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"Our partners know best what they need"

It’s not often that international aid is featured on the editorial pages of a major newspaper. So I was excited and pleasantly surprised to see the New York Times Editorial Board write the opinion Foreign aid is having a reckoning. The authors start by outlining the problem. For example, “planeloads of free American corn can help famine victims in the short term, but they can also put local farmers out of business, making the food supply in the long term more precarious.” Aid is not neutral. It impacts local politics. Beatrice with her potato field and Ruth with her passion fruit crop. These two women are SIA Small Business Fund farmers. Painting people who receive support as helpless victims distorts reality and creates a stark power dynamic where donors get to see themselves as “saviors.” If we really believe that Black lives matter, then the reckoning is necessary. The opinion piece quotes Degan Ali, an activist in Nairobi, who wants humanitarian funding to be a “direct as possible.” She advocates for turning away from top-down model, toward shared decision-making and flexible funding. International fundraising “should be based on amplifying the dynamic work our communities themselves are engaged in.” Our Reckoning If you’ve been following Spirit in Action for a while, you’ve probably seen some of this “reckoning” in action. Our mission statement recognizes that “our partners know best what they need and can create the change they envision.” To live into that mission, our funding goes directly to community-based organizations like Kakuuto Development Initiative and Midwife-Led Community Transformation, amplifying their work. These organizations are doing the work before our funding arrives, not waiting for a savior. In addition, this year we’re piloting a new initiative of multi-year funding grants. For organizations like Flaming Chalice in Burundi, knowing that they will receive funding for three years creates stability and allows them to hire a local coordinator for all their activities. Manasse, pictured here, used to be a volunteer for Flaming Chalice and the SIA grant means he can now dedicate his full attention to the work. The funding commitment from Spirit in Action also makes their group more attractive to other funders. The pandemic canceled my trip to Kenya last year and nudged Spirit in Action to rely even more on the local expertise of our African Advisory Board members. One of the un-used and about-to-expire flight credits in Kenya is able to be transferred from me to Wambui Nguyo. She is already in the country and can make the visits that I had planned last year. It’s a long way from Opinion pages to real change, but it’s exciting to see these practices that we’ve seen work so well make it into the mainstream conversation! Wambui Nguyo is a trainer, organizer, and African Advisory Board member in Nairobi, Kenya. #localorganizations #grassroots #shiftthepower #mutualaid #multiyearfunding

Successful group therapy for young women in Uganda

When the social workers and psychological counselors from Midwife-Led Community Transformation (MILCOT) organization did an assessment of the young women in their community of Nansana Municipality, Uganda, they found an alarming number of girls who were in violent relationships and experiencing forms of sexual coercion. MILCOT is a SIA partner and community-based organization with the mission to take midwifery services out of the clinic setting and bring it direct to the community. Even during COVID lockdowns, the MILCOT team answered texts and phone calls from girls aged 10-24 about sexual and reproductive health issues. One of the MILCOT team members interviews household members to identify the needs in the community. Last year, MILCOT used funding for SIA to form two support groups for these girls living in dangerous situations and experiencing depression. Each group of eight members got together for a series of eight workshops using the Social Emotional Economic Empowerment through Knowledge of Group Support Psychotherapy (SEEK-GSP) Model. This model aims to treat mild or moderate depression and anxiety among those stuck in inter-generational cycles of poverty. (Those with severe depression were referred to psychiatrists for professional care.) The SEEK-GSP model aims to educate group members about depression, provide them with a supportive environment for exploring trauma, and developing positive coping and problem-solving skills. After sharing their traumatic experiences, the group members offered suggestions and encouragement, to help each young woman know she is not alone in her struggles. “We have seen that the SEEK-GSP model brought smiles on the faces of two groups of women and girls,” writes Caroline Nakanyike and Harriet Nayiga, MILCOT leaders. “Also, by coming up with income generating projects they have boosted their individual and family economic status.” Each girl was given $10 in start-up capital to start businesses selling fish, vegetables, or tea and baked goods along the roadside. (Pictured above is a group starting a frying business.) The groups also are joint savings clubs. “Team No Stress” has collectively saved USD$20! Harriet Nayiga was recognized as a Young Midwife Leader by the International Confederation of Midwives. Read her interview here: https://nursesandmidwiveslead.org/bringing-midwifery-services-to-the-community/ After completing the therapy sessions in September, the MILCOT team conducted a post-therapy assessment. They noted the following successes: Improved emotional wellbeing of members and their families; Reduced dependence and intimate partner violence, with enhanced creative and problem solving skills; Increased interest and task commitment; Increased trust amongst themselves that enabled support for each other; Enhanced patience, persistent of effort, self-assurance, determination, and responsibility; Improved individual and family income; Gratitude for acquired free knowledge in self-care, record and book keeping and saving culture. The outcome of these sessions is a general improvement of well-being, including renewed energy for activities that allow them to express their talents. One member resurrected her childhood interest in basketry, which has contributed to her household income with less stress! #uganda #girls #encouragement #skillstraining #savings #socialwork

