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"Together We Can"                                        SIA visits Transformers Mathare

"Together We Can" SIA visits Transformers Mathare

In the middle of the Mathare informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, where people live very close together in informally constructed houses without utility services, is the vibrant SIA Grant Partner Transformers Mathare . The organization is led by the passionate Jack Owuor, who grew up in Mathare and now coordinates tailoring and carpentry vocational programs. He radiated positivity as he pointed out the inspirational quotes painted on classroom walls and smiled.  “You only lose when you give up. Remember this a thousand times.”  Jack, Transformer Mathare Founder and African Advisory Board member Naomi celebrate the positive messages of empowerment and hope that are featured around the space. This week, the AAB members from Uganda, Canada, and other parts of Kenya gathered to review and dream for SIA programs. Each afternoon, we visited SIA Grant Partners in the area as a learning exchange and encouragement for Grant Partners.  On Tuesday, the SIA African Advisory Board (AAB),  Kathleen (SIA Board President), and Tanya (SIA Executive Director) made our way down the busy roads in a big van to meet Jack and the members of Transformers Mathare. We saw the small shops, well situated along the road (rather than down the dirt paths into the settlement), where they run sewing and carpentry classes for anyone who wants to attend. Practical skills enable youth without many other opportunities to seek employment or start their own businesses. (Mathare has 300,000-500,000 people and only two public schools!)  Tanya, Kathleen, and AAB members visit SIA grant partner Transformers Mathare We met Miriam Nyakworo, a young mother of two who found Transformers through Facebook and said she wanted to learn tailoring skills . She didn’t know how to sew at all, but over six months, she learned to sew uniforms. When she finished the first course, Jack invited her to join the advanced class to learn how to make toiletry and tote bags. Now, she is training other young women (and a few men) to make the bags. When we visited, Miriam demonstrated how they make matching buttons for the uniforms using a button machine! After seeing the training studios, we met three of the savings and loan groups that have received business training and coordination support from Transformers. Each AAB member introduced themselves and shared encouraging words with the young women. Wow—we have some good storytellers and motivators on our team!   Margaret Ikiara, AAB member and Founder of CIFORD Kenya, giving a motivational talk to the savings and loans groups coordinating by Transformers Thank you to Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park, CA, for supporting the fabric for Transformers Mathare.   Interested in hearing more about Tanya's Kenya trip? Join us this Saturday, April 20, for a live Zoom where Tanya will share stories about her trip so far!

Valuing Hard-to-Measure Impact

Valuing Hard-to-Measure Impact

“We know it’s hard for you to see the outcomes of our work because it’s not like we can show you piglets or a building or anything,” the Empowering Communities as Actors for Transforming Societies (e-CATS) team told me during our catch-up call last month. However, after so many years working with SIA Grant Partners, we know that even when there are tangible, measurable outcomes, they might not be the most important outcomes. Seeing Empowerment “Empowerment” is a huge and nebulous goal, but one of its aspects is helping people see themselves in a new light and finding power within that they can use to direct their lives. The video below from CIFORD Kenya ’s workshop on girls’ empowerment in Meru, Kenya, ends with an example of empowerment beginning to take root. Watch the video , and at minute four, hear the young women proclaim, “I am a leader!” This display of a changed mentality may be the first small step toward the ultimate goal of a changed society with gender equality. For the Visionary Women’s Centre’s (VWC) Mother’s Support Group in western Kenya, it’s the intangible, difficult-to-measure benefits that are deeply important . After sharing the easily measured outcome of how much they saved in their piggy banks, the VWC members shared stories of lives changed through the program. “More than once, when asked how the project has helped them, women will say that before the Mother’s Support Group, they were ordered around and didn’t have any status in the household,” shared Lizette Gilday, one of the VWC leaders. “Now, the women have vegetables, chickens, goats, and cows and can pay for their children and grandchildren’s schooling, and that brings status and standing within their family. One woman said that this status also improved her self-image; now, she is a granny who is smart and educating her children and grandchildren.” Visionary Women's Center members receive their new savings pots (piggy banks) for the year, balancing them on their heads in a playful moment. Seeing change To try to capture some data about intangible changes, Universal Love Alliance (ULA) in Uganda did baseline surveys at their workshop for men who have perpetrated domestic violence. At the beginning of the session, all 27 attendees agreed that “a man’s choice should be accepted as the decision within the family and implemented without question.” During the workshop, the ULA leaders talked about different types of power, including power over, power to, power with, and power within. “After these presentations, the men were split into groups to determine whether they had learned something new. Each person shared with his group members what he learned during the sessions. They demonstrated reception to the ideas presented about living in harmony with their wives, and they laughed with each other as each shared the mistakes and hurt they had caused their wives out of ignorance.” The ULA team will follow up with the men and their wives in another two months to see how the workshops have impacted the family. Men participating in the Men For Women Empowerment workshop run by Universal Love Alliance As for how we might see the impact of e-CATS’s peacebuilding training of trainers workshops, we’ve agreed to have some of the newly-trained peacebuilders lead a session for me and the SIA African Advisory Board when we gather together in Kenya next month! What better way to show success than having the trainers demonstrate what they have learned in person?

