Inspiration from Kenya: Change, one step at a time

Inspiration from Kenya: Change, one step at a time

At the blessing of the piglet ceremony in Malawi in May, all the guests were invited to share some words of inspiration and encouragement. The assembled group included members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative where were gifting the pig, the boy receiving the gift, and Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinators from Kenya, Uganda, and other parts of Malawi. In turn, each offered prayers, words of gratitude, or Bible passages.

This piglet was given by the community organization to a promising young boy in the neighborhood. A cooperative member presents the piglet to be blessed.

Soft-spoken and earnest Dennis Kiprop from Kenya stepped into the circle and greeted the group. He had a story to tell us, a story of encouragement. He spoke in English, with fellow SIA SBF Coordinator Thomas Nkhonde from Malawi, interpreting into the local language, Tumbuka, for the rest of the group. 

Dennis Shares a Story:

This is a story about a ten-year-old boy playing on sand along the beach. As he was playing, he noticed that the tides were pushing little starfish up onto the shore and into the scorching sun.

The boy paused to watch and felt he should help in some way. He started throwing the little starfish back into the ocean. As he did this, an old man who had been watching from a distance approached the boy.

The old man looked at the boy and said, “Young boy, what are you doing?” The young boy replied so humbly, “I’m throwing the starfish back to the ocean, to keep them alive.” The old man looked at the boy and at the long beach filled with scorching starfish. He shook his head and said to the young boy, “No matter how long you do this, you won’t really make any progress.”

The young boy looked into the old man’s eyes. He picked up one more star fish and said, “this one matters.”

Here is the moral to the story: We can’t solve all the problems in the world at one time, but one little thing counts, day by day!

Thank you, Dennis, for sharing your optimism and hope with Spirit in Action!

Dennis Kiprop, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator from Kenya, always had a motivational story to share with the group!

Taking a selfie with a cow

Taking a selfie with a cow

“The camera is right here!” I try – successfully! – to get a selfie with a cow at a Megabridge Foundation farm in Kenya. After our visit, Joseph wrote: “We appreciate that you found time to visit our project. Your team was the first “Wazungu” (Swahili for white people) to visit a homestead in the village; a particular honor to the family that hosted the team. The team’s visit to the project has elicited a lot of publicity and interest among the community wishing to learn among others more about the project.”

Lucky Nylenda, his wife, and I try to pose with their uncooperative calf. Lucky is a member of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative. He has used the low-interest loans to expand his flocks of goats, chickens, and guinea fowls.

Finally got a better picture of him! This cute calf was just two days old when we met him. His mother can produce 10-15L per day of milk, which can sell for $3-4! A cow can sell for $275-325.

Chickens for Sale

Chickens outside the Matungu Community Development Charity poultry house in Mumias, Kenya. When I visited in June, the heavy rains were delaying the construction progress. Now it is done and housing 250 hybrid chickens! Chickens sell for $7 each. The profit from the chickens will add to the group’s loan fund.

Evans Okumu, secretary of the Matungu Community Development Charity, shoveling the high-quality chicken feed into bags. Vincent Atitwa, the group’s chairperson, writes: “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must but take the step. I believe we have taken the step together with SIA.”

Piglets for Women

Visiting the Megabridge Foundation piggery in June! A Spirit in Action grant helped the organization buy top quality breeding stock and construct a pig pen to keep the animals healthy and dry. The piggery holds up to 50 pigs. The sows eat a healthy diet of ground oatmeal, corn, and fish. 

Piglets will be distributed to women in the community soon, once the heavy rains die down. Most of the women in the area pick tea leaves as day laborers. A piglet is a significant increase in wealth for a family.

One more for the road….

cows on the road in Malawi

A familiar scene from the trip: sharing the dusty road with cattle. Malawi, 2017.

P.S. If you want to see my selfie with a cow, click over to our Facebook or Instagram page. 🙂 

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Today’s story of Small Business Fund success in Kenya is about more than monetary success. Sister Magrina, who received a Small Business Fund grant in 2014, is using her success to encourage and empower women in a very rural, isolated part of Kenya.

