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Seeing each other as humans

This is adapted from part of a sermon by Tanya Cothran to the United Methodist Church in Point Richmond, CA, in October 2022. Read more of the sermon here.

It’s a cliché and true sentiment that a silver lining of the pandemic lockdowns was the widespread use of video calls for connecting with people far away. While I couldn’t travel to Eastern Africa for the last few years, Spirit in Action began hosting Zoom sessions with our Grant Partners. Over the previous twelve months, I’ve hosted five sessions, including storytelling and reporting training. Next week, I’ll host a call to kick off the year, where SIA Grant Partners can meet each other and share about their work.

quote from Audre Lorde
Inspiration during the workshop on pitching your project

During one Zoom session last year, Musa, from Kakuuto Development Initiative, joined from his rooftop! When it was his turn to check in, he said, “you may see the tops of trees behind me; that’s because I’m up on my roof, where I can get better reception for this call!” It was so heart-warming to see his dedication to attending the session.

In September, I held a workshop about grant writing with about twenty-five people from Eastern Africa. After going through my presentation, I invited others to share their tips for successful grant applications. Margaret Ikiara, Director of Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD) in central Kenya, spoke up. She is a force to reckon with and has advocated well for the women in her community – receiving grants from the Global Fund for Women and the Soroptimists for water tanks and sustainable agriculture training. (They live in a very dry part of Kenya, which is drastically affected by the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa.)

group of Kenyans smiling
Margaret Ikiara, on the left end, leads trainings for local community-based organizations in central Kenya

On the Zoom call, Margaret advised her fellow grant-seekers to see the grant funders (for example, those of us at SIA) as real humans. “Sometimes we look at the partner as if they are not a real human being, maybe as if they were a machine. But I want to remind people that this is about making friends and building a relationship with them.”

She shared how her persistence and patience in slowly building a friendship with a grant officer led to an invitation to apply for a large grant. This is valuable advice for the grant-seekers and was also good for me to hear. It’s always important for me (for those in North America) to remember that real humans are behind each grant application. And it was good for me to remember that some people see me as a disembodied machine!

With her words, I was reminded to consciously show up as a warm presence and true partner in my communications with Grant Partners. In between the special times that I get to meet partners in person, these Zoom meetings help us all get to know each other on a human level so that we can build trust and camaraderie as we work together for a better world.

Zoom window
Zoom call with SIA Grant Partners from all across Eastern Africa!

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