5 photos of SIA Grant Partners in action

5 photos of SIA Grant Partners in action

Grant funds were sent to 28 grassroots organizations in December and January, kicking off another year of community action by Spirit in Action Grant Partners in Eastern Africa! Programs are underway, and there are already wins to celebrate. Here are 5 recent moments of joy from SIA Grant Partners: 1. 7th-Grade Graduates CAP-AIDS Uganda Seventh grade is the most important school year in Uganda. It's when students take the exams that determine if they can continue to high school. Last year, in partnership with the Charles Wentz Carter Memorial Foundation, SIA funded 70 students to go to 7th grade and take their exams. The results are in! 52 of the 70 students passed their exams, and two received a top grade despite many challenges in their daily lives. Ogwal Lawrence used to miss school because he needed to work tending animals to make money for school fees. SIA covered his second-term fees and the cost of boarding, which meant Lawrence could focus on studying full-time. As a result of his hard work, he earned his first 1 (the top grade) in his life! Well done to all the students who passed! 2. In the pineapple field Kakuuto Development Initiative (KADI) - Uganda How it started... (November 2022) How it's going... (February 2024) The first pineapples are harvested from KADI's communal farm in central Uganda! The fruit takes 12-18 months to grow, and each plant only grows one pineapple. So far this season, they have harvested over 200 pineapples, which they sell to buyers in the next big town. 3. "Let's help each other" Circle of Specialized Educators, Friends of the Disabled Person (CESAPH) - Burundi To physically embody the name of their new project - Dutenzanyimbere  ( Let's help each other ) - CESAPH did an icebreaker with a string to show the members of the savings circle (women and disabled people) that they are stronger together. Cedrick told me, "The string spider web refers to the Ethiopian proverb that says a three-spider web can catch a lion. The game shows that they can reach their goals when they work together. Some participants were instructed to drop the string to show that if some people withdraw from the savings circle, the cooperative loses strength and might collapse." The SIA Grant helps CESAPH establish this new savings circle and train its members in entrepreneurial skills. 4. A celebration of savings Visionary Women's Centre (VWC) - Kenya The members of the Visionary Women's Centre have been saving little bits of money in their clay pots all year, saving between $5-40. This week, they broke them open to invest what they have saved! The women plan to spend their savings on larger purchases (a sheep, a pig, paying off school fees) or small necessities (a new kettle, a rooster, or a thermos). In addition to the items purchased, the women also carry themselves with a new level of confidence and receive respect from family members for what they contribute to the household. Pictured above are the women receiving their new pots for the year, balancing them on their heads in a playful moment. 5. Award-Winning Grant Partners Great Lakes Peace Center (GLPC) - Uganda We are proud to celebrate with Faruk Kibaba, Founder and Executive Director of SIA partner Great Lakes Peace Center, Uganda , for receiving the 2024 Granco-German Peace and Reconciliation Award! This award, given by the French & German Ambassadors in Uganda, recognizes Faruku's contributions to promoting peace and reconciliation in the Kasese region, where GLPC does peace-building and conflict resolution through youth and women empowerment. Spirit in Action's grants have supported 75 people in the GLPC community to raise goats and develop economic security.