Mike Hegeman, SIA Advisory Board member who traveled to Kenya with me, wrote about the inspiring life of Sister Magrina. The following is excerpted from his sermon, “Our Uncommon Life.”

I recently returned from spending six weeks in the developing world, in countries such as the Philippines, Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya. And in each place I encountered common people of faith living in uncommon ways.

One such person was Sister Magrina. It took us several hours to reach her, down a winding highway from the lush, fertile highlands of northwest Kenya, into the arid and seemingly desolate lowlands of the Rift Valley, an hour’s journey down a shockingly bumpy road, then a twenty minute hike into the brush, all to find a woman dressed humbly in a blue habit and shod with a worn pair of laceless sneakers, sitting under a tree in the limited, but much desirable shade, holding in one hand an outdated cellphone and in the other a bunch of rocks which she would throw one by one to keep the birds out of her withering crops.

Sister Magrina, Dennis Kiprop (SIA-SBF Local Coordinator), Mike Hegeman, Ursula, and her daughter, Chebit, on Sr. Magrina’s farm.

Sister Magrina is a nun with degrees in counselling and addiction therapy, who had given up the “comforts” of her highlands home to come live among the poor of this most forgettable village on the edge of nowhere. Just a smattering of mud huts and farms, with no running water and no latrines; only a paltry stream to water the vast desert valley.

Sister Magrina had come here to plant a farm, not for herself, but to have a reason to be closest to some of Kenya’s most vulnerable people. Here in this village spousal violence is rampant, alcoholism legion and malnutrition ubiquitous. Sister Magrina sits by her crops, and when women of the village or children wander by, she invites them to sit and pass the time of day. She listens to their woes, how evil has befallen them and scourge has come near their tents. She quietly teaches them about ways they can support themselves when their husbands are off drinking and neglecting support for them and their children. She teaches them how to grow kitchen gardens and about helpful hygiene techniques. She encourages the children to stay in school.

Women and children who pass by Sister Magrina’s hut are greeted and welcomed over for a cookie.

She is the presence of God’s love in that place; the God who promises to be with us, is present in that place through a sister willing to live in a mud hut, drink from a simple stream, and hope to teach people to create a sustainable way of living for themselves.

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Drinking warm coca-cola and eating cookies with Sister Magrina in Kerio Valley, Kenya.

More than anything else, she teaches them about love, and thereby teaches them about faith in God. Sister Magrina says, “In this place, I am not a Catholic; I am not a Protestant. I am one who comes in Christ’s love to make a difference; I have come to a place where no one else will come…to be among God’s people…even if they don’t know yet that who they are.” Sister Magrina lives a pretty uncommon life. Her work bears witness to God’s salvation, God’s delivering grace.

When first we came upon Sister Magrina, we were strangers. Yet, she set out burlap sacks for us to sit upon the dusty ground. Warm Coca-Cola appeared, along with some fruit and crackers. We fellowshipped in the dappled shade, still sweating, and we listened to an uncommon woman, express her uncommon faith, embodying hospitality to strangers…with children in her lap and at her feet.

Sister Magrina shows Tanya her beans and watermelon plants. The crops are dry-farmed, relying on rain.

Pray for Kenyan Elections Today!

Pray for Kenyan Elections Today!

Today is the day that Kenyans are electing their next president, governors, and local representatives. In the presidential race, there is fierce competition between the incumbent Mr. Kenyatta (Jubilee Party), and the opposition, Mr. Odinga (Orange Democratic Movement). There are many other candidates running and unless one person can secure more than 50% of the votes there will have to be another round of voting.

Everywhere that I visited in Kenya (in June), I saw huge political rallies in fields and heard political messages blared through loudspeakers on the back of trucks. Political posters were plastered to walls, shops, and street signs. Everyone was praying for peace.

Driving past a political rally near Maua, Kenya in June.

Prayers for Peace

We attended church in Nairobi. Prayers for peaceful elections were part of the service. Cards with the prayers sat in the pews, next to the songbooks. “We pray for our current and future leaders to work for the common good and prosperity of our country, that justice shall be our shield and defender.”

Prayer for Peaceful Elections. Flora Hostel, Nairobi.

