Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Today’s story of Small Business Fund success in Kenya is about more than monetary success. Sister Magrina, who received a Small Business Fund grant in 2014, is using her success to encourage and empower women in a very rural, isolated part of Kenya.

Mike Hegeman, SIA Advisory Board member who traveled to Kenya with me, wrote about the inspiring life of Sister Magrina. The following is excerpted from his sermon, “Our Uncommon Life.”

I recently returned from spending six weeks in the developing world, in countries such as the Philippines, Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya. And in each place I encountered common people of faith living in uncommon ways.

One such person was Sister Magrina. It took us several hours to reach her, down a winding highway from the lush, fertile highlands of northwest Kenya, into the arid and seemingly desolate lowlands of the Rift Valley, an hour’s journey down a shockingly bumpy road, then a twenty minute hike into the brush, all to find a woman dressed humbly in a blue habit and shod with a worn pair of laceless sneakers, sitting under a tree in the limited, but much desirable shade, holding in one hand an outdated cellphone and in the other a bunch of rocks which she would throw one by one to keep the birds out of her withering crops.

Sister Magrina, Dennis Kiprop (SIA-SBF Local Coordinator), Mike Hegeman, Ursula, and her daughter, Chebit, on Sr. Magrina’s farm.

Sister Magrina is a nun with degrees in counselling and addiction therapy, who had given up the “comforts” of her highlands home to come live among the poor of this most forgettable village on the edge of nowhere. Just a smattering of mud huts and farms, with no running water and no latrines; only a paltry stream to water the vast desert valley.

Sister Magrina had come here to plant a farm, not for herself, but to have a reason to be closest to some of Kenya’s most vulnerable people. Here in this village spousal violence is rampant, alcoholism legion and malnutrition ubiquitous. Sister Magrina sits by her crops, and when women of the village or children wander by, she invites them to sit and pass the time of day. She listens to their woes, how evil has befallen them and scourge has come near their tents. She quietly teaches them about ways they can support themselves when their husbands are off drinking and neglecting support for them and their children. She teaches them how to grow kitchen gardens and about helpful hygiene techniques. She encourages the children to stay in school.

Women and children who pass by Sister Magrina’s hut are greeted and welcomed over for a cookie.

She is the presence of God’s love in that place; the God who promises to be with us, is present in that place through a sister willing to live in a mud hut, drink from a simple stream, and hope to teach people to create a sustainable way of living for themselves.

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Drinking warm coca-cola and eating cookies with Sister Magrina in Kerio Valley, Kenya.

More than anything else, she teaches them about love, and thereby teaches them about faith in God. Sister Magrina says, “In this place, I am not a Catholic; I am not a Protestant. I am one who comes in Christ’s love to make a difference; I have come to a place where no one else will come…to be among God’s people…even if they don’t know yet that who they are.” Sister Magrina lives a pretty uncommon life. Her work bears witness to God’s salvation, God’s delivering grace.

When first we came upon Sister Magrina, we were strangers. Yet, she set out burlap sacks for us to sit upon the dusty ground. Warm Coca-Cola appeared, along with some fruit and crackers. We fellowshipped in the dappled shade, still sweating, and we listened to an uncommon woman, express her uncommon faith, embodying hospitality to strangers…with children in her lap and at her feet.

Sister Magrina shows Tanya her beans and watermelon plants. The crops are dry-farmed, relying on rain.

Grants underway and I’m on my way!

Grants underway and I’m on my way!

We sent out the latest round of grant funds last month and the community projects are already well underway!

Women’s Group Curio Shop

The women of the Namaiyana Women’s Self-Help Group completed their roadside jewelry shop just in time for tourism season! This was the first major construction project undertaken by these women, who are jewelers and members of the Samburu tribe in central Kenya. The first SIA grant was not quite enough to finish the shop and so they asked for a small additional grant to be able to add the final touches. Just a few weeks after receiving the additional $500 grant, the building is ready to go! Look how beautiful it turned out! Supporting these woman was definitely a “smart risk.”

Poultry House Construction

The folks at the Matungu Community Development Charity were eager to get started! Soon after receiving the grant funds they were already hard at work building the new poultry house in western Kenya. Community members worked together to make the bricks and built up the walls. Group leader, Vincent Atitwa wrote, “The poultry house is under construction and in particular we are working hard to lead families and community out of malnutrition and poverty once more.”

They hope that the building will be completed by June 1st. They already have a supplier for the chicks and they will have them delivered soon. The profits from the poultry project will serve as a loan fund for the table banking and low-interest loan program!

I’m on my way!

I leave today for a month-long trip in eastern Africa. After a short vacation, I will meet with all the SIA Small Business Fund partners for a conference and training workshop in Malawi. We will have coordinators from Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi there to discuss and evaluate our program. The manual is printed and ready to be packed!

I’ll try to share my experience with you along the way and post what I can here on the blog, and on Facebook and Instagram. Thank you for your prayers!

A good harvest in Uganda

A good harvest in Uganda

When Samsa Ogwang applied for the Small Business Fund (SBF) program, she and her family were not doing well. Naomi Ayot, Spirit in Action SBF local coordinator in Uganda, found that they did not have a lot of variation in their diet, and that they were unable to improve their quality of food. They were also sleeping on floor mats, another indication of poverty.

Naomi chose Samsa’s family to receive the $150 SBF grant so that they could improve their farm and take the first steps towards prosperity. With the grant funds, Samsa purchased improved seeds, including maize (corn), simsim (sesame seeds), and sunflower seeds. Along with other SBF groups in her rural village of Amukugungu in northern Uganda, she also bought a male and female pig.