Fellow Citizens with All God’s People

Fellow Citizens with All God’s People

This is an excerpt from the sermon Tanya Cothran gave at United Methodist Church, Point Richmond, in October 2023. If you'd like Tanya to come to speak to your congregation, please get in touch ! "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of God’s household.”  - Ephesians 2:19   On my last day in Rwanda, Yannick and Gerry invited me to have lunch at their place. This was in July and at the end of my three-week trip around Malawi, Burundi, and Rwanda in Eastern Africa. When I arrived at their home, Yannick took my drink order – orange Fanta, cold, please – and he walked to the corner shop to buy my drink, along with the other sodas and water that people requested. Gerry gave me a tour of their home in Kigali: two bedrooms – separated from the living room by a curtain, a kitchen area with a propane stove, and the living room, with the couch and a few chairs. Their front door looked into a courtyard where banana trees grew and laundry hung on lines to dry. When Yannick got back with the drinks, the eight of us sat down around the coffee table. There were the three roommates who lived in the house, two of their cousins visiting during school vacations, and then me and my two traveling companions, Manassé and Mwibutsa.   I was on the couch in this simple house with a tin roof, and Benali came out from around the curtain that separated the kitchen from the living room and set down a big platter of food . It was a base of rice covered with beans, cooked tomatoes, small round eggplants cut in half, and two yellow hot peppers on top. They passed around silverware – three of us got spoons, and the other five had forks, and then we all dug into the communal plate. The flavors were amazing. The food was fresh and local, the beans perfectly cooked, and they showed me how to rub the hot pepper on the food to give it the perfect amount of heat. It’s so hot that just rubbing it makes the bite spicy!   While we ate, they chatted and laughed together in Kirundi. The air was relaxed and easy. At one point, I asked what was making them laugh, and Mwibutsa, an SIA African Advisory Board Member who speaks English and Kirundi, told me that they don’t usually use utensils. They were doing it for my benefit, and seeing each other eat with the forks – with beans falling off the edges – was amusing to them.   We ate until the plate was empty, and we were all satisfied. These young men are refugees – Burundians living in Rwanda. Their household is supported in part by Flaming Chalice International , one of Spirit in Action’s grant partners in Burundi and Rwanda. Flaming Chalice provides them with a stipend for shelter and food while they get established in their new city.   The reason they left Burundi is that there was an episode of political turmoil there in 2015. The government cracked down on demonstrators or anyone they thought might be opposed to the government, leading almost half a million Burundians to flee to safety in neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, and Malawi. Young men, who were seen as a particular threat to the government, were especially targeted, and many of them left Burundi to avoid being arrested and thrown into jail without just cause. Mwibutsa was arrested in Burundi for his social justice work and got refugee status to come to Canada, where he is now a citizen. He continues his work from afar through Flaming Chalice International. Luckily, Rwanda is relatively welcoming to the Burundian refugees . People like Yannick and Gerry were allowed to move there and stay. The languages in both countries are very similar, and the cultures are also similar. However, there are a lot of restrictions on the jobs they are eligible to hold. As happens in the US, most education and degrees from the old country are not recognized in the new country. And though the two indigenous languages are similar, Burundian schools are taught in French, while Rwandan schools are taught in English, meaning that Burundian refugee teachers have to learn a new language and get a new degree to get a job in Rwanda. Even though Yannick is a fantastic driver/chauffeur – and also a cook and all-around helpful guy – he hasn’t been able to find steady work in Rwanda and instead hustles to get short-term jobs whenever he can find them.   "We have a lot we can contribute." Another of Spirit in Action’s partners working with refugees in Rwanda is the Forum pour la Mémoire Vigilante (FMV). When I visited them on my trip, Ferdinand, one of the FMV volunteer leaders, said, “Refugees are not just a liability. We have a lot we can contribute.” The group I visited is a collective of 29 refugee families representing about 120 people, and they are eager to establish stable lives. “We’re tired of feeling vulnerable all the time,” they told me. They don’t want to be inactive members of their new home; they want to feel grounded in the community and add their skills to benefit the community as a whole.   With a Spirit in Action grant, FMV members have built modern pig pens with a cement floor and trough to catch the urine for fertilizer. They purchased three female pigs, one of whom had just given birth to five very adorable piglets when I was there in July. The other two pigs are now pregnant and hopefully will give birth before the end of the year. [January 2024 update, one just gave birth to ten piglets! ]  The piggery project provides livelihood – when they sell the piglets, they’ll get much-needed income – and it also provides the families with purpose, a reason to meet up with each other for social support and to give shape to the day. FMV also leads peacebuilding work in Rwanda, and they teach each other English. They practice their own traditions, too – teaching their children, who have only ever known Rwanda as home – about the traditional drumming of Burundi. As Ferdinand told me, “Even as a refugee, you can still do humanitarian work.”   "Fellow members of God’s household" I hope these stories of lunch eaten from a communal plate and refugee humanitarians and their pig pens paint a fuller picture of what life can be like for a refugee community – the barriers they come up against, the talents, passion, and caring they share, and the potential that exists there, which is the potential that SIA grants help bring to reality.   These visits were profound moments for me of seeing my fellow humans , the fellow members of God’s household, the people behind the label of refugee.   I pray that we always remember the message in Ephesians 2:19, that no matter where we were born or where we live now, we are all fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.   Thank you, and amen.