This morning, I received an update from Joe Gichoni – one of the leaders of our partner, Megabridge Foundation:

“We thank God that the much awaited day is here with us. It is 4am and people have started queuing to start voting at 6am. There are not any reported unusual incidences yet and we do not anticipate any to arise in Jesus name. Thank you for keeping our country before the Mighty God.”

Margaret Ikiara, leader of the grassroots organization CIFORD Kenya, posted a prayer on her Facebook wall:

“Today Kenyans go for general elections to elect our leaders. It’s a God given opportunity to have a very peaceful country. May we vote wisely and remember after today we need our beloved country. We need our neighbours, sisters, and brothers, and need our future to grow to greatness. Let us make our dreams. Kenya is a name, County is you. Take care of our beloved country. Love you Kenyans, Love Kenya. God bless Kenya.”

I invite you to join me in praying for peace and a free and fair election. I am also praying that the next government will be dedicated to reducing poverty for all, rather than resorting to corruption and kickbacks to their supporters. God bless Kenya!

Follow the Election

For more information – and some good pictures – check out these news stories:

Why does it matter?

Why does it matter?

Droughts. Climate change. Tough farming conditions. Human rights violations. Self-expression denied. This week, two news stories highlighted how important the work of Spirit in Action is to combat these devastating realities.

New York Times: Loss of Fertile Land in Kenya

“More than in any other region of the world, people in Africa live off the land. There are relatively few industrial or service jobs here. Seventy percent of Africa’s population makes a living through agriculture, higher than on any other continent, the World Bank says.

“But as the population rises, with more siblings competing for their share of the family farm, the slices are getting thinner. In many parts of Africa, average farm size is just an acre or two, and after repeated divisions of the same property, some people are left trying to subsist on a sliver of a farm that is not much bigger than a tennis court.

“Fast-growing populations mean that many African families can’t afford to let land sit fallow and replenish. They have to take every inch of their land and farm or graze it constantly. This steadily lowers the levels of organic matter in the soil, making it difficult to grow crops.

“In many areas, the soil is so dried out and exhausted that there is little solace even when the prayed-for rains finally come. The ground is as hard as concrete and the rain just splashes off, like a hose spraying a driveway.” (Link to full article.)

SIA Partners in Action

SIA partners like CIFROD Kenya are helping to address the challenge of concrete-like soil. When I visited many CIFORD gardens last month in Maua, Kenya, I saw how CIFORD’s sustainable agriculture training helps farmers to break up the soil, replenish the nutrients with manure, and reduce water usage. (Read my blog post “How to garden in a drought” here.)

One of the grateful farmers we visited in Kenya. After implementing the sustainable agriculture techniques he learned from CIFORD, he noticed now much more he can grow.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative also trains members to use manure and compost, and to intercrop their crops by alternating rows of beans and corn. The corn pulls nitrogen from the soil, and the beans help add it back into the soil. This can improve the soil and also increase the farm yields.

BBC: Mass arrests of gay people in Nigeria

“More than 40 men have been arrested in Nigeria over the weekend for performing homosexual acts, police say. Nigerian newspaper Punch reports that the police raided a hotel in Lagos State on Saturday afternoon and says the hotel was cordoned off while the investigation was carried out.

“Homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Nigeria, while gay marriage and displays of same-sex affection are also banned.” (Link to full article.)

The situation is similar in Uganda, where gay and lesbian people have no legal protection and there are laws banning gay marriage. Extreme social stigma and threat of physical violence means that it takes great courage to be out as LGBT.

Spirit in Action is in the early stages of partnering with Universal Love Ministries (ULM), a grassroots organization to end violence against women and LGBT people in Uganda. ULM delivers seminars in schools, churches, and communities creating awareness on human rights for women, children and sexual minorities.

I see the work of ULM as an important part of SIA’s mission to help everyone know that they are spiritual beings and that we all hold the divine within us.

Sharon Kukunda shares about why she works with ULM in Uganda:

These two news stories remind me that the work we are supporting is not trivial. It is about life and death. SIA’s partners are boldly helping people live better lives, with enough food to eat, and the right to be safe. Thank you for joining us in supporting this work.

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