Supporting the whole family in Uganda

Throughout the pandemic and national elections in Uganda, grassroots organizations like KADI-U are continuing their community-level activities to make sure everyone has enough food and is on the path to a better life. (See all our current partner organizations.) I was so excited after reading their report to SIA of their activities in the last few months of the year. The volunteers who run KADI are so dedicated to making sure no one in their community is left behind. One of the themes of the report was the benefit of making partnerships with other local organizations. “We have learned that partnerships with like-minded institutions lead to achievement of great results with limited use of resources since costs are shared,” reports Robert Sebunya, a social worker and KADI-U volunteer. Here are some of the highlights: Supporting Farmers In October through December, KADI-U has increased it acreage for the agribusiness. While the families who live here are familiar with growing food for themselves, it is a shift to think of growing crops to also have some to sell for profit. Now they are starting farming business in soybeans, potatoes, cassava and maize. KADI-U is partnering with the nearby Bakyabumba Farmers’ Cooperative Society. The cooperative owns a tractor that KADI-U farmers will be able to hire at subsidized rates. Previously all the ploughing would be done all by hand, or with a rented oxen team. So the tractor will allow much more land to be ready for farming. Improved potato stems were distributed to the farmers for planting in the October and those potatoes should be ready to harvest this month. KADI-U members have continued to build and use the granaries (pictured above) at their homesteads, which are very helpful in storing the larger harvest of agribusiness crops. Tailoring Another partnership that KADI-U has forged this year is with the Obulamu Bwebugagga Training Center, where sixteen of the adolescent girls from Kakuuto village are going to learn tailoring skills. KADI-U used part of a SIA grant to buy three sewing machines and tailoring materials that the girls are using during this training. The Training Centre provides the trainer and food and accommodation for the trainees for the three months of the training. At the end of the three months the girls will know how to make dresses and shirts and they will take home a certificate showing that they have completed the training. No One Left Behind Last month, KADI-U did a survey of households that have children with disabilities in the four parishes of their county. They met twenty-three people – both children and adults – with varying disabilities. KADI-U has formed a partnership with Fathers Heart Mobility Ministry to distribute seventeen wheelchairs to help those with mobility needs get around on their own. #uganda #training #skills #empowerment #farmers #disabilites #SIApartners

Happy New Year! Welcome to SIA's 25th year!

Happy New Year! Last year was a big one for Spirit in Action. We gave $18,800 to 20 partner organizations for emergency COVID-19 responses. We experimented with a new grant review system, using the local expertise of the African Advisory Board, and have over 20 grant partners for this year! We had online meetings with the North American Board and African Advisory Board. We also highlighted more African voices on the blog, and got a new website (waaaay back in April). I’m starting this year with the deep understanding that we cannot know what the year will bring. And even so, I have big dreams for Spirit in Action as we celebrate our 25th anniversary! Exploring a multi-year funding model to better support the stability of our grant partners and reduce the stress on their leaders. As part of this, I’ll be highlighting on the blog some of the amazing staff people who keep these grassroots organizations thriving. Meeting with some of the amazing women from Universal Love Alliance, supporting rural women in Uganda in 2019. Increase the diversity of people in our decision-making, as well as examining our unconscious bias and the colonialist tendencies in development and international philanthropy. Staying true to our roots by continuing to focus on building relationships and encouraging our partners. We’ll do this by hosting online workshops about topics that interest our grant partners, and having our African Advisory Board check in regularly with new grant partners. I’ll also be looking for new ways of grant reporting that give partner organizations useful information for improving, and give donors a true picture of what change is happening. Finally, instead of celebrating 25 years of SIA in person, we’ll get creative to find ways throughout the year to honor our past and dream large for the future. Thank you for being part of Spirit in Action in 2021! Picture left: Leaders from Visionary Women's Fund in Kenya are social workers and community development specialists.

