What’s new? 5 things making me happy this week

A round-up of some of the exciting things to cross my desk in the last week:

1. Empowering Women at CIFORDI finished making a video (with Boyd’s narration!) about this great community organization, which we visited last summer. Spirit in Action, with support from the Charles Wentz Carter Memorial Foundation, awarded CIFORD a grant to hold more girl’s empowerment workshops this year!

2. Community Involvement in Uganda – This article tells an encouraging story about a conference that (gasp!) included local leaders in the discussion about rural electrification, access to capital, women in business, and access to technology for youth. While the panel topics were nothing new for a ‘development’ conference, the panelists were not your usual invitees. They included primary school students, village brick makers, local farmers, and young “tinkerers” who had built their own home-made radio.” Full article here: Uganda: Villages in Action Bringing Poor People’s Voices to the Forefront

3. New digital camera made it safely to Malawi – Canaan Gondwe, Small Business Fund leader, wrote, ‎”Tanya, We are overwhelmed with the performance of this new camera. We are witnessing quality pics. Connecting them to computer and importing them is also easy.” We can look forward to many more photos of the exciting progress in Manyamula Village!

Cabbage garden at the Balayiro Self-Help Group4. News from Balayiro Women’s Self-Help Group  I got a wonderful letter in the mail from this thriving group in Kenya. They received a small cash grant to buy local seeds for the group. “We prepared the seeds in the seedbed. Luckily enough there was moderate rainfall and warm weather. Now we are expecting a good harvest! Traditionally, in Luhya community, farmers do save the indigenous seeds from year to year in crop recycling method, covering them with ashes from the burned firewood.” They grew:

Jute Plant – A leafy green, rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, and vitamin C, eaten with Ugali (maize meal).

Spider Plant – The leaves, stems, pods, and flowers can all be cooked and eaten. The leaves are bitter, but the bitterness can be bleached out with boiling water. A group of farmers are growing this plant in Minnesota for the Kenyan diaspora here!  

Black Nightshade – This nightshade is not poisonous, as we tend to imagine here in the West. The barriers and the leafy greens are eaten and are highly nutritious.

5. Quote on compassion – (from a women’s retreat I attended last weekend): “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant wit the weak and wrong…because sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”

This basket from a small business in Uganda will be one of the auction items!

This basket from a small business in Uganda will be one of the auction items!

P.S. Save the Date – May 5th Celebrate Spirit in Action’s “Sweet Sixteen” Anniversary! We booked the Islandia Clubhouse in Alameda, CA and I began pulling out some of the silent auction items that we brought back from Africa! More details to come soon.

Options: Better than Teaching a Man to Fish in the Desert

Today’s post is by Jerry Elmer, a long-time friend of Spirit in Action.*

Glory Tembo sells boiled fish in the Manyamula market (Malawi).

Glory Tembo, who received a SIA grant in 2006, sells boiled fish in the Manyamula market (Malawi).

Most everyone has heard the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It sounds very profound – until you realize that teaching someone to fish is relatively useless if he lives in the desert.Recently, I’ve been in a sort of desert, myself, advising an organization building a homeless shelter on the southern-most edge of Santa Clara County, which comprises most of California’s illustrious Silicon Valley. With county population about 1.8 million people, some seven thousand of them are homeless. For eight years I was one of them.

In his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Sterns, President, World Vision U.S., says, “What I have discovered in my travels to more than forty countries with World Vision is that almost all poverty is a result of lack of options. It is not that the poor are lazier, less intelligent, or unwilling to make efforts to change their condition. Rather, they are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change.”

When I read this, I was sure he was talking about the homeless problem right here in California. I realized that World Vision and our budding homeless shelter were trying to help people address the same problem: lack of options.

But it appears Del Anderson figured that out a long time ago. And although I have never seen it stated in so many words, he founded Spirit in Action to increase people’s access to a range of self-help options. He realized that by creating options for people – giving them choices – you give them the opportunity to make their own way in their own environment.

Del started out sending people seeds to grow vegetables and fruit, which they could use to feed their own families or sell for profit (Remember Oral Roberts’ seed-faith? Here it is in action!). Then Spirit in Action began giving small business grants so people could choose their own businesses and path to prosperity. Here in Silicon Valley, our shelter will include a job training center in cooperation with local businesses, as many of the homeless have no marketable job skills.

James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2: 18-26). So along with World Vision, Spirit in Action and our homeless shelter work to the same task. And the options we create – they’re in the works. I have faith. How about you?

*Editor’s Note (2/22/12): This post originally included a link to a book written by Jerry Elmer. The author has now taken this book off the market because of a problem with the publisher. He does not want people to buy this book.

