East Africa: Small grants make a big difference

In October and November of 2015, a team of six Pangea members traveled to East Africa to visit with our grant partners, both present and past. Here are some of their impressions and learnings from the field.



Cheryl, Pangea Member (in blue), connecting with women from an agricultural co-op  supported by a Pangea grant.

Warm smiles, gracious gestures, and incredible gratitude was palpable on our adventures in Kenya as we visited our partner organizations and the communities they serve – among the most marginalized people in East Africa. It was 10 days of action-packed, exhilarating experiences opening my eyes wider to what rural life in Kenya is like. Much of our time was spent in the communities – meeting the real beneficiaries of our grants. The tenacity, courage and hard work evident in the stories shared was beyond impressive. As a Pangea member for years, I have sometimes wondered whether my contributions to the annual grant pool were making a difference. This trip provided an answer.
~ Cheryl Houser

In Kenya’s Rift Valley, one of the most powerful experiences for me, was attending a grandstand-style ceremony proclaiming Lomolo A Village, an FGM Free zone (Female Genital Mutilation, also known as female cutting or female circumcision). This event included entertainment and speeches from an impressive array of community leaders, students, teachers, and education officials.  A highlight was when, Elizabeth Barta, (pictured right), a grandmother who had previously performed “the cut” on the village girls for decades spoke to 23080662473_a9473aec22_othe crowd of hundreds proclaiming, “FGM in Lomolo A must end!” Even though female cutting became illegal in Kenya in 2011 many rural communities are continuing the dangerous practice due to deep cultural traditions. 

Displaced twice by the government after post election violence in 2007, historically Lomolo A, a village of 3500 (350 households) with limited resources had a 75% FGM rate and is now dramatically lowering those numbers primarily due to Dandelion Africa’s Girls for Leader’s program – supported entirely by Pangea grants the past two years.

In 2015, 98 girls from 6 schools were involved in the powerful program. Dandelion Africa  educated them about the dangers of FGM as a strategy to protect their reproductive health, prevent early marriage and childbearing thus allowing them to stay in school. In the program, they also take part in community outreach about FGM through various campaigns alongside local professionals. The educational tutoring they receive has paid off, 5 of the girls from the original group of 23 took top rankings in their class this past year! We  noticed a remarkable difference in the self confidence in the first year girls vs. those who had been in the program 2 years. The self esteem and sense of worth that is taking root with these girls is the kind of impact that is hard to measure, but is profound in improving lives.


A surprise was learning how the idea of including boys in the program is taking hold. In response to demand in the community, Dandelion expanded its program to include 50 boys this past year. The boys seemed so proud to be supporting the girls while sporting their “Boys for Change – Girls Have Rights Too” t-shirts – quite an accomplishment for a region known to have tremendous gender inequity. Apparently boys in this region have issues surrounding their own circumcision right of passage. At 13, they are often encouraged to start drinking alcohol to “become a man” which can lead to poor school performance and drop outs. They’ve noticed how well the girls in the program are doing academically and don’t want to be left behind. Dandelion is helping support them too.

In nearby Nakuru, we had the pleasure of meeting and socializing with the team of Tears Kenya, a previous grantee, and ongoing partner and adviser, where they reflected on how Pangea grants had kickstarted many of their programs (some of which are now self-sustaining)  that are continuing to empower youth in the arts and business. Collaboration among Pangea’s partners and previous grantees is valuable. Their director is also on the board of Dandelion Africa and originally told us about them. (see above)


Beehives , funded by Pangea are now in BIOGI’s farming co-ops are providing extra income for families.

Near Luanda, in Western Kenya, our grant partner BIOGI  had a very impressive visit in store for us. They train small subsistence community farmers using permaculture principles; biomimicry (sustainable innovations inspired by nature), polyculture (using multiple crops in the same place), catch and store energy use, and use and value diversity (replicating natural systems) to increase agricultural yields and build community. Recent projects include creating food forests, farming fish and initiating beekeeping (funded by Pangea in 2015).

This dynamic program is helping those who had lost confidence in their family farms and were struggling to feed their families. Extension work trains model farmers who then mentor others and many co-op farming groups have formed to combine efforts. Here’s what two of the members had to say during tea with us in a gazebo…


DSC05561Sawmill shares, ” BIOGI’s training program have made it possible for me to stay at home and provide for my family with my wife on the family farm, rather than move to a big city for work, leaving my family behind as so many men have to do in rural Kenya. (Pictured left)

Esther says, “This land was very dry. We used to buy fertilizer that was ruining our soil and cut trees down randomly. There were no homes for bugs. I heard of BIOGI and went to a training. I felt it was important to have a group to learn together. Now I am not frustrated. People are not hungry anymore. We use cow droppings for fertilizer, terracing is good. It’s healthy!  (Pictured right)

Visiting our previous grantee of 7 years, near Kitale, Common Ground offered some surprises too. Touring the Pathfinder school and attending a special program they prepared for us was impressive, especially how well mannered and positive the students seemed. It was gratifying to see basic things Pangea members had provided for the school over the years, like a school kitchen and a water system. Girls who had come from very humble and often troubled beginnings were now enrolled in the accredited high school program, Common Ground has created. We had the privilege of laying the first cornerstone of the new Luana High School, where the land will be used to grow food for the school with organic farming principles.