Our Dreams for SIA

Last year, at the conference in Kenya where we dreamed up the African Advisory Board, I asked those gathered about their vision for SIA. I asked, “What’s your wildest dream for SIA?” Out of the conversation, we honed in on a tagline for our work: “SIA is social and economic justice not charity, with God in the center.” What else do we dream for Spirit in Action? Canaan Gondwe (Malawi): To see change in the people we work with. Better livelihoods. Abundant life. To see change that is sustainable; change that comes from within. I dream that SIA continues to be a learning organization and have wider horizons. To learn from our mistakes. To see the challenges, and learn from them. To learn how to have greater impact with the small resources we have. Naomi Ayot (Uganda): To improve our skills, and help people with their reporting. I dream that the funding sources to SIA increase. That there is an increase of people who trust in the vision of SIA and invest in the programs. I see that SIA has a unique oneness and love in the communities we serve. I see women empowering women. We are creating one big SIA movement – with participatory social justice. Samuel Teimuge (Kenya): I dream of continued training and mentoring for partners. And more regular communication between partners and SIA office. We are sharing the successes, celebrating lifting someone’s life, which motivates us all. Dennis Kiprop (Kenya): I see SIA as a vehicle for social and economic justice. People are saying, “I can take my child to a better clinic. I can learn to write.” SIA can help bring justice. Wambui Nguyo (Kenya): I dream of having a thriving savings and loans group in Koch (slum community), following on the model of COMSIP in Malawi. I want people to have a different kind of life. I know it can be done. I want to always encourage people to keep moving forward and see a different future. Barbara Deal (USA): To increase the donor base and budget so more grants can be made. I want donors to understand the power of our partners. Tanya Cothran (SIA Office): to build a wider network, sharing with other NGOs and government agencies that work in the same areas as we do. I dream that there can be space for openness to try new things and learn from those experiences. My dream is to move us even more towards working for justice, not charity. Blessed holidays from all of us as Spirit in Action! See you in the New Year, when we’ll continue our dreaming, learning, and giving! Make your year-end contribution to SIA here. Celebrating prosperity in Aboke, Uganda. #aab #dreaming #inspiration #justice

It's Festive Season in Kenya!

