A reminder of goodness in the world

A reminder of goodness in the world
The MAVISALO Maize Mill cooperative helps bring food security and prosperity to rural Malawi.

The MAVISALO Maize Mill cooperative helps bring food security and prosperity to rural Malawi.

Have you heard those stories about people pulling up to the coffee drive-through window, ready to order, only to find out that the person in front of them has already paid for their drink?

What a gift! And often, that person turns around and pays for the person behind them – passing along the gift to another fellow café-goer.

My friend was part of just such a chain of giving in Minnesota. The chain was 19 links long when she got to it, each person wishing the stranger behind them, “an awesome day.” It was something that was fun; that brightened her day. For those who heard the story, it was a reminder that goodness exists in the world.

An Example from Malawi

MAVISALO members working the maize mill. Maize is the staple crop, and milling it into a coarse meal significantly increases the market value.

MAVISALO members working the maize mill. Maize is the staple crop, and milling it into a coarse meal significantly increases the market value.

This sharing of the gift – passing along the joy – is built into the very fiber of Spirit in Action grants. Sharing the Gift can take many forms, though I haven’t yet heard of a Kenyan coffee giving chain yet. Until then, here’s an example from Malawi:

Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative (MAVISALO) members have benefited greatly from the 2013 SIA grant to collectively purchase a maize mill. (Read more about the maize mill here.)

The co-op rents out the use of the mill, providing a good source of income to the group. Funds from the project – the total profit from 2013 was an impressive $600 – have added to the capital base of the loan fund in order to meet the high demand for low-interest loans among MAVISALO’s members.

What about Sharing the Gift?

The next generation of piglets will be passed on to vulnerable families in the community.

The next generation of piglets will be passed on to vulnerable families in the community.

Social assistance is part of the mandate of the MAVISALO and so some of the income also helps to pay secondary school fees for orphans and vulnerable students from the community. That is part of Sharing the Gift and paying-it-forward to benefit the community in the long run by education its youth.

“The other most important activity done with this fund,” reports MAVISALO leader Canaan Gondwe, “is the implementation of the Pig Pass On Project in the eight zones of the cooperative.” At the end of the year the cooperative had enough in the social fund to purchase twelve pigs!

The piglets are now in the care of the zone leaders, who are charged with watching and breeding them. Canaan Gondwe, who is experienced in pig rearing, is also helping to insure that the pigs are healthy and growing. Once the pigs have their first offspring, piglets will be given out to the most vulnerable households in each zone.

Pigs represent a big investment in Malawi, much more than a cup of coffee. This Pig Pass On Project, then, is a huge gift given to those in the community who need it most. The MAVISALO members realize they have received a great gift through SIA and they in turn are helping families with HIV/AIDS, widows, and orphan-led families to give them a chance to thrive.

How’s that for a story to remind us of goodness and generosity in the world?

More about MAVISALO:

Traveling in Kenya

Traveling in Kenya
Kids at Samro School and Empowering Lives International play baseball in the mud.

Kids at Samro School and Empowering Lives International play baseball in the mud.

For World Storytelling Day on Thrusday, and as a way of officially announcing my trip to Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda this July, I wrote down a story from my last trip in 2011.

We visited Eldoret in the rainy season of August 2011. The rain falls almost every day and the dirt roads, once they can no longer absorb any more water, become mud pits, with trenches of water flowing on either side and rivers crossing the path. 

With this reality it is best to learn early on that there can be no rush when traveling in Kenya.

Birthday party! Kiprop with his wife and her brother.

Birthday party! Kiprop with his wife and her brother.

One afternoon, Dennis Kiprop, took us to visit his wife and family. Dennis, who is one of SIA’s Small Business Fund coordinators, had just organized and led our 4-day Coordinator’s Conference, which gathered SIA partners from Uganda, DR Congo, Rwanda, and Malawi together in Eldoret. He has an energetic personality and likes to see the world as a glass half-full with blessings abounding around him.

After the party – he hadn’t told us it was his wife and brother-in-law’s birthday that day – Laban, Boyd, and I climbed into the Jeep from Samuel Teimuge’s Ukweli Training Centre, where Dennis works as a host and event manager, to head back to our lodgings. We set off without a care in the world, thinking not about the drive, but the moment we’d be back at the Centre.

Before there was really time to react or think, we found that the left side of the vehicle was sliding off the muddy road into the river that was the road shoulder. Laban tried going forward and back to get back up the embankment. We were able to go forward a bit, but we soon found ourselves in a river running across the road. We would just have to push forward until we reached the other side of the river.

Boyd and the road of water.

Boyd and the road of water.

Skidding forward and back.
No traction.
Water right up to the exhaust pipe.
Mud sludge seeping under the side doors to meet our feet.

To get across would require more than machine power. Boyd got out of the car to push. But there was still not enough for the tires to grip. There was a woman and two teenage boys walking down the road and Laban called out to them. They dropped their bundles and came over. Now all four were pushing, rocking, dragging the jeep. I held up my feet and prayed.

Soon (actually, it wasn’t very soon – it was at least half-hour later), by sheer force they managed to get the jeep to where it could gain traction and drive on. We shouted with joy and called our thanks to the helpers! Boyd was wet up to his waist and drained from the experience.


The jeep getting packed up the next day. It still works!

