Tuesday, May 17, 2016

From Invisible to Invincible

“I use to be invisible to my husband and his family. I was uneducated and treated as if I had no value or worth. I was not seen or heard. Since graduating from www.shiningalight.org ‘s program I am now respected. They ask me advice and include me in family decisions. They want my opinion. I use to be invisible but now I am invincible”. These words came from Christina one of our graduates who is now our Training Center Manager.

Christina, like all our other graduates is creating a “Ripple Effect” in her village by sharing her knowledge of Money Management with more then 100 people. She has taught 24 people to bead so they may earn an income. She shares her faith and The Gospel with hundreds of people and her knowledge of Clean Water has spread to over 100 people as well. That means that the $2500 it cost to Empower Christina has now been broken down to around $8 per person or family. If one person receives the knowledge then an entire family will benefit.

Gorgeous Products by Our Students
There are a few ways to support our students and raise the $2500 that is empowering so many. I have been doing “Sandal Parties” for the last 6 years that raise most of the funds to support the Tanzanian Side of www.shiningalight.org This makes Tanzania and our Training Center over their sustainable. You can Host a party by calling up friends and family and gathering them at your house. I will come with all of our products (not just sandals) and the women get to try on cute sandals, skirts, belts and jewelry. All of the proceeds from these purchases go back to Christina and women like her,  plus all the families they are passing on their education to.
Hosting a Party Can Change So Many Lives

It’s an easy and fun way to help! You can email me Jennifer@shiningalight.org and set up a party today. Just an open home can help so many lives. Your willingness to do this makes a huge difference!

Checkout our products at www.shiningalight.org

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Shining a Light gets a little brighter

I want to tell you about Shining a Light. I want to tell everyone about Shining a Light. The reason? It’s pretty amazing! Amazing, because of the results. There are countless success stories of our students and the empowerment that is being passed on through them, transforming lives that didn’t even go through our program. A huge ripple effect of transformation and empowerment has been created that was completely unexpected. It’s also amazing because the person God used to get this all started was also unexpected. He didn’t use a missionary, or a pastor or someone with a degree in community development.

No, God chose a drug addict to do this. Pulling me out of overwhelming darkness in to His marvelous light. Proving that He is faithful and nothing is impossible with Him.

Since 2011 Shining a Light has trained and educated 24 women through a two-year program. A program that is unique because of the complete and holistic education being taught. It's not just about training them in skills to support their families, or education about clean water, or how to manage money, or teaching them English, sharing the Gospel or how to start a business. The empowerment isn’t just one of those areas. It’s ALL of them! That’s what makes this program so powerful.

What started with a desire to see the women in Tanzania earn money to support their families has developed in to an extensive, overall transformation. We have accomplished results that are overcoming cultural barriers and economic hurdles. Hurdles these women or those of us who chased after this vision never believed possible. 

As the Founder I believe Shining a Light’s vision is extraordinary. So, I’ve dedicated the last six years to sharing it with everyone I could. Passing along updates on graduates, building and improving the curriculum and constantly seeking better ways to prove to these women they are capable of greatness. That dedication is now moving us forward, thinking bigger and preparing us to match their greatness by expanding and transforming many more lives. 

Greatness like seeing our students upgrade their children’s education from government schools to private schools. Greatness like 242 people being trained in a job skill by our graduates, making them employable and capable of sustaining their families. Greatness like discovering that our graduates are giving seminars on clean water and money management at their churches. Greatness like being so bold to share their faith with over 800 people. 

They have us feeling inspired and overwhelmingly obligated to grow, open more Training Centers and continue to provide the resources and opportunities for our students to empower and transform the people of Tanzania. We can’t stop now, friends. This is just the beginning of something so unique and surprisingly special - Tanzanians Empowering Tanzanians. Africa making huge changes not by westerners or a celebrity but by their very own neighbor, a local, someone just like them. 

In October we decided as a Board that we would do everything in our power to move forward, which meant transitioning from one woman’s vision to a team of dedicated hearts fighting to see Africa step up to the challenge of sustaining themselves. We added board members to fill emtpy roles, but with the key role of growing from one Training Center to many. We hired a marketing firm that would help get these incredible numbers and amazing stories out to as many people as possible. And most exciting, a very talented, high profile video producer has volunteered his time to travel to Tanzania to catch all this awesomeness on film. The goal is to share these stories with so many people that Tanzania turns into a country that supports itself and teaches others to do the same. 