Guest post by Gloria Teimuge Gloria is a public health practitioner and consultant, photojournalist and writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. This is part of our series highlighting the culture of Kenya. As we get into the holiday mood, I’d love to share some of my experiences of what I’d describe as a Kenyan holiday. This year is different, for all of us, but there are some things that still keep the holiday spirit alive. December is typically sunny. The children are on a break from school. It’s just after a harvest season (maize or wheat), and it is time for hundreds of sherehes (Swahili for occasions) - engagements, weddings, circumcision ceremonies, graduations. These occasions are feasts where people gather, eat, and make merry. Kenyans are always ready for a good time and the holidays are not any different. With the Covid-19 pandemic, gatherings are limited or prohibited, the short rains have carried on to December and most people are not in a position to splurge on festivities like previous years. Let me take you through a journey of festivities. Please tag along. Engagement Parties Engagements or traditional weddings are ceremonies in honor of the bride-to-be. This occasion is a bridal send-off of the lady from her home to join the groom’s family. In order of events, after the proposal, there’s a ‘show-up,’ which is an official sit-down with both family members to discuss bride price/dowry and to knit family ties. (See photos below.) The show-up is also meant to ascertain no blood ties between the families of the betrothed by tracing the family tree and clan totems. A date is set for the engagement and wedding. The engagement is an all-invite ceremony. Large numbers of people show up, hundreds to thousands. There’s a lot of food, music and dance, colorful outfits, cultural activities. The couple then goes ahead and plans the wedding. Pictured above: Top: Samburu wedding (QIP Photography); Kalenjin engagement; Middle: wedding (QIP Photography); Mijikenda engagement (Maisy); Bottom: Samburu wedding (QIP Photography); engagement. Rites of Passage Circumcision is a rite of passage. For about a month, a group of boys within the same age set go into isolation. While there they are circumcised and undergo training that is to transform them from boys to men. Different tribes have different cultures and methods on how things are done but at the end of the isolation, there’s a celebration. During that period, under the cultural circumcision, the boys wear traditional clothes sometimes sackcloth, smear themselves with ash and are not allowed to interact with any women. It’s the men who take care of everything. On the day of the feast, they are re-introduced to the community and sometimes with new names. Most of the ceremonies coincide with the harvest season of December. Jamhuri Day Jamhuri Day (Republic Day) is a national holiday that celebrates the date Kenya became a republic on 12th December 1964. We celebrate our country’s cultural heritage and the heroes who fought for our country. As a public holiday, there are a lot of events, concerts and parties all over the country. The Kenyan flag is hoisted on almost every building and the television stations play live recording of the national celebrations where the president is in attendance. The national anthem is played severally, together with covers by different local artists. Christmas! After the 12th, the next holiday is Christmas! A week before Christmas, thousands of city dwellers leave for the country-side. It’s typically Christmas when you get to spend the holiday with family and friends and no one likes to be left out. A continuous entourage of buses and cars snakes its way to risaf leaving the cities deserted and seemingly uninhabited. In the country-side, its pomp and color by the third week of the month, with the decisions being which party to attend next. Food is in plenty and a crowd of merry-makers is seen in almost every homestead. The Christmas mood hits with Christmas décor and music. Every shop and restaurant playing Christmas carols on repeat. All TV stations religiously bring up Christmas movies. Christmas Eve is mostly spent around family, a big dinner, laughter and stories. Some spend it in church, awaiting the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas day, there’s usually a short sermon in church, followed by gatherings and feasts at home. Some people visit children’s homes, hospitals and shelters to share the love and joy of Christmas. Local delicacies such as nyamachoma, chapati, ugali, and traditional vegetables are a staple in these feasts. Neglected greens such as black night shade, leafy vegetables, and salads always make an appearance. Sitting around a table with family and friends, or on a bench under a tree or on a picnic blanket, it’s the feeling, the togetherness, the love and joy that matters. The radio or television would sing one particular tune on repeat, “Mary’s born child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day!” Between Christmas day and New Year’s, there are several get-togethers with different groups of people. Friends, relatives, prayer groups, chamas, class reunions, and neighbors. A chain of ‘Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year’ messages go around. Everyone staying up late around the bonfire, the flames crackling drowning the bouts of laughter and banter. We go through the year, sharing our experiences and getting updates about things that we probably missed. The village gossip is served steaming hot. New Year’s Eve is either spent in church or at home. Some people party and gas up, waiting for the countdown. It’s a time for a yearly review and gratitude, and for some, resolutions for the coming year. Fireworks display, more music, more dancing and a hope for a better, more prosperous year. Swahili Vocab *Risafv - countryside *Nyama choma - barbecued meat *Chapati - a pan-fried flatbread made from wheat flour *Ugali - stiff porridge made from maize flour *Chama - an informal co-operative society that is used to pool and invest savings #kenya #culture #merrychristmas