The jeep getting packed up the next day. It still works!

It is a classic travel story: at the time of the event I only noticed the stress and it was only with time that it became a story to tell. But even right after we were safe I realized how amazing it was to meet people who were willing to drop what they were doing to help us out.

I came to depend on that kindness of strangers when traveling in Kenya and Malawi. There were plenty of hiccups along the way – broken down buses, missed connections, roadblocks – but just as often there were people to help. 

This July, I will return to meet SIA partners in Kenya and Malawi (and Uganda this time). And I’m sure I’ll have many more moments when I’ll be reminded that travel is a practice of going with the flow and expecting angels along the way.

Related Posts:

Are we master builders or workers in this world?

Hastings and Ruth with sturdy bricks for their house. (Malawi)

Hastings and Ruth with sturdy bricks for their house. (Malawi)

Parable of the 3 Stonecutters

An old story tells of three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, ‘I am making a living.’ The second kept on hammering while he said, ‘I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.’ The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, ‘I am building a cathedral.’

(Source: Straight to Go blog)

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador Prayer

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying that
the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

That is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

(Source: US Conference of Catholic Bishops)


Workers or Master Builders?

These two stories have both been sources of inspiration to me. And it was only today that I realized that they seem to give opposing messages.

Should we live our lives like the third stonecutter? Always with our mind trained towards the final vision? Looking toward the end goal of increased equality, improved lives, and a decrease in disease, war, and poverty?

Or do we keep in mind that we can only do the work that is right in front of us? Remind ourselves that the full vision is beyond our vision and that we are only laying the foundation.

Nyend Edwade with a brick mold.

Nyend Edwade, small business leader in Uganda, with a brick mold.

Like Romero says, there is a sense of relief when we acknowledge that we cannot do everything. It’s useful for me to acknowledge this when the problems of the world get too big and I feel overwhelmed by the long road toward the cathedral. It’s at those moments – blinking in the face of the world’s problems – that I can put my head down and take time instead to talk to a friend, rebuild my strength, and find the inner silence.

But too much time looking down can make me wonder what I’m working for! What am I expecting to change down the line, after these years of effort?

With that clear vision of the cathedral, I see how each stone, each small grant, each email to a SIA partner, each resource on chicken-rearing and bee-keeping that I send out, is part of that growing network of people with a hope, a dream for a better life.

Pulling back a little further, I can also see how Spirit in Action is one small, sturdy, well-honed stone important to the design of the whole cathedral.

So, some days I will be a worker with Archbishop Oscar Romero (could you ask for a better co-worker at the table to social justice work?). And other days I will work alongside the master builder at the cathedral, chatting together as we cut stone about what it will be like when the grand building is completed and all are singing with joy, love, and pride at what we have built together. 

A transformative education

Learning computer skills on the computers purchased with a SIA Community Grant

Learning computer skills on the computers purchased with a SIA Community Grant

I saw an inspiring film last month. It wasn’t one that won an Oscar. Rather, it was a documentary about a pair of architects who taught high school students in rural North Carolina about how to design and build things.

With the motto “Design. Build. Transform,” If You Build It wasn’t about a regular ol’ shop class. The “shop class +”  introduced the students to concepts like design, creative solutions, model-building, incorporating feedback, and using their hands to make the final product. Students who weren’t comfortable drawing stick-figures at the beginning were amazed at what they could design and build together.

Together they made a beautiful, functional farmer’s market space for their town and it was so exciting to see the town embrace the finished project.

What was really inspiring, though, was to see the transformation in the students and the newly-felt  sense of pride, accomplishment, and confidence.

So what does this have to do with Spirit in Action? Halfway across the world from North Carolina, Samro Polytechnic School is also providing technical training – with a blend of creativity and craftsmanship – in Eldoret, Kenya.

Samro Poly students in front of a classroom.

Samro Poly students in front of a classroom.

“We are going to make a difference in Kenya by producing professionals out of Grade 8 graduates,” announces Director Samuel Teimuge. So far there are twelve students (9 girls and 3 boys), many who graduated from 8th grade and were unable to attend a traditional high school, because of their grades or inability to pay the fees. The technical school gives these students an opportunity to continue their education and to transform their lives and communities.

Students will take classes for one full year, learning tailoring, sewing, and/or computer skills. Each of these skills are marketable and valuable. Already, there is high demand for Samro Poly-made school uniforms for schools in the area!

Those students who come from other villages, or who don’t have family, can live in dorms onsite. The dorms are ready for use but students will use their design and building skills to help construct kitchen building.

Kennedy Onyango, future  tailor

Kennedy Onyango, future tailor

One new student is Kennedy Onyango. Kennedy is 20 years old and he traveled from Lake Victoria, which is six hours away, to get to Eldoret. Both his parents died before he was 10 and his grandmother, who was caring for him, died in 2012. His goal is to start tailoring business and become self-employed.

A SIA grant, and the strong, nurturing leadership of Samuel and the other Samro Poly teachers is helping to make this goal a reality. 

For more about Samro Polytechnic students, read about Gladys, a Kenyan woman who gave up her illegal brewing business to learn how to sew

Watch the If You Build Ittrailer. 

Samro Poly students play volleyball after classes are done for the day.

Samro Poly students play volleyball after classes are done for the day.

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