What touches the life of one of us affects us all

What touches the life of one of us affects us all

Each week in my church, the worship leader invites us into a time when we acknowledge “the many ways that we are connected in this life, affirming that what touches the life of one of us affects us all.” Now is a time on our planet when we must also affirm our shared humanity and acknowledge how our fates are tied together. When I was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum in Rwanda in July, the message came through clearly that the easiest way to sow violence and justify war is to convince people that they are different from someone else and that they, therefore, deserve different fates. The genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, in part, stems from the ethnic identities that the colonialist system imposed on the people in the area now known as Rwanda. These created identities and colonialist messages reinforcing the supposed differences between people set the stage for neighbors to kill neighbors and whole families to be deemed worthy of killing. A similar scenario also led to the mass killings of Tutsis in Burundi in 1993. Even though those genocides were now thirty years ago, SIA Grant Partners are still working to address the ongoing and generational trauma from that horrendous time. Forum pour la Mémorie Vigilante (FMV) is hosting workshops on truth-telling, community dialogue, reconciliation, and trauma healing. In a blog post about the workshops , Pierre Claver Niyonkuru writes that the participants – refugees who experienced violence in Burundi – came to believe that “compassion and recognition of the suffering of others will lead us to forgiveness and reconciliation.” Empathy, recognizing the humanity and feelings of others, and acknowledging the ways we are all connected will lead us to peace. Retaliation and inflicting pain on someone who has hurt you can feel like a good way to settle the score, but all it does is create more harm in more bodies, families, and societies. Let us be God's Light As an organization that values justice and peace and is dedicated to helping people reach their God-given potential, we are constantly working to create more understanding and fewer divisions, especially as we work with people with many different cultures, traditions, practices, and life experiences. During our SIA Board Meetings with members from across North America and Eastern Africa, we take time to check in with one another and share about our lives. We celebrate each person’s uniqueness and also find what connects us. We have discussed what it feels like to be an outsider and what it feels like when someone welcomes you. Once we become known to each other, it’s harder to ignore how the suffering in one affects us all. As people of faith, as the Spirit in Action network, we have a duty to live peace in our own lives and be role models and advocates for peace everywhere . “Politicians, rebels, and all those who use firearms against others have interests that are completely different from ours as humanitarians,” Ferdinand from FMV texted me recently. Years ago, SIA Founder Del Anderson wrote, “ Let us re-affirm today that we shall become God’s Light of sharing, caring partners, blessing all those that God brings into our path with examples of Light.” ( Read the full letter from Del. ) Today, we have the opportunity and obligation to reaffirm that call again to be people of Light, to see our shared humanity, and to fight for each person’s right to live in peace.