Generosity, No Strings Attached + New Grants

“Generosity with strings is not generosity; it is a deal.” ~Marya Mannes **This blog post is taken from my sharing at UMC Point Richmond last Sunday. You can watch the service here and I start around minute 34. The aim of Spirit in Action is true generosity – with transformational, rather than transactional, relationships. From what I’ve heard from my friends in Africa, many grants can feel more like a deal than an act of generosity. Some large granting organizations are still expecting people to have the same grant outcomes they promised in December of last year, rather than accepting the reality that the world has changed. But moving away from checklists and strict rules and deals, requires trust. Like the trust that Sister Magrina built up by living in the community where she was serving. (Pictured above, Kenya 2017.) I’m learning to lean into the mantra, “trust people and they become trustworthy.” We engage our partners from a place of trust – trusting that they know what works best in their community and that there is room for flexibility in the process of community building. This trust then empowers both parties in the relationship to be trustworthy. To me, this is part of the process of seeing our work as rooted in justice, rather than charity. Sharing the Power Last year, as part of moving towards justice, and uncovering unconscious bias in our organization, we formed the Spirit in Action African Advisory Board. Creating the African Advisory Board was about letting our African colleagues take the driver’s seat. It was about aligning more fully with our vision which affirms that “our partners know best what they need and can create the change they envision.” (The moment of dreaming pictured above, Kenya 2019.) Rather than have me or the North American Board decide who should receive grants, we turned the decision-making power over to six people who are on the ground. All six of them are extremely knowledgeable – not only just about their own communities and countries – but also about community development, activism, and making change. And they know Spirit in Action well too. Canaan in Malawi has been with Spirit in Action longer than I have (and it’s 13 years for me now!). Also serving on the African Advisory Board is Naomi in Uganda, who is a child protection specialist. She helps the Ugandan Ministry of Gender plan their programs to support orphans and vulnerable children. Samuel Teimuge in Kenya has been a mentor and innovator in sustainable agriculture for 38 years. Wambui Nguyo has a degree in Banking and Finance. She was a trainer in trauma healing and peacebuilding in post-conflict areas of Kenya for many years. She recently founded e-CATS (which stands for Empowering Communities as Actors for Transforming Societies) as a way to give back, as a form of community service. These are the people we have on SIA’s team, and this year, for the first time ever, they are the ones making decisions about where we send our money. And, now that everything happens on Zoom – including our North American board meeting, we could easily have African Advisory Board join the meeting. (Pictured right.) Rather than have me present their report and grant recommendations earlier this month, Naomi in Uganda made the presentation. Each of the African Advisory Board members shared about their process and the way they applied the rubric to their evaluation of the applications. New Grant Partners So what did they choose to fund? Out of 90 applications from grassroots organizations in East Africa, the African Advisory Board made the tough decisions and selected nine top organizations. The Global Batwa Outreach will help 100 indigenous Ugandans start vegetable gardens at home. The Kiserem Epileptic Foundation will train 100 women (including women with epilepsy, their caregivers, and other community members) to raise poultry – while also combating stigma against epilepsy. Midwife-led Organization for Community Transformation (pictured above) will host a support group for adolescent girls who have been victims of violence, helping them to heal and see a hopeful future. For Reach Girls in Malawi this will be their first ever international grant. They will lead a vocational training course for girls in rural Malawi, as a way to encourage them to continue their education and be more independent. Those are just four of the nine new organizations that I’m excited to work over the next year. Each of them serving individuals, families, and communities to tap into their resilience and build a hopeful future. This work truly does call on us to daily “seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” It calls us to humbly serve by listening, by being there for the long-term, and by giving love and compassion freely, without strings or deals attached. Sometimes that means giving food aid, and sometimes it means changing our organizational structure to include more diverse voices and decision-makers. In these days of Advent, of preparing and dreaming, of listening and waiting, my invitation to you is to join me in humble service and joyful generosity, so that more people on earth can live according to their highest potential. Thank you to all of you who contributed to our Giving Tuesday fundraising campaign on Facebook! So far we have raised $1,041 towards our goal of $2,500. You can still contribute here. #partnerships #shiftthepower #aab #siaboard #newgrants

