Chickens for Education

farm rows in kitale kenya

Rows of crops on the Common Ground "Feed the Village" farm

The view out the window of the minibus from Eldoret to Kitale, Kenya was surprisingly familiar. Though I was on a continent well known for its deserts, the rows and rows of corn made the Kenyan countryside look just like the rolling hills of Iowa or South Dakota! I now know that Kitale is the “breadbasket of Kenya.”

During our visit with Joshua Machinga of Commmon Ground just outside Kitale, Boyd and I were impressed with the abundant produce on his farm and kitchen gardens. Machinga uses bio-intensive agriculture techniques, which he learned at Manor House Kenya, to produce more food without chemical inputs. All the produce here goes to feed the 400 students at Pathfinder Academy, where Machinga is the director.

Spirit in Action Poultry Project

Next to the Pathfinder kitchen garden stands the impressive SIA Poultry Project – a sturdy building close enough to the kale and maize beds to provide the chickens with some greens and the garden with some chicken manure. Now that’s a great exchange!

Tanya with the SIA Poultry Project

SIA Poultry Project house made with sturdy materials and built to last many years. Maize in training garden grows in front. Chicken droppings are used for compost in the garden.

Student with fresh eggs

Students are assigned a rotating schedule to check for eggs. The chicken coop is right next to the school and cafeteria area.

As we entered the poultry house, five Pathfinder students proudly showed us around the two rooms, one for the layers (chickens for eggs) and another for the broilers (chicken for meat). Machinga has conducted several trainings with students on how to manage the chicks and student volunteers take turns caring for the chickens, feeding them, helping the vet with vaccinations, collecting eggs, and even slaughtering them when the time comes. He told us that the younger children like to care for the young chicks and keep them warm during their first nights.

Project Success

Some of the eggs are used in school meals, some are sold to local families, and most of the meat is sold to a local restaurant! After the initial Spirit in Action Community Grant, the Common Ground SIA Poultry Project is now self-sustaining, with profits from the chickens being put into buying more chicks to expand the operation.

What else? A scholarship fund has been created with some of the poultry project profits! The student with the best 2010 exam scores got a scholarship for this year’s school fees as he graduated from Pathfinder and went on to secondary school. “His favorite subject is history,” Machinga told us, which brought a nod of approval from Boyd.

Man takes eggs to market on the back of a bike.

Fresh eggs for sale! A Common Ground employee takes eggs to market on the back of his bike.

What’s making me happy this week: SIA supports education through the economic empowerment of our amazing community partners!

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house.

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house.

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Saying Grace for the World

Saying Grace for the World

This Thanksgiving, as we each reflect on our blessings and the bounty we have, will you join me in also praying for the world? Below are five table graces incorporating prayers of thanks and prayers for service and justice. If you have a special Thanksgiving table grace, share it with us in the comments!

May this Thanksgiving be a time to recommit ourselves to empowering others, living compassionately, and putting God’s Spirit into action through serving and praying for the world. Happy Thanksgiving!

Different ethnic groups share a meal together in Rwanda

Different ethnic groups share a meal together in Rwanda - SIA creates community!

1. Give us grateful hearts, O Lord, for all thy mercies,
and make us mindful of the needs of others;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(1928 Book of Common Prayer)

2. To those who hunger,
Give bread;
To those who have bread,
Give the hunger for justice. Amen.
(Latin America Prayer)

3. Make us worthy, Lord,
To serve those people
Throughout the world who live and die
In poverty and hunger.
Give them, through our hands
This day their daily bread,
And by our understanding love,
Give peace and joy.
(Mother Theresa)

4. For food in a world where many walk in hunger
For faith in a world where many walk in fear
For friends in a world where many walk alone
We give you humble thanks, oh Lord.
(World Hunger Grace)

Women cook a meal together (Rwanda)

Women cook a meal together (Rwanda)

5. Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thanked.
(The Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns; Scotland)

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Mud on the Road – Adventures during the SIA Coordinator Conference

Mud on the Road – Adventures during the SIA Coordinator Conference

After the minibus could make it no further along the muddy road, we all got out to walk the rest of the way. Dennis Kiprop, always cheerful and positive, told us that it wouldn’t be too much further. Three-quarters of an hour later, with muddy shoes and cold toes, I and the other thirteen SIA Conference attendees finally made it the house of Rose Ayabei.

Our minibus couldn't make it any further up the muddy hill, so we got out to walk.

Our minibus couldn't make it any further up the muddy hill, so we got out to walk.

After a morning of meeting at the Ukweli Training Center in Eldoret, Kenya this past August, Dennis was taking the group of SIA partners and Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators from all over Africa to meet some of his enthusiastic SBF group leaders in the area. I use the phrase “in the area” loosely because we soon realized that Rose’s family lived at quite a distance from Dennis’s home in downtown Eldoret.

Dedicated Volunteers

It was sometime during the hour-long bus ride to Rose’s that I came to appreciate the devotion and dedication of our SBF Coordinators. Dennis had made this long journey more than a few times over the yearlong period that SIA follows the new SBF businesses. He continues to make the journey both because Rose is always inviting him come see the progress and because he is committed to supporting the new business leaders and encouraging them in their endeavors.

Our SBF Coordinators work as volunteers for SIA and receive stipends from SIA to cover their expenses (for travel, internet use, postage, etc.), as well as respect from their neighbors and communities for the work they do to bring development to the area through the Small Business Fund. Ms. Nalu Prossy, the SBF Coordinator from Uganda said at the conference, “I do that work as a volunteer because it is in my heart, I have that spirit of helping others.” When she meets with new groups for business and skills training, “I help them, encourage them, share the work with them, comfort the widows.”