Helpful Websites for Working Internationally

Helpful Websites for Working Internationally

After working internationally for sixteen years, I’ve found a few online tools and phone apps that are really helpful for connecting across languages, time zones, and contexts. Here are my top three: 1. World Time Buddy Put in your location, and the location of all those you want to meet with, and this website and phone App helps you find a time that works for people in many time zones. It’s also a good reference for knowing what time it is in the place you’re calling so that you don't wake them up! (SIA Board meetings are held early in the morning in California and the evening in Kenya and Uganda.) 2. Google Translate Copy and paste your text into the box, and the site will automatically translate it into another language. The translations have been steadily improving, and it is good enough for me to translate the emails from our Francophone grant partners and connect with them on a deeper level. The Google Translate App can also use your phone’s camera to scan and automatically translate text on a sign or printed document. Google Translate has English, French, Swahili, and more, but it doesn’t have Kirundi yet! 3. Rome to Rio Find out the many ways to get from one place to another using Rome 2 Rio. Unlike websites that only find flights between two cities, this one will show you a mix of modes of transportation, including train and bus options. *Bonus! Another SIA-related resource I love is ECHOCommunity , a database of information about agricultural practices, including composting, post-harvest storage, and marketing. They have resources in English, French, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda. What websites or Apps do you love when you’re connecting internationally?

Kenyan Peacebuilder Comes to the US!

Kenyan Peacebuilder Comes to the US!

Romano Iluku, a peacebuilder in Nairobi, Kenya, with SIA Partner Empowering Communities as Actors for Transforming Societies (e-CATS), is sharing his skills in south Seattle public schools this month. His good work was highlighted on the front page of the Seattle Times in an article by Claire Bryan . Romano and his team are teaching the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), which helps people respond to conflict in helpful and peaceful ways rather than with violence. The Highline School District in Washington State is investing in these conflict-resolution workshops to reduce violence in their schools without increasing the presence of security guards or medical detectors. When AVP got the call to do the workshops, they reached out to their trainers around the world, and Romano was delighted to get a US visa to come and co-lead the training. Romano first learned about AVP in 2008 in Kenya, and since then, he has worked with the program in different communities in Kenya, as well as in South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia. Read the full news article. Alternatives to Violence in Kenya This year, funded with a SIA grant, e-CATS ran a series of AVP workshops around Nairobi, Kenya. In a short video about the project , e-CATS leaders, including Romano and SIA African Advisory Board member Wambui Nguyo, tell us about the impact of this program in the ethnically diverse and low-income neighbourhood of Mwihoko Githurai. An Enriching Experience When I asked Romano about his experience, he wrote: “My experience of doing the same program here in the USA and in East Africa, in the community and in schools, is enriching. The most important aspect is creating a safe space for young people to start feeling a sense of belonging and respect. That builds their self-confidence and allows them to connect with the inner self and the surrounding environment.” Worldwide , we can all benefit from learning new ways of interacting, communicating, and solving conflict in new and peaceful ways.

