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Mud on the Road – Adventures during the SIA Coordinator Conference

After the minibus could make it no further along the muddy road, we all got out to walk the rest of the way. Dennis Kiprop, always cheerful and positive, told us that it wouldn’t be too much further. Three-quarters of an hour later, with muddy shoes and cold toes, I and the other thirteen SIA Conference attendees finally made it the house of Rose Ayabei.

Our minibus couldn't make it any further up the muddy hill, so we got out to walk.

Our minibus couldn't make it any further up the muddy hill, so we got out to walk.

After a morning of meeting at the Ukweli Training Center in Eldoret, Kenya this past August, Dennis was taking the group of SIA partners and Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators from all over Africa to meet some of his enthusiastic SBF group leaders in the area. I use the phrase “in the area” loosely because we soon realized that Rose’s family lived at quite a distance from Dennis’s home in downtown Eldoret.

Dedicated Volunteers

It was sometime during the hour-long bus ride to Rose’s that I came to appreciate the devotion and dedication of our SBF Coordinators. Dennis had made this long journey more than a few times over the yearlong period that SIA follows the new SBF businesses. He continues to make the journey both because Rose is always inviting him come see the progress and because he is committed to supporting the new business leaders and encouraging them in their endeavors.

Our SBF Coordinators work as volunteers for SIA and receive stipends from SIA to cover their expenses (for travel, internet use, postage, etc.), as well as respect from their neighbors and communities for the work they do to bring development to the area through the Small Business Fund. Ms. Nalu Prossy, the SBF Coordinator from Uganda said at the conference, “I do that work as a volunteer because it is in my heart, I have that spirit of helping others.” When she meets with new groups for business and skills training, “I help them, encourage them, share the work with them, comfort the widows.”

Tanya Cothran and Nalu Prossy walking in the mud.

Tanya Cothran and Nalu Prossy walking in the mud.

Valuable Conference

The conference this summer in Kenya, supported by SIA donors, was an important time for SIA partners and SBF Coordinators to share, learn, and grow together. We met for four days, reviewing training materials, addressing common challenges, developing African leadership, and planning for further collaboration after we all returned home. I heard beautiful stories of communities flourishing through SIA SBF and the Sharing the Gift program, which spreads the impact of SIA even further into the community. I also heard concerns about the cost of traveling to monitor the groups and after making the long journey to see Rose’s poultry house, I began to understand the length that the Coordinators go to make SIA SBF groups feel supported and encouraged.

Coordinators walking on the muddy road.

SIA partners walking on the muddy road.

Even though it was costly to bring all the Coordinators to Kenya for the week, the benefits far outweighed the costs. I left the gathering with a real sense of gratitude that we were able to meet each other in person and establish an even stronger sense of community among the SIA partners. The coordinators developed connections among themselves and they are working to build resources that will help each of them in their work with SIA. One of the requests that came out of the meeting was to build an online community so that they can keep in touch with the whole group until we meet again –hopefully in a few years!  Canaan Gondwe, from Malawi, expressed his gratitude at the end of the conference, “Thanks to the SIA board and donors – it was not easy to bring us here. For some it was the first time to get into a plane, and the first time to come to Kenya. Thank you, thank you, so much. Yewo chimene.”

New shared experiences

The trudge through the mud to Rose’s poultry farm was longer than expected and the SIA partners, now friends with partners from other countries, caught each other as they started to slip, cheered as they finally reached the minibus, and even washed off my shoes for me after we got back to our rooms! Dennis said that Boyd and I had now had a true “African experience” and, more importantly, it helped the group create a strong bond of support and mutual respect.

Jack, Canaan, and Tanya walk up the muddy hill.

We finally make it back to the minibus!

Washing Tanya's muddy shoes

Washing Tanya's muddy shoes

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