Remembering our history

Spirit in Action was founded in 1996, when founder Del Anderson was 90 years old, which means that next year will be our 25th Anniversary! When the Spirit in Action Board met on Zoom last weekend, we took time share our history and tell the stories of SIA's early days. Letter Ministry Marsha Johnson volunteered with Del for years before SIA was an official organization and she was the first Administrator, from 1996-2007. Marsha told the story of Del's ministry which inspired Spirit in Action: "Even before Spirit in Action, daily, all day long, Del wrote letters to people who he had met through Camps Farthest Out International. During those years, Del nurtured many, many relationships through sending and receiving letters, sending self-help materials, seeds, scriptures, and inspirational readings. They were letters of encouragement and he often slipped in a $5 bill. "Del realized in time that it was important to give others the opportunity to be part of this sacred ministry that he believed so much in. He also wanted this ministry to continue past his lifetime and that was how the vision of Spirit in Action was founded in 1996." [Del is pictured above in his office with hundreds of copies of inspirational materials. Below is one of the quotes he often shared.] Leading with His Relationships Margaret Arner, who was a board member since before SIA was founded and is just now retiring from board service, also shared her stories. "My involvement in Spirit in Action is 100% a result of my admiration for Del Anderson. He had worked on his own personal relationship with God daily since he was in his 20s or even earlier. He wasn’t a speaker and didn’t lead as a speaker in a typical charismatic way. Del led with his relationships. He led through his letters and in his faithful correspondence with people who he knew around the world. He affirmed what those people were saying, and listened to them. Those were his strengths. "This was so inspirational to me, that a humble, ordinary person, who has a desire in their heart to be closer to God, can to do something with whatever their talents might be. They can do good by listening, keeping their ears open, being open to whatever job might come their way, and being open to God’s guidance." [Del was a Scout Leader for many years. Here he is in Japan in 1956, with Bebe Anderson and a local scout troupe.] Maggie appreciates that SIA has maintained its identity as not a typical business model. We keep our spiritual emphasis front and center. She is proud that over the years we have been comfortable with the process taking whatever time it takes to come into consensus in making decisions. It might not always be the most efficient, from a corporate standpoint, but it is heart-centered and gracious, and it concentrates on relationship-building as being of primary importance. We ended the evening with the inspirational writing that Del wrote for Spirit in Action called God Calling. It's a powerful call to be a mustard seed of hope in the world. One part that always inspires me is the line, "
A dream has no dimension, no boundaries, no limitations." Thank you to those of you who have known SIA since the beginning, and gratitude for each of you who have joined us along the way. #history #storytelling #SIABoard #Del #Inspiration

The gift of stability: Grant update from Pastoralist Child Foundation

“Having salaried staff brings a sense of pride and stability for the three employees, all of whom volunteered for many years. Having new office equipment is incredible! Our office is nicely furnished with tables and chairs to accommodate visitors, including high level staff from UNICEF, United Nations Population Fund, World Vision, and journalists conducting interviews.” The Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) in Kenya is one of the organizations that SIA supports with operating funds. This means that a SIA grant covers the rent, utilities, and salaries for three Kenyan staff. Sound like the scary “overhead expenses”? For our grant partners, operating support bring stability. Supporting Girls and Changing Norms This year the PCF leadership team trained five women group leaders on COVID-19 guidelines, stopping female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, income generating activities, and the importance of education. The leaders then went back to train the women in their specific area, reaching 300 women total. Changing tradition is hard and a sensitive topic. The PCF leaders are all Samburu pastoralists, so they have standing in the community to talk about issues like ending FGM. PCF Director Samuel Leadismo is a highly respected mentor to youth all across Samburu County and his advocacy has led to positive changes in attitudes about FGM. He and another staff member, Elizabeth, hosted a radio show about FGM and child marriage, which reached more than 15,000 people. To introduce the topic, Samuel gives the following example, “No one goes to a mountain or river to pray anymore. Samburus go to church. No one wears animal skins any more. People wear clothes. If you can accept these changes and still consider yourself to be Samburu, you can accept the end of FGM.” PCF is also engaging morans (young warriors) in the conversation. They meet with the 14-21 year old boys and talk to them about Kenyan laws prohibiting FGM and get them interested in upholding the rights of women and girls. Samuel reports, “one method of sustaining moran engagement in this noble task is to continue motivating, mentoring and training a core group of morans who will lead a new generation of young men to advocate for the rights of the Samburu girl child.” Other Successful Activities Even with the COVID-19 crisis, PCF has had a great, positive impact in the semi-nomadic pastoralist Samburu community where they work. PCF distributed food to over 3,000 people in sixteen villages in Samburu East to help people through the COVID-19 crisis. They also collaborated with community health volunteers to ensure people had places to wash hands. Here they are in Long’eli Lorora Village. PCF trained six women’s groups on how to make reusable sanitary napkins. How wonderful that girls and women won't have to buy disposable napkins! Just last month PCF received a generous donation of 200 Dignity Kits from UNICEF-Kenya! The kits containe backpacks, solar lamps, sanitary napkins, sandals, kangas (cotton shawls), and essential personal care items. #kenya #samburu #operatingfunds #grassrootsorganizations #FGM