Financial Independence for Young Mothers in Malawi

Financial Independence for Young Mothers in Malawi

When I was scheduling my visit with Reach Girls last month, the fact that it was Independence Day in Malawi wasn’t an issue. “That’s mostly just something that they observe in the capital,” my host, Tiba Zimba, said. “But, there will be a funeral for one of the village headmen that day, so some of the girls related to him will attend the burial.” Trip planning is always a lesson in flexibility, rolling with the changes, and working within the current reality! African Advisory Board Member Naomi Ayot Oyaro and I arrived at the small fishing village of Maganga and met Tiba just before the funeral procession started. We stood to the side of the road and observed until they had passed before continuing our greetings. (Later, when the procession passed the other way, leaving the burial, we paused our testimonies to give our respect.) Over the past two years, Reach Girls has used SIA grants for their tailoring training program, training 25 young women and providing a welcoming space for them to borrow sewing machines and earn money. Currently, they have four machines, which are in constant use. The women are all young mothers who have found renewed hope and financial independence due to the training. “Things are different now,” Menia (in the video below, she demonstrates the treddle sewing machine) told us. “Before, I was roaming around without a purpose.” She stopped going to school when she had her child at sixteen. “As of now, I can meet my basic needs, buy soap, and make clothes for myself and my son.” Watch video on YouTube “This program has changed my life and the lives of others,” said Emma, who is one of the students and also the treasurer for the savings group that the women have started. After any tailor sells an outfit, they contribute 10% to the general fund to maintain their sewing machines. Inez, a young woman of 20 years old, always wanted to become a tailor, but she never had the money to start. She was so excited to join the Reach Girls program to gain sewing skills and access sewing machines. “Basic needs are not a problem for me,” she said with a mix of shyness and pride. “I was able to drink tea with sugar this morning.” The room erupted in applause, honoring Inez’s accomplishment. Tiba Zimba, their dedicated leader, has formed good relationships with the local village headmen to identify the most vulnerable girls in the area for the program. She also works with the Area Development Committee, a government organization tasked with improving the community, which houses the sewing machines in their secure office. Not content to keep the transformation to themselves, the girls have already Shared the Gift by making fourteen school uniforms and giving them out for free to help keep other kids in school. They also get together and have sewing bees to make menstrual pads for girls still in school. This is truly the spirit of love and the ripple of SIA in action! Jennifer, a teacher from the local school, was so delighted with the work of Reach Girls, “I am so happy,” said Jennifer during our gathering. “I’m speechless to share my gratitude. I want to dance, but there is a funeral!”

Economic Empowerment for Women in Burundi

Economic Empowerment for Women in Burundi

The Tubunganire Women is a collective of ten savings and loans groups, totally about 300 members, in rural Ryansoro, Burundi. The hill of Ryansoro is far from any bank or financial institution. Before the savings groups, the women would have to go to a neighbor to ask borrow money, and it could be hard to collect the amount needed. Many of the families here don’t have a lot of cash available and lack any sort of credit that so many in the Western world rely on daily. A SIA Grant last year boosted the Tubunganire loan capital so that each group has a bigger pot from which to borrow. Last week, I saw the process of their weekly meeting. Of all the years SIA has been partnering with savings and loans groups, this was the first time I saw one in action. How it Works The women are all illiterate, though they are number literate and have a record book of the money flowing in and out. They each have an ID number and sit in that order each week. First, they collect savings, with most women giving the equivalent of $0.50. For the second round, they contribute any amount they’ve earned from helping each other on their farms. (Group members can pay others to help on their farms for much less than the usual laborer wage and the earnings get added to the loan fund. This is a social time, as much as a money earner for the group.) Finally, they collect for the “rainy day fund,” which is shared with members when they’re in a crisis. After double-counting the funds, members are able to request a loan . They don’t have to give a reason, which gives the borrower a level of privacy and dignity. They pay a small interest rate, which is collected monthly for as long as the funds are borrowed. The Impact During our meeting, Jereni, one of the Tubunganire leaders, shared a testimony. She is a widow and told how the group helped her when her husband fell sick and needed to go to the far-off hospital. She was able to borrow from her savings group to pay the hospital deposit, which is something that never would’ve been possible before the group. When her husband died, she could borrow again to get his body released and bring him home for burial. (It is common for hospitals here to keep the body if a family can’t pay, with the expenses increasing daily until the family can somehow get the money together.) Being able to borrow quickly and easily meant that she could process the illness and death of her husband without the added stress of desperately trying to borrow funds from neighbors. At the end of the year, the members are given back their savings plus their share of the interest paid on the loans. Then, they are able to buy larger items, like chickens, goats, dresses, or fertilizer for the year. The loan boost from SIA is retained for the next year. Coming together to celebrate women My visit was a day of celebration. The local mayor attended, and several of the local councilors. Over 200 community members – mostly women – attended the event. They also arranged for the village’s drumming group to perform, and a dance troupe of young women also performed. Drumming is a sacred activity in Burundi, and the deep resonance of the drums, all in unison, touched my soul. It was such an amazing experience to hear how the savings groups had moved the women into a new place of security and financial independence. Rather than struggling from day to day, they are now wondering how to scale up their collective investment to move the women of Ryansoro to the next level! *A special thank you to the Friends of Tubunganire! The Friends are young people from Ryansoro who now attend school or work in other districts. Since the women only speak Kirundi and don’t know the written language, the Friends write up the SIA reports so that we can follow along with their progress.

