Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We've Moved!

This month, Five Talents launched a redesigned and much improved www.FiveTalents.org. In addition to the new features and navigation on the website, we've also move our blog.

We'd love for you to continue walking alongside us and those that we serve! Be sure to stay up-to-date by visiting: http://www.fivetalents.org/media-center/blog.

Kelli Ross
Director of Communications

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week 2 Wrap-Up: Training of Trainers in Sudan

We’ve just heard from Suzanne, who shared a recap of her second week in Sudan. Week 2's agenda introduced training for the financial education component of our Literacy and Financial Education Program with the Mothers’ Union and World Concern. (This training is being conducted in Juba.)

At the beginning of Week 2, 18 women (who are Mothers’ Union trainers in six dioceses in Sudan – Juba, Renk, Khartoum, Wau, Lainya and Malakal) were split up into two groups. One group received business skills training and the other half received Savings and Loan Association training.

These sessions were led by two trainers, Salome Leipa and Sarah Kasule – one from Uganda and one from Kenya – who came to Juba to teach the business skills and Savings and Loan Association curriculum. During the course of the week, these two lead trainers had the unique opportunity to encourage the Sudanese Mothers’ Union trainers as each of the trainers performs very similar roles in their home regions.

Suzanne shared this example: Two women in the business skills class had operated businesses in their village. But, due to discouragement and various circumstances, they closed their shops and gave up the idea of being businesswomen. Now, by learning a new set of skills from women who have faced similar struggles, they feel confident to start again!

During the five days of training, role plays were incorporated so that the business skills and Savings and Loan Associations groups could practice by presenting the knowledge they had gained as well as have the chance to see what the other group had been learning throughout the week.

The business skills class role play was based on a marketplace created by the women participants. They had props for goods and demonstrated the skills they learned during the training – it resulted in lots of laughter!

The Savings and Loan Association class conducted a mock meeting, giving the women in this class the opportunity to practice the proper methods of holding a savings and loan association meeting. All participants in the mock meeting saved money and some served as leaders of the group. They did a wonderful job acting out their parts and stating the objectives and values of their group.

This week (Sept. 6), marks Week 3 – Monitoring and Evaluation. During this time, trainers will receive monitoring and evaluation training and will learn more about how the program will work as a whole. The closing ceremony of this three-week training will be Friday, Sept. 10, which will be attended by the Archbishop of Sudan, the Most Rev. Dr. Daniel Deng Bul. Those who completed the training will be presented with certificates.

Suzanne noted that one of the most inspiring and encouraging aspects of this training has been that there are very young women, who are participating as Mothers’ Union trainers. This takes great bravery as it is a great challenge to gain respect as a young female. However, there are several older women who are also in the training and serving as amazing mentors and examples for the younger women!

Prayer Requests
As the Five Talents/Mothers’ Union/World Concern team (Naomi, Harun, Peter and Suzanne) is in their final days of the training, please continue to pray for them. Pray that they would have energy and the ability to clearly present all of the appropriate materials and resources for the local Mothers’ Union trainers. Also, please pray for the Mothers’ Union trainers, that they would be blessed by this training, learn skills that they didn’t possess before, and share those with community facilitators who will in turn form literacy and savings and loan association groups within the various dioceses.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Update on Sudan Training

Suzanne Schultz, our director of program, has just completed her first of three weeks in Sudan as part of the Five Talents/Mothers' Union/World Concern literacy and financial education training that is currently taking place.

McKenzie Butler, our program assistant, just spoke to Suzanne, and here's her recap:

I just wanted to give you a brief update on the literacy training taking place in Sudan this past week. I got the chance to chat with Suzanne for a few moments today, and she is doing very well. They have just finished their 1st of 3 weeks of training. This past week, Suzanne had the opportunity to sit in on the literacy training, and she is very encouraged by all that is taking place. With this Sudan program, the Mothers’ Union and Five Talents will be providing literacy training as well as business skills and savings and loan association training to community members within 6 different dioceses in Sudan.