This blog is going to share not only our journey as an organization, but more importantly, we want you to meet these amazing women. We want you to hear their stories of transformation and feel connected. This amazing work is only possible because of supporters like you, and we want to share with you all the wonderful work that God is accomplishing. Let's empower some... wait... no, TONS of women, children, families and communities in Tanzania. And it is our prayer that all of us, even you reading this blog, get inspired to continue the ripple effect of empowerment and transformation in our own lives.  


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Post By Marcia Gates a Recent Visitor and Newest Board Member

Marcia (on right) Interviewing a Current Student with Angie 
Empowerment (noun): the granting of power to perform various acts or duties.

This is a word used a lot by Shining a Light.

When I see the definition of empowerment, the word that jumps off the page to me is “power”. Power is a strong word. It makes me think of lightning, electricity, God, things changing. Basically, something not staying the same because of the power or energy it has been given to change something else. Lightning has the power to start fires. Electricity has the power to make things run. God created the world.

I would say this same power is given to the 15 or so women that have the opportunity to be a part of SAL every two years. Their lives will never be the same, and they are now given the power to change the lives of their families. I saw this clearly when I spent two weeks with SAL in Arusha in January. The back-story of what brought me and my friend Angie to Arusha is incredible, and God’s hand is evident throughout the whole thing. But that’s for a whole other blog post.

Every time I walked into the training center, I could just feel the energy and passion of the women. They are extremely skilled, and it is amazing to watch them work with such ease and confidence.

However, when you sit any of them down to talk, you can quickly tell their culture teaches them to be timid. It’s difficult to get them to tell you anything other than exactly what they think you want to hear, with hunched shoulders and little eye contact. This is so sad to me because women are wonderfully made, and God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power. But that is a cultural change that will take many, many years to address.

It is amazing how their demeanor completely changes when they are working. They confidently bead the sandals, use the sewing machine, and laugh with each other the whole time. They know they are good at something. They know they have skills. They know they are changing their lives, one sandal at a time.

When I was there, I had the privilege of interviewing many of the women, asking them their story. I wanted to know what their life was like before coming to SAL, how they had changed since being there, and what their plans were after graduation. It was heartbreaking to hear the many stories of abuse and neglect. Many are lied to by men who get them pregnant and then leave, leaving them as single mothers. Single mothers with little or no skills to provide for their child(ren). My husband and I will be first-time parents in April, and I can’t imagine raising a child by myself, being solely responsible for all of her needs.

However, their stories made their future seem that much brighter. I could see and hear the sincerity in their voice when they said they were grateful that they now have skills, and how SAL has changed their lives. They are equipped to start their own businesses or get good jobs! Their kids can now go to school. They now have clean drinking water. Their stomachs don’t hurt anymore because of contaminated water. They put food on the table. These are all things that wouldn’t have been possible two years prior (they are about to graduate the two year program in April).

They realize they now hold the power to change their lives. SAL empowered them through business classes, bible studies, english classes, beading, sewing, and teaching them healthcare. They now possess all of these tools, and it is up to them to utilize them.

Empowerment. That is definitely the word I would use to sum up what I saw in that beautiful city in Tanzania.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Day In The Life of a Tanzanian Missionary

As most missionaries, or anyone working in a third world country know, you make your plans for the day and then walk out of your gate to some issue that needs to be addressed immediately, interrupting the goals you had for the day. Also, things rarely go the way you have planned in your mind. I wanted to share with you such a day (experience) of making plans and then having "Tanzania" happen, placing obstacles before you that try to prevent your accomplishments for the day.

Monday afternoon I had an appointment at World Vision. Our ladies at Shining a Light (www.shiningalight.org) have been using Sawyer Water Filters as part of our health care program.  I have witnessed first hand how the benefits of having clean water in their homes have increased the quality of life in their lives and the lives of their families. Because of this, I became a distributor of these filters in Tanzania so Shining a Light can share clean water within their community and all over Tanzania. My meeting with World Vision was to figure out how to partner with them and their many projects to get clean safe drinking water out to the rural areas of Tanzania.  

My appointment was at 4:00pm and in the back of my mind, I knew that Tanzanians operate on “Africa Time”, although I was going to be on time to this meeting if it killed me. My mother says, "If you are on time, then you are late". So I usually show up early to most any place I need to be, here or in the states.  Earlier that day I had given the Shining a Light vehicle to our shop manager to travel to Moshi (an hour away) to pick up the leather we use to make our sandals.  As I handed him the keys I said "Elisha, I have a meeting at 4:00 please be back by 3:30 so I can have enough time to make it there. By 3:20, I was out the door with my water filter in hand, along with a five-gallon bucket and bag full of information on Sawyer Products. The 100-degree weather hits me right in the face, as I’m all dressed up in my best business attire the heat is already beginning to make me feel deflated.

