A different way to keep girls in school

A different way to keep girls in school

When we listen to the needs and solutions of the community, instead of providing our own answers, we sometimes hear something we wouldn’t expect. Such was the case of Hope for Relief Organization in northern Malawi. They want to help more girls stay in school and instead of providing new classrooms or school fees, their solution is to provide girls with cloth feminine pads. Having the reusable pads means that the girls don’t miss school during their menstrual periods. A simple solution that I would not have considered a year ago!

Sarah Simwaka, age 13, is in 7th grade at Phalasito Primary School. She is one of 1,282 girls who have each received at least ten feminine pads (called “fem pads” in Malawi) from Hope for Relief.

An orientation at Phalasito primary school shows the girls how to use and wash the reusable fem pads.

The road has not been easy for Sarah. “I am a second-born daughter in a family of five. My father died when I was six years old and mother died when l was nine.” Sarah and her siblings are now being raised by her grandfather who provides food and a place to sleep but cannot afford their education costs. Sarah used to do small jobs to support herself. “Each time after classes, l used to go to the nearby forest and fetch firewood. l would sell that to get money for pads, school uniform, and school supplies. Thanks to Hope for Relief Organization, now I am free.” Sarah is now happily attending school.

She is one of 1,282 girls who have received fem pads from Hope for Relief.

In addition to the fem pads, Sarah also receives emotional support through Hope for Relief. She told one of the Hope for Relief counselors that her family was hoping to arrange a marriage for her, so that they could get the dowry. The legal age of marriage in Malawi is 18, so it would be illegal for her to marry now. The counselor encouraged Sarah to report any marriage arrangements or family challenges to the school leaders. The head teachers, who are respected and have influence with community members, have promised to watch out for Sarah.

SIA is very honored be part of this holistic support of girls in Malawi. By listening to community solutions, we are supporting simple and innovative ways of empowering girls.

Tanya admiring some of the fem pads made by Salome in Malawi.

Tanya meeting with Richard and Hastings, two leaders of Hope for Relief. The organization is youth-led!

 

Beyond Grants: Rebuilding After Conflict

Beyond Grants: Rebuilding After Conflict

Rebuilding a life and a community after years of conflict, violence, and trauma is no easy task. The pain doesn’t go away immediately. The healing doesn’t happen automatically. Those who remain must figure out the way forward.

The Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) is helping with this rebuilding, with more than just cash grants. Naomi Ayot is the coordinator for SBF in the Kole District in Uganda. This is where the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted girls in 1996 and years of conflict broke up families and forced people into refugee camps. Many of the families in the area are missing family members, with many women now in charge of running households.

The Small Business Fund provides grants of $150 and business training. And it also is providing psychological support through peer support groups and encouragement.

Members from different SBF groups meet to discuss their businesses and lives.

Turning Lives Around

Imat Milly is the main breadwinner in her family. During the peak of the conflict with the LRA, when it was no longer safe to stay at home, her family moved into a camp for Internally Displaced People. When the violence ended, they settled into a grass roofed house.

Now, with their successful farming business – growing food for sale, in addition to home consumption – they have built a iron-roofed house!

Imat Milly proudly stands next to her new house.

Imat has also bought a plow, so that they don’t have to plow by hand anymore! They are producing better quality and quantity of crops now. They have even adopted a five year-old girl and paying for her school fees. This generous act of caring for children in need is just part of rebuilding community after conflict. 

“She thinks her life has really turned around,” reported Naomi. The sentiment is perhaps understated, but the satisfaction and joy in Naomi’s voice told me just how big this change is for Imat and her family.

Thinking Beyond Basic Needs

I wrote in April how Samsa used the profit from her agricultural business to send her daughter to pre-primary (nursery) school. When I met with Naomi in May, she told me again how much that meant to Samsa.

When Samsa’s daughter finished the school year, the school had graduation and Samsa was so proud to see her daughter receive the honors and be able to move onto primary school! For this community in rebuilding mode, education has not been a priority. However, Naomi reported that part of the success of SIA is that our program, “helps them think beyond basic needs to think about education.”

Naomi Ayot is the wonderful SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Uganda. She mentors others with passion and skill.

Counseling for Healing

In addition to these business successes, Naomi and her team on the ground in Kole District have created a spiritual counseling group, for anyone in the community who wants to join. SBF members and those who have not yet been chosen for grants come together to share about their challenges and to motivate each other to move forward. When I met with Naomi in May, she told me that these groups were helping to reduce domestic violence and levels of alcoholism in the group members.

