Livelihood Security Fund

Shared Interest Foundation has recently awarded cashew nut producers, Aprainores a grant of $3,000 USD to go towards the cost of replacing their office equipment and electronic scales to help them to continue to trade after recent flooding in El Salvador.

Aprainores is a primary producer association consisting of over 60 families located around San Carlos Lempa, near the mouth of the Lempa River in El Salvador. Families are subsistence farmers whose sole cash income is from small cashew holdings. Together they own a processing plant employing 40-70 seasonal workers (up to nine months).

From the 10th October 2011 El Salvador endured 10 consecutive days of rain. On Monday 18th October a nearby river burst its banks. The Aprainores warehouse was flooded. Water over 1m high ruined desks, computers, production equipment and over 50% of their stock.

Managing Director, Alex Flores could initially only get within 200m of the warehouse although thankfully the water has now subsided and they are in the clean-up process.

Speaking of the funds provides by the Foundation Alex said: “Thank you so much, this is really a good news. This funds will help a lot to restore some equipments, and of course to keep us going. Thank you so much, out farmers will appreciate this support very much”.

If you would like to know more about Aprainores, the flooding or the Livelihood Security Fund, please leave a comment below.

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How HIV and AIDS have impacted lives in Swaziland

My name is Faith Muisyo, I am currently working for a project in partnership with Shared Interest Foundation. I live and work in Swaziland, a small kingdom located in southern Africa. In response to World Aids Day I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about Swaziland and how HIV and AIDS have impacted the lives of many. This is not by any means an analytical piece, rather it’s just my own reflection of the reality that I find myself living in and interacting with daily.

Swaziland is a small landlocked country located in southern Africa. Life expectancy in Swaziland is 32 years (lower than Somalia that has been at war for the last 20 years) with 47% of all deaths under 5 years of age caused by HIV/AIDS.

Swaziland, is home to world’s highest HIV/AIDS rates with a national prevalence rate of 26% amongst adults (15-49 yrs).  Of the country’s population of 1.1 million, there are more than 200,000 people living with HIV. 10% of Swazi households are run by children. These children often lack food and are cut off from basic health services and education. The stories below describes the situation in Swaziland.

Sibonelo lives in Lubombo, the poorest region of Swaziland. She is a mother of five children, whose husband died five years ago after succumbing to HIV/AIDS related complications. Sibonelo used to work in a small private company but has since been terminated as she is often too ill to attend work. Businesses have to contend with creating a conducive work atmosphere due to sick-offs, low productivity, financing an inclusive medical package (for those that do) to cover HIV+ employees. As Sibonelo is mostly in the house, she tries to work on her small vegetable garden. When she can no longer walk the 2 km to her farm, she cannot harvest and sell her vegetables. This means that there is less income and therefore less food for her family. She used to get free anti retroviral drugs from the government hospital. But with the current financial crisis, she is not sure how long the drugs at the public hospital will last.  All she has is a month’s supply but what good will this do as lack of adequate food and nutrition will leave her less able to cope with HIV as effective treatment depends on a good diet.  Sibonelo’s first born son is only 14 years and her last born two years. What will become of them? If no one comes to their assistance, the obvious is inevitable, drop out of school, be vulnerable and the cycle of poverty repeats itself over and over again.

The family next door is not any better either. 10 year old Simphiwe injured his right leg playing football at school. Over the next few days he was visibly in pain. The school sent notes home, urging his parents to send him to see a doctor. There was no reply, however, because Simphiwe is an orphan and his elder sister Zanele is the sole bread winner. Zanele is just one of more than 78,000 orphans in Swaziland. Each morning, Zanele wakes up at 5:30am, builds a fire and makes a pot of porridge to feed the little ones: Simphiwe age ten, and Sphe, who is five. In the evening, if there is enough food, she will prepare dinner for them. She also helps them with their homework, cares for them when they are sick and reassures them when they are scared. She is clearly a devoted parent to these children. But she is not their mother. At only16, Zanele is practically a child herself, too young to take up parental responsibilities but life hasn’t left her with much of an option. Sphe is her nephew, who was abandoned by his mother, Zanele’s step sister. The three of them live on their own in a crumbling mud home in a remote part of Lubombo. Tall and striking, Zanele has a shy smile and a bearing that is well beyond her years. She has seen more than her share of hardship. In 2005, her father died after a year of illness. A year later, her mother became sick and Zanele began to care for her. When she lost her mother in 2008, Zanele’s world was shattered. After her mother’s death, grief and despair consumed her. She didn’t know what to do and, at one point, contemplated suicide. But then, she thought of her siblings. What would happen to them? Then she told herself that she would live for them. Her strength and selflessness are remarkable. She was only fourteen years old.