SIA welcomes a new African Advisory Board Member

SIA welcomes a new African Advisory Board Member

Margaret Ikiara Founder and Executive Director of Community Initiatives For Rural Development (CIFORD) Maua, Kenya Margaret Ikiara is the founder and Executive Director of CIFORD, a renowned organization based in Kenya. With a deep commitment to community development and empowerment, Margaret has played a significant role in transforming the lives of vulnerable communities in rural areas, particularly in Meru County. Margaret has dedicated her career to addressing the challenges faced by rural communities, including poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality, and lack of access to essential services. Her leadership and passion for sustainable development have been instrumental in shaping CIFORD's programs and initiatives. Under Margaret's guidance, CIFORD has successfully implemented numerous projects focusing on education, health, agriculture, and women and girls' empowerment. Her approach emphasizes a participatory and community-led model, ensuring local communities are involved in decision-making and taking ownership of the development initiatives. In addition to her work with CIFORD, Margaret has been actively involved in advocacy and policy development at the national and regional levels. She has served as a voice for marginalized communities, advocating for their rights and inclusion in decision-making processes. Government agencies, international organizations, and development partners have sought Margaret's expertise and insights , further amplifying the impact of her work beyond CIFORD's projects. Despite the challenges faced in implementing development projects in rural areas, Margaret remains steadfast in her commitment to creating positive change . Her ability to mobilize resources, forge partnerships, and inspire communities has been instrumental in community project success. Her approach combines grassroots knowledge, innovative solutions, and a deep understanding of the local context, ensuring that interventions are relevant, sustainable, and impactful. Margaret brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the African Advisory Board and, perhaps more importantly, a spirit of warmth and generosity . Margaret is a well-known community leader with ties to many Spirit in Action partners, strengthening the opportunities for more partner collaborations. As part of the SIA African Advisory Board, Margaret looks forward to mentoring new and developing community organizations, promoting the image of Spirit in Action in Africa, and representing the interests of community service organizations on the SIA board. Welcome, Margaret! Meet our other African Advisory Board Members.