A Cake Cooked By The Sun

I plan on observing Valentine’s Day today with a cupcake from my local bakery, Cupcake Cafe. But if I was in Eldoret, Kenya, I might be celebrating with a cake from the newly established Seeing is Believing Cafe, run by Camily and Gaudenziah Wedende.
Tanya visits Camily's solar cooker shop in August 2011.

Tanya visits Camily's solar cooker shop in August 2011. People gather to hear about using the strange boxes to cook food.


Gaudenziah, whose husband Camily has received several grants from Spirit in Action to promote and sell solar cookers out of the front of their home, was recently inspired with a new business plan. She knew that solar cookers use the power of the sun to cook foods such as meat, beans, eggs, rice, and vegetables. Then, in October I emailed to the Wedendes a story from the Solar Cookers International newsletter.

The article, about the work of Light Gives Heat in Kisumu, Kenya, told of the great opportunity of baking with solar cookers. “Most people cannot make high-quality cakes because of the irregular temperatures of charcoal and wood stoves, but solar cookers bake perfect, moist cakes with very little worry of burning or over-cooking.”


The story sparked Gaudenziah and Camily into action! “We shall be selling cakes and tea and we will also be boiling eggs in the solar cookers and people can buy when they pass beside the cafe,” wrote Camily excitedly to me.

They already have the solar cookers that Camily made from wood, glass, and reflective tinfoil, and they were able to use some of the profits from their cooker sales to buy a few baking supplies and paint for a sign. “SEEING IS BELIEVING CAFE is a wonderful name,” declares Camily, “because people are seeing, testing food that has been cooked in the solar cookers, then they believe and then they end up buying the cooker!”

Gaudenziah pours sun cooked tea for a customer.

Gaudenziah pours sun cooked tea for a customer.

A Sunny Outlook

It isn’t hard to see now, in the sunny season in Eldoret, that solar cookers can produce good tasting local foods, without using expensive charcoal or spending all day walking to gather wood for a traditional three-stone fire. “Right now we are in the dry season and now our solar cookers can cook all types of food in a short time, like 3 hours,” says Camily, in the sales pitch for his hand-made solar cookers.

Proudly, Camily and Gaudenziah reported this month, “With the profits that come out of the business, we are able to pay school fees for David our son [in 10th grade] and we have some to put back into the business.”

I wonder how solar cooked cupcakes taste. Hopefully someday I’ll get to taste, see, and believe for myself!

Gaudenziah and Tanya at Solar Cookers

Tanya visits Gaudenziah at her family's thriving Solar Cookers business in Eldoret, Kenya.

“Chopping” Poverty through Business Training

Matthews (MAVISALO's Secretary) giving us one of his big smiles.

Matthews (MAVISALO's Secretary) giving us one of his big smiles.

“COMSIP…” called out Matthews, holding his hand in the air. “…Chop!” responded the fifty people gathered in the meeting room, as they brought down their hands in a chopping motion. The group is the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans organization, or MAVISALO, which Boyd and I visited last summer. And COMSIP is a Malawian government program designed to reduce (chop!) poverty by promoting a culture of saving. After the cheer, a feeling of enthusiasm remained in the room as the group settled down to start the meeting.

I held this exuberance in my mind as I read Canaan Gondwe’s most recent report on MAVISALO’s progress. MAVISALO, which already works to encourage savings among members and provide local loans at reasonable rates, is growing rapidly. They recently welcomed 80 new members for a total of 130 members!

Capacity Building and Training

In addition to the initial “seed money” from Spirit in Action, MAVISALO also was awarded an $800 grant from COMSIP (Community Savings and Investment Promotion) for training in financial literacy management and business management. Some of the topics covered at the recent training for MAVISALO members were:

COMSIP training for MAVISALO members

COMSIP training for MAVISALO members

  • Savings mobilization
  • Credit management
  • Monitoring of financial operations
  • Business idea generation
  • Business planning, records, and evaluation
  • Market research and marketing
  • Product costing
  • Planning for profit

“These trainings have impacted on the members positively,” wrote Canaan in his report, “in that members will operate their small enterprises with skill and positive attitude.” Many of these topics are also covered in the Small Business Fund program training and so MAVISALO members who are not involved with SBF also have a chance to learn these skills. Also, everyone who has received some training in the past can review, refresh, and evaluate their current business models. The MAVISALO Executive Team is working to certify the group as an official COMSIP Cooperative, which will open up even more opportunities for leadership building, business training, and community grants.

All this is part of creating a stable, prosperous, rural economy in Manyamula Village through locally led education and entrepreneurship. Canaan closed his report with a few words of encouragement, echoing that hopefulness of the group “chopping” together, “All is well as we work together to alleviate the suffering of many poor households.”

MAVISALO members enjoy a soda during a break in training.

**Click on photos for a full-sized version.

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