Inside the grain storage unit Pangea funded for the Wasoni Women’s Co-op

Meeting the WASONI Women’s Cooperative, another Common Ground project supported by Pangea’s grants multiple years, was a real treat as the women oozed with gratitude about how Pangea helped them develop their successful agricultural cooperative.  Two longtime Pangea members, Sydney Munger and JoAnn Schindler co-led workshops with the coop in the early stages of its formation. Now 600 women strong they are storing seeds for when prices are high and selling excesses to the World Food Bank program for good profits. We saw the grain storage unit that Pangea funded for the first time, which is on the same land as where the new Luana school will be. Now entirely self-sufficient, it was confirming to recall, the Wasoni Women’s Cooperative was funded solely by a Pangea Giving grants!

Last but not least, was a visit to Mauna, Kenya (near Meru) to Ciford Kenya. Here  Pangea has funded agricultural training and cook stoves for family farms as well as a powerful 5 day long Alternative Rite of Passage Programs for Girls (14-17) to help eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in their region. CIFORD just like Dandelion is learning that men and boys want to be included in the programs.

Esther, a member of one of Ciford’s women agricultural cooperatives said, “My husband went to a men’s seminar put on by Ciford and he came home happy. Around here there are only small portions of land, so we have to travel far away to Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.19.39 PMavailable plots. Sometime I stay overnight. Before the seminar, my husband would give me a hard time. After the seminar he said, I was valuable for my work. He was a controller not a doer. Now he is a partner. Even in the kitchen.” (pictured right)

During our time in field, we noticed some commonalities among our partners’ work which also highlighted some of the successful and emerging strategies for community development there. One is that an important element of programs that aim to support women and girls in the fight to end poverty, is the inclusion of boys and men. We also learned about two community-based funding models – table banking and merry-go-round – that are widespread in rural communities in Kenya and are acting as a stimulus for small scale economic development. Table banking is a group funding strategy where members of a group meet regularly, put their savings and loan repayments on the table and then borrow long or short term loans, typically at 10% monthly interest rate (which is much lower than the rate given at banks in Kenya.) Merry-go-round is a concept utilized by women’s cooperative groups to pool members’ funds and take turns utilizing them. We saw many extraordinary examples of how our partners listen to the people they serve to develop priorities and programs.

Though many challenges lie ahead including working within a political environment  often not supportive of rural community betterment, the leaders and staffs of our partner organizations seemed strong and passionate about improving the well-being of their communities. They are involving their communities to determine needs. All in all, we found our partner profile in Kenya in good shape and we are committed to continuing our partnerships in 2016.

After these days in Kenya,  I came away convinced that Pangea Giving’s small grants are making a HUGE difference!

After Kenya site visits, half of the team went on to the Segal Family Foundation Conference in Lake Navaisha, (also in Kenya)  and got the chance to meet our new Burundian partners. This worked out well as we were unable to travel to Burundi safely as originally planned. Meanwhile another team member went on to visit our partner in Tanzania.


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Pangea team with Burundi partners (front middle) at conference

Chaos continues but we remain committed to our grant partnersIt has been a rough year in Burundi with political chaos, violence and lots of uncertainty and hardships. Despite this, SaCoDe has continued providing services to women and girls, including the sewing and distribution of sanitary pads to hundreds.  Moreover, CARE has engaged SaCoDe to run some of their programs for them in Burundi.
Our partner further north, UCBUM, have found themselves in the midst of the chaos. Our liaison has had to leave the country and our Pangea funded project, “Tell Her She Can,” was suspended due to safety issues. Another of the capable young women co-founders of the group, has now stepped into the liaison role. At this time, the project is slowly getting back up to speed, and we will work with them in 2016 as the situation hopefully improves. Pangea is committed to our Burundian partners and we are hopeful for their continued success.     ~ Julia Donk


TADEC (Tanzania Deaf Child)
TADEC was founded in 2008 by a group of deaf mothers lead by Sarah Nsenga who now serves as TADEC’s Executive Director. Their small staff addresses the issues that deaf families face on a daily basis, too many of which are discriminatory. The TADEC center serves as a safe haven and nexus for all their activities.

I arrived at the TADEC center as a workshop on reproductive health ended. My initial reception was guarded; these are people who experience great discrimination outside the walls of these rooms and I was a stranger. Trust grew as I described my classroom experience with deaf students; they especially enjoyed the story of my lesson from the interpreter on how to stop my students “talking” to each other. I demonstrated by glaring and shoving my hands in my pockets. Great laughter!

IMG_0473 My time with TADEC was very short but provided an opportunity to observe:

  • a teenage boy being taught by the Apollo, the director’s husband who is deaf how to create scenes from small slivers cut from Palm tree bark;
  • deaf women socializing through the afternoon in the sign Swahili learned at the center, then lining up to collect the fare for safe transport home;
  • Dorcas, the 3-year-old hearing daughter of a deaf mother, living with silence at home but learning to talk with her time at the center.

I also heard stories:

  • the young mother in the group who came to the center at 18, unable to sign, absent rudimentary skills in self-care, now married and working with her mother making and selling chapatis;


    Robin with a deaf mother and her child who are benefiting greatly by TADEC’s programs.

  • counseling hearing parents and their deaf children, teaching both skills in communication and behavior; and the reverse;
  • help for the hearing children of deaf parents.

So many questions unasked, but so much learned, the single most important being the reality of safety and the lack thereof for deaf people. Sarah, the heart and soul of TADEC, searches out deaf families and brings them into the TADEC community. She and her husband, Apollo, sleep at the center in order to be available 24/7 should any need arise.

One thing I know for sure is this organization is doing a great job of of helping this highly marginalized group of people gain life skills and confidence. Our small grants of the past 4 years have given them hope and are making a huge difference!

When I said my goodbyes, one of the women bent to kiss my hand. I bent in turn to kiss hers.  ~ Robin Rice