People are the solution!

I love the new 50 second video from Oxfam America. It’s message is clear and to-the-point, “Aid is not the solution to poverty, people are.”

It’s not the big structures that help people out of poverty. Or the governments talking to governments….

Rather, we know that it’s the dedicated people, passionate for change, that make a difference. It’s the people, working with their families and organizing with others in their communities, that move step by step towards something better. It’s people supporting each other that bring hope.

If you need any convincing, consider these people who are solutions in their communities:

Women’s Self-Help Group with CIFORD Kenya:
Women in groups of 10-25 encouraging others;
sharing their challenges and solutions; combining
savings to help pay for school uniforms for their children and grandchildren.

Kenya Part 1 468

Leaders of one of the self-help groups in rural Meru, Kenya

Nalu Prossy, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator, Uganda:
Nalu works all day at a tailor’s shop; after work and on weekends
she trains and mentors new business groups to help them succeed.
She’s a good employee, so her boss sometimes lets her leave early to do this work for SIA.


Nalu and Tanya

Canaan Gondwe, Manyamula Village Savings and Loans, Malawi:
Canaan is the tireless leader of the successful savings and loans
group MAVISALO, which helps community members access low-interest loans;
he has been elected to the national board of cooperative groups in Malawi;
in June he’ll travel to Zambia to train another community to start their own local savings and loans cooperative.

Canaan (in blue) with members of the MAVISALO executive committee.

Canaan (in blue) with members of the MAVISALO executive committee

Oxfam calls for us to “Support citizens’ efforts to determine and lead their own development.” And that’s just what Spirit in Action is going to continue doing!

3 Ways SIA Partners are Celebrating Earth Day Everyday

Earth Day celebrations may last over a weekend but what about the long-term? Here are three examples of Spirit in Action partners promoting techniques that benefit the earth and their communities:

Woman in Malawi shows the bounty from her family's farm

Ester shows the bounty from her family’s farm.

1. Intercropping in Malawi

Have you heard about the Three Sisters? Beans, squash, and corn grown together get the blue ribbon in the intercropping category. Corn stalks grow tall, beans use the stalks as bean poles, and squash leaves provide shade that  stunts weeds and locks in the soil moisture. Also, the nutrients in bean plants keep the soil healthy year after year.

More and more people in Manyamula Village are adopting this beautiful combination that is good for the heavily-used farmland and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed. We visited Saul and Ester’s farm in 2011 where we saw their flourishing intercropping of beans and corn.

Saul and Ester are members of the MAVISALO Savings and Loans cooperative and they share and learn with the other 150 group members about intercropping and other sustainable farming techniques.

beans and corn

Beans planted at the base of the corn use the stalks as support.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

2. Ukweli Training Centre in Kenya

Anyone who has met Samuel Teimuge knows his passion for simple methods and technologies that can help people produce more food and protect the environment. At his Ukweli Training Centre in Eldoret, Kenya, local experts show groups of people from all over eastern Africa a sampling of these beneficial technologies. For example:

  • The kitchen garden plots use double-digging (a method of turning the soil before planting) and composting;
  • A chicken pen extends over a fish pond and chicken droppings fall into the water to provide nutrients to the fish, increasing the size of the fish (more about chicken-fish farming);
  • An agroforestry display shows about starting seedlings, and replanting and caring for trees; trees provide shade, fruit, and fencing, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

3. Side-by-side Comparisons

With such good results from simple agricultural techniques, why doesn’t everyone take on the methods? Joshua Machinga and his team at Common Ground know that old habits die hard, so they have planted two sets of crops to convince people to change.

The 5-year experiment places crops that use conventional fertilizers next to crops that use rich, organic compost to display tangible benefits of using compost for long-term soil health. The evidence right in front of people is pretty convincing!

*Spirit in Action has a number of resources about composting, double-digging, organizing model farm days, and intercropping available for free. If you would like me to send you any of these materials, please email the SIA office.

Related Articles:

The Best Kind of Leftovers

Our partners are cooking up big change in their communities and there are so many inspiring stories, photos, and quotes to share! I couldn’t fit them all in the Spring & Summer 2013 Newsletter, so today’s blog is a bit of newsletter leftover stew…

(The newsletter went off to the presses yesterday but you can download a PDF COLOR copy here today.)

1. Women Starting Businesses in Kenya

SIA Small Business Fund local coordinator in Kenya, Dennis Kiprop, is excited about the new cohort of 5 women-led business groups:

“I thank God for such an opportunity to serve and train these small business groups. The greatest joy is to see them grow in God and be able to support their families in the long run with the businesses they are doing. Most of them are the key providers in their own families. Thank you for the great support, prayers, and love.”

Women fill out business plan

Rose and Salina fill out their business plan after attending a training session led by local SIA Coordinator Dennis Kiprop.

Goats are kept in elevated pens in Malawi.

Goats are kept in elevated pens in Malawi.

2. Forestry Project in Malawi

The front page of the newsletter has a story about 5 Small Business Fund groups in Malawi that are collaborating to start a forestry project.

The tree-planting business will not only help reforest the area and help the soil retain more water, the trees are also important for infrastructure in the rural Manyamula village. Tree poles are used for building houses and also for penning goats.

This photo shows the elevated goat pen which keeps the animals safe and allows the owners to collect manure for their gardens!

3. Short (and important) Supporter Survey

We want to hear your preferences! We have a short 9-question survey for our supporters. Will you tell us how you want to hear from us and what you like about SIA? Take the survey here. Thank you!

4. Memories of Del’s Encouragement

I asked Camily Wedende, a solar cooker entrepreneur in Kenya, about what words of inspiration from Del still stuck with him. (See the newsletter of how Camily is helping others promote solar cooking in Kenya.)