Simphiwe, Sphe and Zanele’s is a typical story of an orphan headed household with parents having died in their prime and the children not been spared the stigma and discrimination that is often more vicious than the disease.

When one meets all these lovely people affected or infected with HIV in Swaziland,  people whose suffering seems so palpable and almost threatens to define who they are to you, to imagine them as heroic, as stoic and amazingly resilient people. It is tempting to do so because the closer you get to the lives of people, the more you recognize the most obvious things. Firstly, they are not defined by the circumstances of their suffering. They are not HIV/AIDS patients first; they are defined simply by who they are, the jokes they tell, the dreams they have, the anger they carry, the fear they know, the desires they have, their sense of family, of friendship. They are as puzzled by the vicious irony of their circumstance as we all are. They deserve to live a dignified life, they also need all the love and support that they can get.

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Tyne Bridge Zip Slide For Shared Interest Foundation

Last weekend, in support of farmers and artisans in Africa and Latin America, 27 courageous (and several terrified) individuals jumped off the Tyne Bridge to travel 230 metres at 25 miles per hour from Newcastle to Gateshead.

So why did they do it?

Shared Interest Foundation Manager, Andrea Van Wagtendonk explains:

“We ran the ZIP Across the Tyne challenge to raise money for Shared Interest Foundation. Those who took up the challenge raised money that will be used to   help producers in the developing world create a sustainable income for their families.”

Volunteer Manager, Rachel Norman, was among a number of staff that got involved. She said “The zip wire was a really fun way to fundraise for a fantastic cause as well as raising the profile of the Shared Interest Foundation.”

The zip slide has been a great help to Shared Interest Foundation and in turn those that it supports. A big thank you to everyone involved from the organisers, Zip Slide UK, and the zip sliders themselves! If you would like to organise a fundraising activity for Shared Interest Foundation then please get in touch with your ideas.

Zip wire team photo

Shared Interest Foundation Zip wire

Shared Interest Foundation Zip wire two

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Congratulations to Tintsaba, Gone Rural and Fetola

Great news from Shared Interest Foundation, three organisations that we work with through our Swaziland training project Tintsaba, Gone Rural and Fetola have won prestigious awards.

Tintsaba were awarded with the “For Her” prize at the Be Fair Awards. The award celebrates the success of organisations that mainly consists of women. The Be Fair Awards are the annual recognition of fair trade initiatives from the Trade for Development Centre of the Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC).

The women of Tintsaba have a reputation as master weavers in sisal thanks to their products’ excellent quality and design. The women of the co-operative are trained to weave sisal as well as make jewellery. The group also provides training opportunities for other women in the region.

The jury commented: “We wanted to reward Tintsaba for its holistic approach, which includes business and social support. Thanks to its innovative production model, which generates high-quality products, Tintsaba is a source of inspiration for other entrepreneurs.”

Handicraft producers, Gone Rural were awarded the Trade Sector award in the African Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) Awards. The awards are organised by the Africa Growth Institute, in partnership with African governments, private sector institutions, NGO’s and SMME support agencies.

Gone Rural was founded by the late Jenny Thorne in the 1980s to create sustainable incomes for rural women in Swaziland, with the objective of bringing independence and a voice to these women. Today, it creates sustainable income for over 760 women throughout Swaziland. In the last four years the business has doubled in size and quadrupled the women’s income. Gone Rural supplies over 400 retail stores internationally with products sold in some of the worlds most renowned home stores.

Swaziland fair trade business

Mrs Nkambule from Gone Rural, a women’s weaving cooperative in Swaziland

We are really proud of the achievements of the groups and we look forward to hearing about future successes from them and the other groups that we work with across Swaziland.

Fetola were awarded the coveted Africa SSME Award 2011. We have been working with Fetola for the last 4 years and this month launched a second phase project with them. The new project involves training 40 new craft producers throughout South Africa in business and financial skills, market access and good governance.  You can read more about our work with Fetola by clicking here.

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Zip across the Tyne

Fancy joining the 25 of Shared Interest staff and volunteers who are rising – quite literally – to our latest fundraising challenge?

There are 5 places left for our Zip Slide Challenge which will see our adventurous volunteers travel 230 meters across the Tyne at 25mph on the 29th October 2011. New volunteers are asked to raise £85 for Shared Interest Foundation. £35 covers the cost of the experience and the remaining £50 will be used to support the Foundation in its mission to help producers in the developing world to create a sustainable income for their families.

To get involved all you need to do is contact Shared Interest Foundation on 0191 233 9129 or email andrea.vanwagtendonk@shared-interest.com to book your place.