Birth and Naming Traditions in Kenya

Guest Post by Gloria Teimuge Gloria is a public health practitioner and consultant, photojournalist and writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. This is part of our series highlighting the geography and culture of Kenya. My middle name is Jepkoech, which means I was born at dawn, right before sunrise, when the first light appears in the East. I have adapted well as an early morning riser, getting that morning run and energy boost before the schedule begins. My Mom says she was going to name me Jepkorir, which means born at korir, slightly earlier than dawn. Names and their meanings can rub off on us, make us who we are, and establish an identity. Culture and Traditions Our next topic in this blog series is one of my favorites: the culture and traditions of the Kenyan communities! I will share some of Kenya's practices, some of which still happen in many tribes and communities on the African continent. This shared ancestry is a reminder that we are one; we are the same people. One notable thing across the continent that I love for sure is the sense of community. African proverbs talk a lot about unity and togetherness; for instance, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." On Mashujaa Day, 10th October, the National Museums of Kenya in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture unveiled a beautiful exhibition that explores the 44 Kenyan tribes, their heroes, stories and fashion. Also included is the music scene and contemporary creatives. Follow this link and discover Kenya virtually. Koitalel Arap Samoei: The Mighty Prophet (Nandi Community) by Shujaa Stories National Museums of Kenya Welcoming a baby A baby is welcomed with ululation and joy. An expectant mother is usually well taken care of and respected. Midwifery was the norm and is still common in some areas. Mkunga, as she is known, helps women with newborn delivery at home. Many of the mkunga inherit the position from a family member and learned this skill from their predecessors. Presently, they are 'birth companions' and accompany the women to hospitals in case of emergencies. Traditionally, women gave birth at home. The mkunga was always on call. They would monitor the pregnancy, especially towards the last trimester, and ensure safe delivery. When the baby is born, the women in the room would announce the gender to those waiting outside, and there would be a celebration. In some tribes, three ululations would signify a boy, and two would be a girl. (Photo above: Kenyan mom-to-be Mercy Tarus, used with permission.) I learned more about this work when I had the opportunity to work at the health development center in Makunga, a rural town in western Kenya. We educated women on the importance of ante-natal care and regular clinic visits during maternity. There was a lot of reluctance to visit the hospital. Traditionally, they strongly believe in herbal medicine and home-based care, and it has worked for centuries. So, we had to break down the conversation and address the basics. This opportunity was an eye-opener for both parties, and we also learned the importance of natural and herbal medicine. Naming practices I just heard of a friend who named her child Lord Tyrion, a Lannister from Game of Thrones! As a GoT fan, I'm all for it. When Barack Obama was elected president of the US, so many mothers that year named their newborns after him. What an honor. Naming children after influential people is becoming quite common; and in general, naming practices are changing and becoming more westernized these days. The order of naming in Kenya is: Christian name, traditional name, family name. Traditionally, there was no premeditation when it came to the naming of babies. Our middle name is a traditional/tribal name. We are given a traditional name according to the time of day/night, season (rainy, drought, famine), activity (harvesting, taking the cattle out to graze or bringing them back in the evening), or in honor of ancestors, etc. In the Kalenjin tribe, the suffix 'Che' is for a girl, and 'Kip' is for a boy. For example, the drought season is usually from November to early March, so a child born during this time would be Jepkemei (girl) or Kipkemei (boy). A child born in the rainy season would be Cherop or Kiprop. My friend Chebet was born at noon. Chepkogei or Kipkogei means delayed child labor. Dawn in Zambia Sometimes, the elderly family members would meet in a room with the child and start mentioning names of ancestors at random. If the baby sneezed after a specific name, then that would be its name. It was considered a connection to the people they loved through the newborn. Names can also be changed, which happens during circumcision or marriage. Circumcision traditionally happened for both boys and girls and it was considered a rite of passage. After being circumcised, then they would be given new names. When married, a woman would automatically drop her family name and take her husband's family name. These days, it's more a personal choice, and many women prefer to hyphenate their spouse's name or not to take the new name at all. In every society, naming is an effective form of identity, and it gives a sense of belonging. We pride in our names, and no matter where we go, our names will always be the identification and tether to our heritage. #kenya #culture

Fall Newsletter! Updates, photos, and a new sewing project in Burundi!