SIA is on-going,” says Naomi. “It not just a one-off project. This encourages teamwork and cooperation between families.” Rather than competing against each other, SIA SBF groups are working together, sharing their grief and joy, and helping to rebuild their community in the wake of conflict.

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).

The Faces of Kenya’s Future

The Faces of Kenya’s Future

“Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children.” ― Walt Disney

Spirit in Action is investing in this natural resource by supporting students at Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge’s Samro School in Kenya. A SIA Community Grant in November will pay for school fees and lunch for four students, and also cover the tuition and board for eight boarding students. Samro is not only a place to learn, it is also a loving environment which gives the students hope and builds their self-esteem.

Marion Jelagat graduated from Samro School three years ago and is now studying at Kessup Girls High School, where Rhoda Teimue also went to high school! It is a good school and Marion does well in her academics. In her extracurricular activities she does public speaking. Last semester she was one of the best speakers in her county. She is also a Narrative Speaker and performed the best poem in her county. The poem was entitled, “Education is the only weapon that can fight the society.” About 2,400 people listened to her and you can imagine the impact!

Faith Jepkoech is in pre-kindergarten. She was abandoned by her family and has been welcomed into another family near Samro School. The family who is caring for her is also struggling to provide for their other children, and so they requested that Faith board at Samro School for the term. The SIA grant is paying for her studies.

Greflo Koech is in 4th Grade. His mother passed away and his father is struggling to take care of his four other children.

Valentine Jepkoech is in pre-kindergarten. Her family has five children and they are struggling to provide for their basic needs. They are unable to pay the school fees.

Hariet Jebotip is in 3rd Grade. She comes from a family of five children. Her parents are very poor and they struggle to provide food and other basic needs.

Paul Karanja is now in 7th Grade. We have supported Paul in his studies at Samro for 4th years! He has a dream to be an engineer and earn enough so that he can buy a piece of land for his mother and build her a permanent house.

We wish all the students at Samro School a good year! May they grow and develop into bright and caring youth!

Bonus: I found this blog post about the Kenyan school system very helpful! Do you know what Middle Class means? It’s not what you think…

A Better Way to do Education in Kenya

A Better Way to do Education in Kenya

Arsons have burned over 100 public high schools in Kenya this year, affecting over 6,000 students. These aren’t terrorist attacks. It seems to be the work of some of the students themselves. And speculation about possible motivations is flying around without any clear conclusions.

What is clear is that this is very bad news for the government schools that are already underfunded and overcrowded. It also clearly highlights the value of supporting good schools like Samro School.

Rhoda Teimuge in Oakland in June.

Rhoda Teimuge in Oakland in June.

A Dream Come True

When Rhoda Teimuge, director of Samro School, spoke at our 20th Anniversary party in June, she shared how a dream called her to start the school. Two years after the dream, in 1998, the school opened. And it took on the special mission of serving the mind, body, and spirit of each student.

“The only thing that lasts a lifetime is what is in your brain – education,” Rhoda said, her strong voice conveying her passion and dedication to the work. Many of the students, some of whom are orphans from the adjacent Empowering Lives International, are dealing with challenges outside the school and so the encouragement and mentoring at Samro School are essential to their success.

The newer kitchen and dining room for the students when it is raining. The dining room doesn't have tables or seats yet but it keeps the students dry.

The newer kitchen and dining room for the students when it is raining. The dining room doesn’t have tables or seats yet but it keeps the students dry.

Student and Teacher Success

This past year, SIA grants to Samro helped pay school fees and support the teachers. Paul Karanja, a 6th grader, recently came to Samro from another school. He is older than most of his classmates and has some challenges reading, affecting his confidence. Rhoda reports that the teachers are giving him extra attention to help him improve.

The SIA grant covers the room and board and school fees for Gloria Jepchuma, a 7th grader. She is the school’s head girl and very active in classes and after school. However, Rhoda reports, family issues are disrupting her studies. It’s not just enough to pay for school. True caring and encouragement are critical to better future for Kenya.

Teachers are central to creating this nurturing environment. Rhoda met with them to discuss raising the standards of the school. She came away from the meeting encouraged. “They have even offered themselves to do their best in dealing with slow learners and also to develop talents amongst the students. They have come up with ideas to help learners broaden their minds through various Clubs like Gardening, Environment, Home Economics, Poultry, Animal Raring, Debate, and Christian Union. Teachers want to have Samro to be the best School.

It’s clear that dedicated teachers, a caring administrator, and encouraged students will make for a good and safe learning environment.

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