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Shared Interest Cyclists make it Cross Country

This weekend a group of Shared Interest employees and the family and friends they convinced to join in headed to Whitehaven in Cumbria where they embarked on a three day, 140 mile cycle across the country that took them to Keswick, then Alston before reaching their final destination of Tynemouth on Sunday afternoon.

I was lucky enough to be involved…without actually doing any cycling! Supporter Relations Officer (North), Ruth Taylor and I were officially the support team and had the job of driving the van that transported the bikes, luggage and more importantly the team’s lunches. Thankfully our rapid response services weren’t really needed, aside from the time Finance Director, Tim Morgan got lost but we won’t go into that….

It was great to be involved in the process and see the effort that went into raising over £2,000 that will be used by the Foundation to support small scale businesses in the developing world.

The weekend was lots of fun and everyone really enjoyed the experience; surprisingly everyone was still in high spirits even after their ascent to the top of Hartside. I was very impressed with the stamina shown by all across the three days; the team did really well in less than pleasant weather conditions to make it to Tynemouth.

Credit and Risk Manager, Andrew Ridley pulled the team of intrepid travellers together earlier this year, speaking of the challenge he said: “This was great opportunity to take on a sizeable physical challenge whilst raising some funds for the Foundation. Overall the weekend was a great success, by the end of the ride the group had a great sense of camaraderie and pride knowing that we had all cycled the 140 miles together and raised funds that we know will be used wisely by the Foundation.”

Not forgetting the point behind the cycle, Shared Interest Foundation Manager, Andrea Van Wagtendonk said: “I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the cyclists, the support team and their sponsors. The team of cyclists travelled from as far away as Nottingham and London to cycle the coast to coast on behalf of Shared Interest Foundation. This money will be put to good use, providing education and training to disadvantaged handcraft makers and farmers in the developing world, helping them trade their way out of poverty.”

Well done to all involved, I’m looking forward to discovering what the next fundraising challenge will be!

Coast 2 Coast Cycling Team

Coast 2 Coast Team

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Example of the type of people who will benefit from the Swaziland training programme

You may have read our blog about the preparations for the launch of Shared Interest Foundation’s new producer training programme in Swaziland. Zodwa Ngcamphalala is an example of the type of person that will benefit from the programme.

Zodwa has been working for a handicraft organisation for eight years. She makes decorative stitched baskets which are then despatched around the world.

Zodwa is 30 years old and has two children. Her husband is employed in South Africa and visits home every two or three months. She earns about £1 a day for her basket work which she spends on food, school fees, clothing and other necessities.

The basic diet of many families such as Zodwa’s consists mainly of maize porridge (made with water collected by hand from the river). When there is extra money available, ‘extravagant’ grocery items will include sugar beans or potatoes which are bought at Matata Trading Store (a long bus ride away).

Zodwa completed Form 5 (the highest level of secondary school) but did not write her exams at the end of that year. She has not pursued any further studies due a lack of finance and opportunity.

Having a strong survival instinct and a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit, Zodwa has used some of her income from making baskets to start a successful microbusiness offering solar-powered cell-phone charging services to her local community.

Zodwa Ngcamphalala using solar panels to charge mobile phones

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Swaziland training programme prepares for launch

Preparations for the launch in early June of  Shared Interest Foundation’s new producer training programme in Swaziland are well advanced.

The project manager and three other staff responsible for administration, marketing and finance have been appointed and five business development officers, who will deliver the training and mentoring, are expected to be in post by mid‑April.

The three year programme, which was awarded £502,000 by Comic Relief, is the largest ever undertaken by the Foundation. Working closely with Swaziland International Fair Trade Association (SWIFT) we will provide training to over 130 handicraft businesses. We estimate that this will benefit over 3,000 people.

This programme will use a similar model of training and mentoring to the Foundation’s very successful programme in Rwanda, which will end in June. However, there are some significant differences as Foundation Manager Andrea Wilkinson explains:
With this project we will be working with some very small informal businesses and sole traders. We’ll work with about 100 of these in year one and then 20 of them will go on to year two. It’s going to be challenging but the impact will be huge. We are targeting a poorer group in society. Most of them left school early due to lack of finance or family commitments. Due to the high rates of HIV/AIDS, the country has been left with many orphan‑headed households.

One of the other differences is that this programme will include specific training about managing HIV/AIDS in the workplace. In Swaziland one in three people is HIV positive, the highest rate in the world. This presents problems for individuals and for the economy. There is a huge stigma attached to AIDS and many people are sacked for being HIV positive. However if properly managed people affected can work and live a long life.