The 2020 Spring & Summer newsletter is here! You can view a PDF version here! Students and teachers at the Flaming Chalice International sewing training workshops in Burundi wear masks and sit outdoors. In this newsletter we feature: Sewing training underway in Burundi - outdoors and with masks "Start with what you have" - The 5 Ss for Business Success! Who are SIA's Partners? Building Relationships for the Long-term Women in Kenya finding ways to work during a pandemic Ann, Gladys, Maurine, Dennis, Esther with one of the prayer mats that they have for sale, to earn extra income during the pandemic. Sharing the Gift: Universal Love Alliance in Uganda organizes women’s groups to collectively raise pigs. Here, Nyakaikara group members receive the gift of piglets shared from another group. Donate to Spirit in Action today!

Why haven't we heard about COVID outbreaks in Kenya or Uganda?

I admit it. Early on in the global pandemic, I was really worried about my friends and colleagues in Africa. I had my share of doomsday scenarios of hospitals over capacity, people dying, and whole families sick. I assumed that their governments wouldn’t have money for testing and that the virus could spread rapidly in places where people don’t always have accessible water for hand-washing. Seven months along, it seems my worry was misplaced. The chart below show the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in various countries. You can see that Uganda and Malawi both had fewer cases per million than even New Zealand. And while in the US and Canada we heard a lot about how well New Zealand was doing, I didn’t really hear anything about African countries keeping case numbers low. Looking for Explanations What about testing? It is true that some countries like Tanzania decided to stop reporting case numbers so as not to cause panic. And the number of tests per 1,000 people in Uganda and Kenya are much lower than in the US. So there may be undetected cases there. However, the percentage of tests that are positive in Kenya is about on par with the US (6% and 7%, respectively), and Uganda’s percentage is much lower (2% positive). A higher percentage suggests that countries may not be doing enough testing to understand the extent of the outbreak. (I played around a lot with the Our World in Data charts, which use European CDC data.) David Zarembka, an American Quaker living in Kenya, and others have pointed out how American and European organizations and news sources seemed reluctant to credit African governments with making better decisions around managing a pandemic. Some theories that emerged to explain away the low case numbers in Africa included suggesting that African people had some genetic difference that kept them from getting the virus (you’d have to ignore the outbreak in South Africa…). Others suggested that hot temperatures were preventing the disease (never mind that Brazil has a similar climate…). David summarizes by saying, “Notice that all of these explanations give no agency to Africans themselves, their governments, or their health officials. It is all due to external factors. They are also all false, but the racists can’t see beyond their racism to understand the real reasons Africa have done so well. They are unable to accept that Africans are doing much, much better than the Europeans/Americans because of their own efforts. Moreover they cannot comprehend that they could learn from the positive successful examples in Africa.” Lessons Not Yet Learned What lessons could Western countries have learned? Kenya and Uganda completely shut their borders after the very first cases were detected in their countries. All flights in and out were cancelled. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, was shut off from the rest of the country, so that any cases that might have come from the single case were not spread to the rest of the country. That same week, all schools were closed and a nighttime curfew closed all evening entertainment. When I arrived in the Nairobi airport last year, I had my temperature checked to screen for ebola. That was already normalized there. In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, all transportation was immediately prohibited, unless you had a special permit to drive. This forced everyone to stay in one place. In both countries, masks were required inside all buildings. (Read also what Ghana did right.) Meanwhile, the US borders were still open to flights, and people weren’t being effectively told to quarantine upon arrival. Domestic flights within the US and Canada were (and are) still operational. And case numbers continue to grow. Emergency Support Still Crucial All this is not to say that our SIA partner communities in Africa have not been affected by the virus. While African countries have managed to control virus outbreak (they’d already had practice from dealing with ebola), the Emergency grant funds that SIA sent were still crucial. I’ve written about how hunger increased under the extreme lockdowns and all sources in income were lost. The food and emergency aid that we sent was absolutely necessary to reduce suffering. Kenyan and Ugandan governments haven’t done as well at supporting their citizens to weather the storm. There aren’t the same widespread government safety nets of unemployment insurance and stimulus checks. However, it is time to revise my thinking about how African countries acted in ways that contained the virus, and what Western countries could have done differently, if we have looked to them for inspiration.

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