“Del used to write about letting go. To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To let go is not to deny, but to accept.

To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.”

Canaan Gondwe with a giant cucumber!

5. Giant Cucumber!

I LOVE this photo of SIA local coordinator Canaan Gondwe (Malawi) with the giant cucumber that grew in his community with seeds sent by our dedicated volunteer, Aileen Gillem.

Seeds were given to needy families in the community for them to use in their kitchen gardens (small garden plots with many types of vegetables growing). Cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions all thrived, supplementing the staple food, maize (corn).

7 years after a small grant from SIA

Seven years after a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant, Paulos and Skekiwe Lungu are thankful for the Luso Shoe Repair business and for their new home.

shoes Malawi

Paulos discusses his business with us during our visit to Malawi in 2011.

Paulos and Skekiwe have a story to share with you today. Before learning about Spirit in Action the couple and their two sons were living in very poor conditions. Without a home, the family had to stay at other people’s homes, moving from house to house, and they often only had enough food for meal each day. The parents could not begin to think of sending their sons to school because, although the elementary education is free, uniforms and other school supplies were too expensive for their budget.

When Canaan Gondwe, Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinator in Malawi, first visited the family in 2006, he sat a long time listening to Paulos and Skekiwe and discussing an opportunity for the family to change their situation with a little help from SIA and a lot of work on their part.

In considering the family for a $150 grant, Canaan recalls, “The family had a land for cultivation and the husband had a skill of repairing worn out shoes. I began to explain about God and his purpose for giving us life. I talked at length about the potential held by all created beings. I listened to Paulos and helped him to remove all misdirected attitudes and begin to reorganize himself. I invited Paulos and Skekiwe to the Small Business Fund training that was coming forth.”

Things Start to Change

shoes Malawi

Paulos shoes at the market.

During the first training, Canaan discussed with the ten gathered families about forming business groups, communication, listening prayer and consensus agreements, and attitude change. “The training had impacted Paulos with knowledge on how to get established. His attitude changed and began to see himself as someone that had the power to change his situation,” remembers Canaan.

Business was good! Paulos devoted a lot of time to repairing shoes in the market, and selling rubber souls to people whose shoes needed reinforcing.

In 2008 Paulos bought a female pig, which soon gave birth to four piglets. The piglets act as an investment – one that keep growing with each new litter. For now, the piglets help pay for the books and uniforms needed to keep the two boys in school!

Also, the Lungus have been able to build their very own home. In 2011, they bought the 8,000 bricks (fired, for longevity) necessary to build a permanent place to live. The home was finally finished last year, topped with a thatched roof.

The Lungu Family in front of their new home!

The Lungu Family in front of their new home!

Life continues to be a challenge though and recently both Paulos and Skekiwe fell sick and they were diagnosed with HIV.

maize Malawi

Paulos and Skekiwe in front of their bumper maize crop.

The silver lining? Canaan reports, “The good news is that they can afford to go to private clinics and get treatment, and as I write they are both on antiretroviral therapy treatment.”

I admit that this last part of the family story really let the wind out of my sails. But Canaan finished his letter with an enthusiastic “WHAT A TURN AROUND OF THINGS ON A FAMILY!” referring to the home, the boys’ education, and the thriving maize field.

Following their lead, today I am celebrating with the Lungu family as they live with their newfound success, achieved with a small $150 grant and seven years of dedication.

Ripples of Change

Have you seen this map? It shows just how BIG Africa is. It’s easy to lump a lot all together under the label of “Africa.”

And yet, Africa is an entire continent – one that could fit the United States, India, China, Eastern Europe, and a number of western European countries, all within it’s borders! Africa is 20% of the world’s landmass and has 54 separate countries.


Traveling in Malawi, just a tiny sliver on most maps of Africa, I was in awe of the vast countryside to see, so many different languages to hear, and all the people to meet within Malawi.

Besides providing good party trivia, what is the point of thinking about the enormity of Africa? It can be overwhelming to think the really big problems such as pollution and political instability in so many African countries.

A ripple of goodness

Spirit in Action is working in Africa to start small ripples of change, which can reach much further than what we can do alone, reaching to those big challenges. I may not be able to influence the government in the Central African Republic but I can start to poke small ripples of goodness in the pool.

When things seem so great, I look around to see what I can do, what small thing I can give, to make an impact in just one other person’s life. And it turns out, that making this small impact can start to make larger inroads.

Grace is excited to continue high school!

Grace is excited to continue high school! Read her family’s story here:

Here’s what we’re doing:

1 Individual = receives a letter with encouragement and self-help materials (gardening, composting, starting savings groups) from Spirit in Action; (Read example)

1 Family = receives a $150 grant from Spirit in Action to start a business and improve their house and send their children to school; (Read example)

1 Community = receives a Community Grant from Spirit in Action to start a chicken-rearing process and a local village savings and low-interest loans group. (Read example)

Sharing the Gift

Then, 1+1+1 = Once people receive, they are encouraged to give forward to someone else who they see is in need; Sharing the Gift, we call it. (Read example)

That gift is shared over and over again. Then, this is my prayer, the gift ripples all the way to the country and regional level. Maybe that person who convinced the Malawian President Joyce Banda to sell the $13.3 million presidential jet and rebuild international relationships to help Malawi’s poorest was touched by part of the Spirit in Action ripple.

Or maybe, someone who realized that they were feeling small in the midst of the great world took a step to help someone by putting a Spirit-filled ripple into action and helped you.

Thank you for making our ripple big enough to reach more individuals, families, and communities than we can know or count.

Margaret talks with one of the support groups

Margaret Ikiara (center) talks with one of the support groups at CIFORD Kenya.

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