Samsa planting cassava in her fields in Uganda.

One year later, she reports that the crops produced a good harvest! She and her family harvested 363kgs of maize, some of which they sold for 31¢/kg, and some of which they delivered in-kind to cover school fees for two of their children. Additionally, 284kgs of sunflower sold for $20, and the sesame seeds brought in $65.

She had to sell the pigs when there was an outbreak of swine flu, and for the pair she collected $90. (All this from a $100 grant!!) Samsa saved some of the money earned from the pigs and plans to buy a new set of piglets this spring.

This business has meant a great change in Samsa’s life! She feels content that the project has improved the standards of living and the status of her family in the community.

Money for Education

Through this grant, Samsa has supported four of her children to continue attending school! Enume will be joining her senior year of high school. Akello is excited to start her first year of technical school studies. Ocen graduated from nursery school last year and will be starting 1st grade soon! And the fourth child, Apio, will be continuing elementary school.

In the planting season that starts this month, Samsa plans to add to the diversity of her crops by planting cassava, soybeans, and green beans. The group also has the goal of acquiring oxen and ploughs for tilting the gardens, to help improve the quality of the crops. Without the oxen, they have to plough the fields themselves.

Overall, Samsa and her family are grateful that they have achieved an improved standard of living. They are able to meet more of their basic needs, and also can hire day-laborers to help with the harvesting!

Samsa with her harvest of sesame seeds!

That second chance that makes all the difference

That second chance that makes all the difference

After years in a difficult marriage, Loveness Nkhoma found herself divorced, back at home, and unsure how to support herself and her three children. Canaan Gondwe, the local SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) coordinator in Manyamula Village, Malawi, recruited her to join the SBF program and start a new business. She quickly grasped the new business concepts and was a big help encouraging the other business leaders in her cohort.

In April 2015, Loveness received her $100 grant and opened a small shop in the village. She ordered vegetables, tomatoes, and other wholesale goods in bulk and then repackaged them into smaller quantities.

Loveness with her repackaged goods for sale.

It’s been two years and the business continues to provide all the basic needs for the family of four! Loveness has saved $69 and reinvested almost $200 back into the shop. She is able to pay school fees for her sons Adam (4th grade) and Raphael (5th grade) and has enough food for her 4-year-old daughter. The demand for their goods has been higher than expected! Loveness bought three goats with the profit. The goats will give milk and manure, in addition to meat.

When Canaan went to visit Loveness and check on her business, she was quick to say that she is happy with her progress and is thankful to SIA for giving her a chance. She is positive about her future and she feels secured and stable, a big change from how she felt right after her divorce!

Loveness with the three goats she bought with her SBF grocery profits.

Spelling “SIA” to Raise Money for Small Businesses!

Thank you to Joshua Brooks for running a half-marathon last weekend to raise money for the SIA Small Business Fund! He spelled S-I-A as he ran and raised $720, enough for almost five new small businesses. Check out his route here (or by clicking on the runner below). Then click the arrow play button on the bottom of the map to see his spelling in action! Thank you to all who contributed to the campaign!

Entrepreneurs in Nairobi: “We feel resurrected”

Entrepreneurs in Nairobi: “We feel resurrected”

These men and women, chosen to receive SIA Small Business Fund grants, are living in the rough conditions in the informal settlements around Nairobi. They and their families are living without running water or adequate toilet facilities. Structures are made tin pieces and are packed together very closely. Rain turns dirt roads and floors into muddy messes.

And yet, with the chance to start her own business and to provide for her family, one of the new entrepreneurs in Nairobi said that she feels like she is ‘resurrected’ and ‘like other people’ now.

Here are more success stories from the latest Small Business Fund cohort in Korogocho, Nairobi:

  • Mutinda, selling shoes: He feels very confident because can provide food for his family. All his children can go to school and his family can even afford better medical care. Writing is a challenge for Mutinda, but his business skills are excellent!
  • Rebecca, cooking chapatti: She is now her own boss, leaving her old workplace where she also cooked chapatti. Initially, she was selling a few packets per day, but now she can sell in bundles (a big packet of twelve chapatti). Her children still go to school and eat well. She was also able to repair holes in the roof of her rented house. Before, she would be waiting forever for the owner to do it.

Phoebe explaining a point to other entrepreneurs

  • Nelly, making soaps: She was making five liters of soap at a time, and repacking it in smaller quantities to sell. Now, she makes 60 liters and has a much better market. Three people have benefitted from this business and she is able to take her son to a better school. She can afford medical care and is grateful to SIA.
  • Phoebe, selling fabric: She is so proud to be able to send her son to a boarding school out of Nairobi County! Five people benefitted from the business, but the best thing that ever happened to her is sending her son to boarding school just like ‘other people’!
  • Kezziah, selling vegetables: Her profit was more than predicted! Besides reinvesting 20% in the business, she is able to keep 10% for herself. She is able to pay school fees for all her children. She is especially proud that she can pay for her daughter to attend high school. Her family also eats better than before.

So far, SIA has supported 33 businesses in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Josephine, one of the SIA local mentors, plans to meet with all 33 groups and register themselves under the Deputy President’s program for women’s groups!

Improving life in the informal settlement (L to R): Dorcas (who helps with record-keeping), Kezziah, Mutinda, Phoebe and Josephine (local mentor).

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