During the programme a local support organisation called SWABCHA will be helping every business to have a HIV/AIDS policy in place which sets out what they will do in certain circumstances. Some of the businesses already have this. Swazi Candles (where the project staff are temporarily based) has an HIV/AIDS counsellor.

Introducing Pablo Garrido

The recently appointed Project Manager is Pablo Martin Garrido. Originally from Spain, Pablo has direct experience of business development in Africa including in Swaziland. From December 2008 to April 2010 he was the Managing Director of Eswatini Kitchen, one of the leading fair trade companies in Swaziland.

Pablo is relishing the opportunity to “develop fair trade from the grass roots” and help small businesses break into international markets. “I strongly believe we can train Swazi craft makers how to generate more income,” he said.

Business planning, product development, quality control and capacity building will help talented Swazis to take the next step in their handicraft initiatives and this will benefit their families, livelihoods, ability to pay school fees, medical insurance etc and it will enable them to employ more Swazis.

This is a very exciting programme that touches all levels of the value chain from individual producer to small business to large company. Thank you for the opportunity to implement this programme.

To find out more about Shared Interest Foundation please click here.

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Hurricane Matthew in Chiapas

At the beginning of October 2010, Hurricane Matthew crossed over the Mexican state of Chiapas, causing severe damage to the land used by Shared Interest Society customer and organic coffee producing group, Campesinos Ecológicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas SC (CESMACH). The area in which the group lives and works suffered landslides and broken bridges; the damage has greatly impacted their coffee production.

Carlos Omero Velasco López, President of CESMACH, estimates that 70% of the group’s farmlands and coffee plantations are devastated, and of the crop produced by the 30% that remains; approximately half is likely to be damaged by excessive rain and humidity that cause disease. This is a disaster for the coffee producers and their families who rely on coffee sales to survive. In fact 75% of their income derives from their coffee farming. In addition to suffering the loss of coffee plants, many people have been left homeless following the floods, and communications and transport are limited due to damage to bridges and roads.

CESMACH has planned a recovery programme for coffee production, and Shared Interest Foundation is pleased to be able to support it with a donation of £5,000 from its Livelihood Security Fund as part of the pilot programme. This will fund the purchase of 2,500 new coffee plants and, along with land clearing and digging; the funds will go a long way to helping the producers who have suffered damages start to earn a living from coffee again. The months ahead will be challenging as CESMACH coordinates the repair of the coffee processing machinery and areas, and maintains a focus on retaining the quality of the coffee it produces. CESMACH is therefore attempting to strengthen links with government agencies and other regional actors to overcome the loss of productive assets and put into practice its medium term plan.

If you would like to donate to the Livelihood Security Fund, which supports producer groups dealing with natural disasters please send a cheque payable to Shared Interest Foundation to, Shared Interest, No. 2 Cathedral Square, Groat Market, Newcastle, NE1 4XF or donate online by clicking here.



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Shared Interest Foundation on BBC Newcastle Radio

Today I had my second experience of being interviewed live on radio. My first was in Rwanda during the launch of the Foundation’s Rwandan Producer Support Project and I was dubbed into Kinyarwanda by a man…so I’m not sure if that experience counts?!

Today, however, it was definitely my voice that was heard as I proudly promoted the Foundation’s largest project to date.

As you may be aware, late last year the Foundation was awarded over half a million pounds from Comic Relief, for our Swaziland Craft Development Project. During my interview with Simon Logan, I told North East listeners about the project in an attempt to show where the funds generated by Comic Relief actually go within the region.

In our case their money is transported into the heart of Africa, to Swaziland a small country located in the south of the continent. Swaziland, unheard of by many, has a population of 1 million people and has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world.

Simon challenged me over the old saying “charity begins at home”, asking why we should support international causes. Here at Shared Interest Foundation, we believe that we live in a global community. All of the craft makers and farmers that we work with in Swaziland don’t have a social welfare system, free education or health care, as we do in the UK. We are working to ensure that the craft makers we work with have access to basic human rights, every pound that you donate, helps charities like us, get a step closer to securing this reality for thousands of individuals across Africa.

Our project in Rwanda – check out the archive if you haven’t heard about it – had led to a 35% increase in income for the groups we worked with we aim to expand and replicate this training project in Swaziland. We will work with 130 businesses, training them in business and financial skills, market access, product development and HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

We have already started to set up our new office in Swaziland and our new Project Manager, Pablo has been extremely busy signing up the businesses that are to take part in the project.

If you would like to hear more about this project or find out how you can support us please either email andrea.wilkinson@shared-interest.com or call 0191 233 9129.

Please click here and fast forward to 2:08 to hear me on Newcastle Radio.

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