Changing the Story: New hope for young mothers in Kenya

Changing the Story: New hope for young mothers in Kenya

Written by Elizabeth Stanley, SIA Administrator SIA Partner TAI Community-Based Organization (TAI CBO) in Kenya works to improve the lives of children, women, marginalized groups, and the general community in Meru County through capacity building and empowerment for sustainable development. Recently, we received a mid-year report on their progress , and we are excited to learn that their initiatives are doing so well! The Meru “ Pregnant Adolescent Girls Training Project” was funded in January 2023 to reduce the mortality rate of children and mothers caused by malnutrition by July 2023. They also aim to increase the number of pregnant adolescent girls and women utilizing community-based health services and to increase health literacy, self-efficacy and peer support. Six training sessions, including educational lectures and demonstrations by Community Health Volunteers, were held covering various topics such as danger signs in pregnancy, preparing for birth, maternal nutrition, and post-natal maternal and infant care. Overall, the project outcomes are very successful. TAI CBO was able to reach 40 girls instead of the original 20 they planned for, and to date, 30 of the 40 girls have graduated. One of the graduates said, “I’m surprised at the information about pregnancy that I didn’t know, but now I know. I must help my fellow girls also to know.” The girls were enrolled in insurance to combat hospital bills, and there have been five healthy deliveries so far! TAI CBO informed us of a key takeaway: "The majority of young adolescent girls have no support system at the community level, and the most challenging situation is where girls who’ve been rejected by their families can stay. " To address this challenge, TAI CBO will work closely with the Children’s Department for reunification. Looking ahead at the next six months, TAI CBO hopes to help the young girls and their families find security by raising chickens for eggs. They also hope to broaden their training to include boys and focus on decreasing the number of adolescent pregnancies in the community. The young graduates with their newly acquired sack gardens! This vertical gardening is handy when space for growing food is not available.

                    Laying Ground Work

Laying Ground Work

Written by Elizabeth Stanley, SIA Admin Several of our partners have been very busy planting fields and tending to gardens, which ultimately fosters self-sufficiency and sustainability for the communities they serve. It is quite remarkable to see the dedication these organizations have to provide resources which promote long-term sustainability as well community building and empowerment. Mbeere Family of Brethren CBO is an SIA partner in central Kenya that works to empower grassroots people to strive for their basic needs and improve their livelihood through economic empowerment and sustainable livelihood development. We funded water pump supplies, fertilizers, and crop seeds for the farm. Mbeere understands the value of natural resources and lets nothing go to waste. Look at these beautiful tomatoes! One of their members said, "There was not any single drop of water that got lost from my kitchen. After washing all the utensils, I used that water [to] grow ten stems of tomatoes and have harvested now. Am really encouraged!" Our partner, Kakuuto Development Initiatives (KADI) , is a community organization in Uganda working with Muslim and Christian members of rural Kakuuto (some members are pictured below). They have been very busy planting roughly 40,0000 pineapple suckers! This is a collective, income-generating project for KADI members, using land shared by a local landowner. They say, "KADI would like to thank Spirit In Action for the food security and sustainability project, which is ongoing, and provides opportunities for less privileged girls, women and elderly women of the community to lead a self-sustainable livelihood." The rains have started, and they are grateful to be done with planting. We can't wait to see these full-grown pineapples! Manyamula Community Saving and Investment Promotion Cooperative (COMSIP) in Malawi is an active force for change and progress in the community. In November 2019, SIA funds were used to construct an oil factory which helps farmers get better prices for their soybean, sunflower and peanut crops, and they are continuing to expand on this today. Tanya Cothran and Naomi Ayot Oyaro will be going to visit Manymula COMSIP in July!
The sunflower field is big, and the crops are doing well. Winkley Mahowe, the Programs Officer, told us that despite erratic rains, they hope for a good yield this harvest in May. We are also praying for success! Kiini Sustainable Initiative in Kenya provides a platform for underprivileged and marginalized people through mobilization, creating awareness, and utilizing indigenous resources to meet socioeconomic needs in Northern and Central Kenya. SIA funds were used to establish an organic demonstration farm where individuals can receive training on farming technologies and food security principles. Recently, they ran a workshop for community farmers on how to make compost manure, liquid manure and tea manure. This practice will help to keep the soil rich in nutrients for farming and make extra good use of available resources such as food and animal waste. The workshop proved successful, and farmers left with a lot of good information on how to get the most out of their soil. This is another amazing use of resources. Learning to use everything, even what we think of as waste, creates a solid framework for sustainability. Even more delightful, Kiini shared the processes with all of the SIA partners, and many took advantage of the information! Grant partners share knowledge and insight through our SIA Partners WhatsApp chat group, strengthening our community. Encouraging this kind of sharing between grant partners is one of the ways that SIA gives "support beyond the check." This principle of Trust-Based Philanthropy aims to bring more equity and true partnership into grantmaking. See a map of all of SIA's grant partners!

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