Suzanne shared something interesting that I thought I’d pass along to you to hopefully make the training become more real, even though we are miles away.

This week, the literacy trainer was explaining to the training participants the importance of literacy in the context of savings groups. He asked the question, “How would a group member know when to attend group meetings (in order to pay interest back on their loan) if they could not read a calendar?” His point was that being given the chance to become literate opens up so many doors including the ability to join a savings group and even the ability to read expiration dates on food items to ensure that the food does not go bad before you sell it to your clients!

It is really exciting to think about this synergy of literacy and financial education training. Many, many people will be empowered and will be given the skills to read and write and to save money and receive loans for their businesses.

I hope this is an encouragement to you. Please continue to keep everyone in your prayers. Harun Matuma, who will be the National Program Director for this program will be arriving in Juba on Sunday, and Peter Macharia, our program partner at World Concern, is currently in Wau and hopes to attend some of the training as well. Please continue to pray for all of them and together let us thank the Lord for the people Five Talents has the opportunity to partner with and the work that we have ahead of us!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reflections on Sudan by Craig Cole

Recently, I traveled to Sudan with a Five Talents board member, Mr. Jim Oakes, to look at several microcredit and savings programs that Five Talents is funding and to lead a seminar on business planning and leadership principles.

The theme that best summarizes the trip and our message to the people we encountered was simply, “Don’t Ever Give In.” Jim, who preached at a Sunday service at the church in Wau, used the story of Winston Churchill giving this famous speech during World War II in which he exhorted a group of students to “Never Ever Give In.” He then used it again during our business planning and leadership principles seminar.

The testimony of the people we met in South Sudan is just that, a people who have not bowed to the horrors of almost 40 years of civil war since Sudan gained independence in 1956. And now that there has been a peace accord for four and a half years, they are hungry to learn how to become leaders and how to make their communities prosper. The church leaders and those working in the market place know they face enormous obstacles but their faith sustains them as they march toward a future they hope will bring peace and prosperity.

Overall the trip could be described as amazing and inspirational, and we clearly witnessed that the Sudanese have a desire to make a better life for themselves. They don’t seem to have the same type of entitlement mentality we sometimes see in our type of work. They understand the need for training, and they are eager to learn. There is this hopeful optimism for the future that definitely surfaces when engaged in conversation with the church and community leaders.

Yet, it is a complicated society that is still literally shell-shocked from war, and the learning curve is steep in a country that has few paved roads and a population with illiteracy rates of 85 to 90 percent in some regions. There is also an underlying tension in which violence might erupt without warning. The clan-fighting over cattle and property continues to plague the smaller towns and villages and keeps life unsettled and progress slow.

Biblically-Based Business Planning
While in Wau, we spent three days teaching basic business planning, alternating with leadership skills training. The group of 40 men and women meeting in the church were comprised of leaders in the local savings groups in Wau as well as the church leaders.

The purpose of the business planning sessions was to provide them with a learning environment where they would create an actual business plan that would include choosing a business, developing a marketing strategy and learning about record-keeping – all with a foundation in biblical values. We split the attendees into groups of six. At the end of the training, each group presented a viable business plan for the type of business they might want to start. One group wanted to start a guesthouse, another wanted to buy a tractor and then rent it out to local farmers, while others wanted to start a brick-making business and operate a rice farm.

Every time we conduct these trainings, I’m always struck by the intelligent questions and how committed the people are to learning. I shouldn’t be so surprised but that is the bias I carry with me into developing countries – that people can’t do things on their own. But, time and again, I’m proven wrong.

Leadership Training – Start Small Groups and Grow from There
One of the key points we made during the leadership training was the concept of the leader training a small group first and then spreading the word from there. We used Jesus as an example of how to lead effectively. He spent most of his time with a group of 12 men – his disciples. He trained them as a group, so they in turn could train others. The local Episcopal priest in Wau was really inspired by that idea and could envision his church becoming a training hub for the diocese by inviting a one or two priests from each region instead of all of them at once, and then training them to teach the others in Bible, evangelism and other topics.

