraka have better income and financial independency.”

It is always useful to get this kind of feedback. It is the great benefit of our long-term partnership with grassroots leaders who know the reality of the situation on the ground. Luckily, Jeremiah Mzee is one of our newest Small Business Fund coordinators. He is already working with these women to help them become entrepreneurs. Another five business groups received their $150 grants last month. And the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre will continue to train people to be able to apply for the higher paying jobs at the factories, until they can find something better.

Training boys to be allies

Training boys to be allies

This seminar was different. Boys and girls sat in the classroom together. Listening to the presentations about puberty, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS together. Spirit in Action grants have supported girls’ empowerment seminars and an alternative rite of passage at CIFORD Kenya and Pastoralist Child Foundation in the past. However, this seminar was the first to include high schoolers of both sexes.

ciford_girls_boys_seminar_8-16 The co-ed seminar came at the request of the parents and the youth in Meru, Kenya. The girls felt strongly that the boys also needed to learn about sexuality and the fight against genital cutting. “The participants were happy and said they are going to be change agents in the community to fight against female circumcision,” reported one of the facilitators.

Eighty participants (35 boys and 45 girls) attended the week-long seminar held during the August school holidays. The facilitators are local women, who are experienced in health education. In addition to covering the health problems and danger of female circumcision, the sessions also discussed the effects of texting and social media, career and talent development, and drug and substance abuse. There was time for focus group discussion and questions from the youth.  “It was a learning experience. And since it was the first of its kind we had to consult a lot,” said Margaret Ikiara, Director of the grassroots organization CIFORD Kenya.

This is an opportunity for our children to be told those things which we cannot share with them,” said Kambura, a mother of one of the girls. “My daughter is very happy. She says she learned a lot that she will share with her friends who were unable to attend.”

Each participant left with a shirt that says, “The future depends on us. We are the change.” Together they will bring the message to friends and family members, and be visible in the community as standing up for girl’s rights.

"The future depends on us. We are the change." Proclaim the seminar t-shirts.

“The future depends on us. We are the change.” Proclaim the seminar t-shirts.

The participants had a great suggestion for future seminars: How about including a talent contest? Let’s make this fun, in addition to informative and empowering!

Gratitude from Margaret, Director of CIFORD:

“On behalf of our community and the benefiting boys and girls, and on behalf of CIFORD, I wish to thank the SIA donors and the SIA board for approving this exciting program. Thank you to Tanya for being there for us and giving encouraging words. We say a big thank you.”

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.

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