I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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!
A New Vision for Visionary Women's Centre
Visionary Women’s Centre (VWC) is one of Spirit in Action’s multi-year partners. This is year three of a three-year commitment to support VWC’s activities to promote prosperity and economic independence among women and families in Turbo, Kenya. Today, we share an exciting update on their plans to become a financially independent organization. Visionary Women’s Centre (VWC) shows western Kenya that women can own land! While women do a lot of the farm work, it is rare for women to have their names on the land titles. On a recent Zoom call, Lizette Gilday, a VWC co-founder with Benter Obonyo, told me about their new piece of land. “Last summer, Benter and I had one of our regular weekly meetings on WhatsApp,” said Lizette. “We were brainstorming ways to enhance our organic gardening programme for our 165 members. We played with the idea of teaching how to build an inexpensive greenhouse with local materials. We found ourselves agreeing that if we were going to build a model greenhouse, we really should have our own piece of land on which to put it. So Benter was tasked with looking for a suitable piece of land. “ Before I knew it, we were investing in 0.7 acres!!! Donors stepped up, and Benter worked hard to find a suitable plot which would be productive, have good water and be accessible to our rural community. She has succeeded!” VWC’s land is right off a paved road, meaning they can access it even during the rainy season when dirt roads are impassible. They are located in the heart of their community, near a school, cultural centre, and grain storage facility. The newly dug well is fifty feet deep and has a good water supply, even at the end of the dry season . When SIA African Advisory Board Member and farmer Dennis Kurgat visited the land, he was impressed with the good land and arable soil. Permanent + Agriculture VWC is embracing the concept of permaculture to develop its land into a model teaching farm and profitable business to support VWC into the future. Eliza, a trained agriculturalist, is on the VWC staff, and the group has engaged Josephat Barasa (JB) of the Practical Permaculture Institute of Kenya as a consultant. VWC Members work the land together to plant bananas in time for the April rains. They are turning the soil with manure to enrich it with nutrients. More from Lizette: “The word permaculture comes from a combination of “permanent” + “agriculture, ” that is to say, to design edible landscapes and food gardens so that they improve and support the local ecosystem. “A permaculture garden is designed to mimic nature, and its design should follow natural principles. A permaculture garden is more than just an organic garden. While organic food production often has innovative elements, a permaculture-designed garden integrates each element into a functional relationship. “The ethics of earth care, people care, and fair share form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies.” ( See permaculture resources. ) Eliza and JB are planning a dynamic and varied farm system on VWC’s land. Rather than plant just one crop and use expensive fertilizers, they are planning a forest vegetable garden with kale, other vegetables, bananas, and mango trees. They will use manure compost to fertilize the soil and cover crops to reduce evaporation. The community is already noticing their efforts! VWC and JB were featured in a local news video , narrated in a combination of Swahili and English.
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. 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.) 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.
An Update on Alternative Rite of Passage from Margaret Ikiara, ED of CIFORD Kenya
Procession of girls and their parents after graduating from CIFORD's Alternative Rite of Passage program. Together, they chant, "Say NO to FGM." Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya) is a SIA grant partner that serves Meru County. The organization has many programs that impact the lives of women, men, and youth, including food security initiatives, environmental conservation, youth mentorship, and vocational training. Earlier this month, we received an update on one important program that SIA helps support, the Girls Alternative Rite of Passage. Below, Margaret Ikiara, Executive Director for CIFORD, describes why this program hugely impacts Meru County, known in Kenya as a hotspot for female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM has been established as a cultural rite of passage that moves girls from adolescence into adulthood. Though the practice has been outlawed in Kenya, many families continue practicing FGM secretly because of their personal experiences and history. CIFORD has seen the many negative impacts FGM has on girls, including trauma, excessive bleeding, death, school absences, and earlier engagement in sexual activity, often resulting in teen pregnancies. To combat this human rights violation, CIFORD has developed their Alternative Rite of Passage program for girls between 11 and 16 years old. The program was attended by 203 girls and included six days full of curriculum on topics such as the history, myths and facts of FGM, reproductive health, sexuality, early marriage, drug and substance abuse, stress management, and career development. Students were kept safe at the center during the time of year when the FGM ritual often happens and were visiting and working with the trained program staff. Participants also received menstrual packs that included pads, underwear, and bras. Girls participating in educational seminars as part of CIFORD Kenya's Alternative Rite to Passage Program. A group of girls graduating from Alternative Rite of Passage pose with Kanana, a staff person for CIFORD.
To round up the week of learning, the girls are celebrated with a graduation ceremony attended by community leaders and parents. Students provided entertainment with dance and song performances and dramatic skits and shared speeches about the importance of girls' education and the dangers of FGM. Empowering girls with this knowledge also helps them to begin conversations about these issues at home with their family and friends. While there are many challenges CIFORD faces in their program operations, such as their vast coverage area, difficulty with transportation, and impacts of COVID and drought, Margaret sees that there is growing support for this work from both women and men. She hopes to convene even more people in 2023.
S pirit in Action is proud to support CIFORD Kenya again this year with a grant that will help the organization to expand its reach and offer additional educational seminars on sexual and reproductive health for girls and gender equality training targeted to school boys and young men. By bringing more folks to the table, CIFORD hopes to end the inhumane practice of FGM. And thanks to you, SIA can be a small part of creating brighter, more hopeful futures for girls in Kenya.
Recognizing Community Contributions
Excerpt from a sermon by Tanya Cothran to the United Methodist Church in Point Richmond, CA, in October 2022. One of the groups applying for a $5,000 Spirit in Action grant [which was approved in December!] works with farmers in Malawi, training them in a set of principles called Farming God’s Way. As described by Tombolombo Cooperative leader Mbwenu Chirwa, this method takes people “back into the garden of Eden where there was plenty of food.” Mbwenu’s program uses that promise of abundance from God coupled with agroecology methods, which improve the soil and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Their tomato gardening project will use drip irrigation (which uses less water), organic pest management (reducing the need for fertilizers), and intercropping (to grow more varieties of food in a small area). A section in our grant application asks about the community’s contribution to the project. The goal behind this question is two-fold. In part, it is for the grant evaluators to see the community’s buy-in and commitment to the project. However, it is also there because I know it can be easy in North America to slip into a savior mindset, where we think we are the only ones with resources to share. This question is a way of celebrating and honoring what the community brings to the table. Tombolombo Cooperative lists that for their community contribution, they are bringing labor, compost, and virgin soil. Reading that list, especially the last item – virgin soil – stirred something deep inside me. Spirit in Action may be sending money, but that virgin soil contribution is so precious and so valuable. We design our grant application to help us remember these community contributions and to value them in our evaluation. As another example of community contribution, the Women of Change in Cherangany, Kenya, noted their community contribution as transport labor. Spirit in Action is supporting them this year to build a community centre in their rural village. It’ll be a place where neighbors can meet, exchange ideas and tips, and generally have a place to gather and belong. However, their village is situated down many winding roads along the edge of the Rift Valley. The trucks carrying the building supplies, like cement and rebar, aren’t able to drive on those small roads. So community members contribute to the project by carrying the materials – by hand, and walking – the last 100 meters to the building site. Back and forth they go until they have all the materials assembled—just a fantastic contribution to their community development. Recognizing the contributions of both parties moves Spirit in Action towards our goal of true partnership with grant partners.