The closing ceremony of our training was also memorable as the 40 or so participants each received a certificate and many of them gave a yell and held it up above their heads as they took it from our hands. At the end, two of the leaders in the church said a prayer for us and gave us a small gift.

Lietnhom – Transformation and Reconciliation
In December 2007, Jim visited the Lietnhom village bank site as they were just digging the foundation for the concrete bank structure. He admits that the hot, humid weather and rugged conditions made for his most difficult overseas trip.

In May 2008, the village of Lietnhom was burned to the ground by a rival ethnic group and tragically many villagers were killed and their homes destroyed. However, in the midst of the destruction, the village bank was spared because both groups had money in the bank. The local church and other leaders intervened and within one year, the savings groups were reconciled and the village bank became a focal point of community building. In 2009, the bank was dedicated as the Amat Wuot Community Bank, which in Dinka, the local language, means, “a union of communities.” Now, several different ethnic groups have members on the governing board.

The burned-out huts have been rebuilt, the marketplace has been revitalized, and the village leaders are proud of what they have accomplished. This is not just a story of individual transformation but one of an entire community that has been transformed and empowered.

“I was amazed by what has happened,” Jim remarked upon this most recent visit.

The Blacksmiths
I have one final story that I want to share with you. We met a group of blacksmiths, who were part of a savings group in Wau. As they were talking about their work, they told us they acquired their metal from burned out planes and tanks that were used in the most recent 22-year civil war. From these machines of war, they were making farm implements – literally taking swords and turning them into plowshares!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nearing Our Departure

Saturday, June 5
Heathrow Airport, London

Jim Oakes and I are in Heathrow Airport a day earlier then expected. We had planned to leave Saturday night arriving on Sunday but because of the British Airways strike, we were to be diverted to Philadelphia and take the train to D.C. Instead, we were able to book a flight Friday evening that will get us in to Dulles at about 6 p.m. EST.

Yesterday, at this time, we were in Wau having final meetings with our partners before heading off to the airport. Since then, we have taken three planes, stopped in four cities and seemed to have cleared some sort of security or immigration a dozen times. In Wau, the airport has one room to check-in and then another room to sit to wait. The landing strip is packed dirt and is used primarily by small prop planes. We first flew to Aweil to pick up passengers and then flew to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, arriving around 3:15 p.m. We met Erin Bricker from World Concern, who gave us a briefing on how to go through customs, which was helpful. It isn’t a complicated process but one needs to know that the guy stamping passports is also collecting the exit tax and then you have to go the person who makes copies of all your documents for 10 Sudanese pounds.

At 4:30, we left for Nairobi. We arrived about 6:30 p.m. cleared customs on a transit visa…checked in very early for the 11:50 p.m. flight to London and had dinner before once again going through security at our gate. I happened to sit on the plane with a man from St. James in Richmond, who had been with a team near Rumbek. Small world.

Overall the trip has been amazing and inspirational, and we clearly see that the Sudanese have a desire to make a better life for themselves. They don’t seem to have the same type of entitlement mentality we sometimes see in our type of work. They understand the need for training and they are eager to learn so there is this hopeful optimism for the future that definitely surfaces when engaged in conversation with the leaders in the church and the communities.

Yet, it is a complicated society that is still literally shell-shocked from the war, and the learning curve is steep in a country that has few roads and with illiteracy rates in some places are 85 to 90 percent. There is a tension underneath the surface in which violence might erupt without warning. The clan-fighting over cattle and property continues to plague the smaller towns and villages and keeps life unsettled and slows progress.

There is a need for people to go over and train in business planning, leadership development and especially in managing accounts. The church is in desperate need of help in training their staff in accounting, basic management and organization not to mention building the theological foundations of the clergy and congregations.

Craig Cole