Tanya Cothran and Nalu Prossy walking in the mud.

Tanya Cothran and Nalu Prossy walking in the mud.

Valuable Conference

The conference this summer in Kenya, supported by SIA donors, was an important time for SIA partners and SBF Coordinators to share, learn, and grow together. We met for four days, reviewing training materials, addressing common challenges, developing African leadership, and planning for further collaboration after we all returned home. I heard beautiful stories of communities flourishing through SIA SBF and the Sharing the Gift program, which spreads the impact of SIA even further into the community. I also heard concerns about the cost of traveling to monitor the groups and after making the long journey to see Rose’s poultry house, I began to understand the length that the Coordinators go to make SIA SBF groups feel supported and encouraged.

Coordinators walking on the muddy road.

SIA partners walking on the muddy road.

Even though it was costly to bring all the Coordinators to Kenya for the week, the benefits far outweighed the costs. I left the gathering with a real sense of gratitude that we were able to meet each other in person and establish an even stronger sense of community among the SIA partners. The coordinators developed connections among themselves and they are working to build resources that will help each of them in their work with SIA. One of the requests that came out of the meeting was to build an online community so that they can keep in touch with the whole group until we meet again –hopefully in a few years!  Canaan Gondwe, from Malawi, expressed his gratitude at the end of the conference, “Thanks to the SIA board and donors – it was not easy to bring us here. For some it was the first time to get into a plane, and the first time to come to Kenya. Thank you, thank you, so much. Yewo chimene.”

New shared experiences

The trudge through the mud to Rose’s poultry farm was longer than expected and the SIA partners, now friends with partners from other countries, caught each other as they started to slip, cheered as they finally reached the minibus, and even washed off my shoes for me after we got back to our rooms! Dennis said that Boyd and I had now had a true “African experience” and, more importantly, it helped the group create a strong bond of support and mutual respect.

Jack, Canaan, and Tanya walk up the muddy hill.

We finally make it back to the minibus!

Washing Tanya's muddy shoes

Washing Tanya's muddy shoes


5,000 words (or 5 new photos)

If a photo is worth a thousand words, this post is worth at least 5,000 words! You should be getting your SIA Newsletter in the mail soon, or you can download a copy here. I always have so many more photos to include than will actually fit in the newsletter, so here are five more for you!

SIA SBF Coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, with his new laptop! Before, he had to keep all his records in notebooks and now he can use this laptop, which was donated by a generous SIA donor..

SIA SBF Coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, with his new laptop! Before, he had to keep all his records in notebooks and now he can use this laptop, which was donated by a generous SIA donor. (Uganda)

Woman with a piglet to share.

Woman with a piglet, which she is going to give away through Sharing the Gift to another family in need. (Uganda) Read more about Sharing the Gift in the SIA newsletter!

Retail fuel business

Ifiok Ubong Friday (in the white shirt) started this retail fuel business with a SIA SBF grant. He has pledged 3% of his profit to help another group get started. (Nigeria)

All Conference attendees in Eldoret.

This group of SIA partners and Small Business Fund Coordinators gathered for 5 days in Eldoert, Kenya this summer. We had people from all over Africa there!

Stella in her kale garden

We visited Stella in her farm with lush kale crops. She rotates the crop between maize/beans and kale to get the maximum yield. (Kenya)

Giving the Gift of Giving

These women learned to bake and market donuts from another woman through Sharing the Gift. (Malawi)

“How do we make our SIA programs self-sufficient?” This question has long been a topic of conversation among the SIA Board of Directors. Del Anderson was very insistent that we create partnerships that empower so that there is lasting change in a community.

The Solution

In December 2006, we considered the option of turning our SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) grants into micro-loans, which would help perpetuate the program. However, we discovered that there were several major drawbacks to loans, including the cost of administering the loans and transferring the money and the inability to reach rural populations. Instead, the SIA Board came up with a concept called Sharing the Gift.

Sharing the Gift is a “pay it forward” program. Our training manual, presented to all SBF groups before their receive their first grant introduces the concept this way, “It is a spiritual truth that blessings multiply when they are shared. Also, we are blessed as we bless others. Each business group has received the gift of a grant to begin a small business. How can we share this gift with others?”

How It’s Done

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Sharing the Gift takes many different forms, including:

  • Tithing a percentage of profits toward future groups
  • Contributing a piglet or chick for others to begin raising
  • Contributing seeds for others to start a garden
  • Training others in new skills

Today, Sharing the Gift has been more successful than we ever could have imagined. Nalu Prossy, SIA SBF Coordinator in Uganda, reported at our conference in July that, “Sharing the Gift has helped create two new business groups, including the purse-making group. It is also informal giving and social help, such as helping to pay for a funeral.” In Malawi, Winkly Mahowe received the gift of a piglet in 2007 and was able to build a new home for his family.

Giving the Gift of Giving

In addition to starting new business groups, Sharing the Gift also empowers the business group members to be givers as well as receivers. It has been found that people receive genuine happiness from giving to others. Perhaps you have noticed how good it feels to be able to help a neighbor or to help others through Spirit in Action. The Small Business Fund and Sharing the Gift enables people who have grown up with very little to have enough to share with others and to be respected for their gifts to neighbors.

Five years later, SIA is proud of the impact of our unique Sharing the Gift program. We have seen that through Sharing the Gift, a SBF grant can go on to help another person, another family, and the community at large. Thank you to all SIA SBF groups that have shared the gift they have received with others in their community!

The Fall/Winter 2011 SIA Newsletter is dedicated to stories of Sharing the Gift! Look for the newsletter in your mailboxes and email inboxes soon!

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