Its now 3:30 and I begin to call Elisha. Because of the phone service here in Tanzania I can't get through and must repeatedly redial which is frustrating me even more and starting to try my patience which I lack in a big way (it’s a constant prayer item, I assure you). All the while feeling more and more deflated because of the intense heat and inefficient phone serviceI now have only twenty minutes to make it to my meeting, which could potentially bring clean and safe drinking water to many people in Tanzania.

I turn to Angie, my volunteer who is joining me on this sales call, and say in shear panic say, “What should we do”? At this time you need to try and imagine complete stress on my face, panic in my eyes, and sweat dripping down my forehead. I tell her we need to call a taxi. Now, no taxi's are in the area around my house so we are going to have to walk/run a good distance up a steep hill to the main road and hail down a taxi all with 5 gallon bucket, water filters, and a bag full of information packets all dressed up in my best "TZ professional attire".

We begin the trek up the hill, repeatedly redialing Elisha's number. I also need to find a taxi to call so after digging through my phone contacts finally find a number for a taxi driver I have used in the past and still trying to get through to Elisha's phone while running up the hill carrying all my baggage and sweating to no end. The Taxi driver f
Freddy picks up and in my best, non-panic Swahili, I beg him to hurry and come pick us up. You have to imagine that hurry in Swahili which is “haraka” but does not often get put into action. Freddy meets us at the top of the hill and I realize that after not seeing him for many months I must be charming, sweet and inquire about how life has been since we last met. All things I am in no mood to do at this moment. But I do the only thing I know how to do in times like these, pray. I Pray that I will be kind and courteous to Freddy and greet him as an old friend even though my clothes are soaked, my hair looks like I just stepped out of the shower and I am mad as heck at Elisha. Freddy has the one thing that can redeem this situation at the moment (besides a ride to my meeting) AIR CONDITIONING! So as I am cooling off and taking deep breaths to calm myself Freddy and I catch up.  My Swahili isn’t fluent on a good day, let alone a stressed filled one but we get through it and all is well.

At this time, I finally reached Elisha on the phone, only to find out he is still thirty miles away. I ask him, “what happened to you” to which he replied, “I’m so sorry Jennifer”. But me being who I am, I'm looking for an explanation of why he didn’t inform me that he was running late. I know after living here for 7 years that this kind of thing happens often (people running late) but why not call me? I'm trying not to yell or say things I would later regret but I continue to ask for a reason of why he didn't just call. His response is still "I'm sorry". No reason why. No explanation just sorry. Like I mentioned before I couldn't get through on his line but I feel he could have found another phone to use for this important call. Finally, I just ask him to meet us at World Vision and we can figure it out later.

As we are driving out to the meeting, I take a deep breath and enjoy the air conditioning. We are going to be on time, a pure and simple miracle after all of that. We are two miles from our destination with five minutes to spare. I am ready to share my passion and desire of clean and safe drinking water accessible to the people of Tanzania.

And Then It Happens

 We get a flat tire. UGH! I could cry. In fact I can't believe I didn't.  I look to Freddy who looks at me with a mixture of yikes, I'm so sorry and what should we do? He knows what has happened in the past 40 mins. and he knows this meeting is important to me.  His giving me this look just sitting there there for a few seconds (felt like an hour) looking to me for an answer. I shout, “Freddy go change the tire”. He jumps out and starts the process. Now thoughts are rushing through my mind on what I should do. Do I wait? Do I get out and run the two miles to the office? Or do I just give up and go home after the tire is changed.

I start to contact James, the World Vision employee, to let him know we would be late. After the 12th ring, he finally answers the phone (I'm pretty sure I was praying then too). I tell him my situation, to which he replied no worries I will be waiting here. But now Freddy can't get the spare out of his trunk. It's locked in so tight he can't remove it. I get out and I get the same look of his from the car looking to me for answers on what we should do. I pray again. I pray for understanding, patience and that I could possibly make this meeting.

Just then a school bus comes roaring down the dirt road. They stop to check on Freddy and I noticed it was near empty with only a few girls left to be dropped off. I run over to the driver and plead for a ride to World Vision. The driver waves us on the bus, so we say a quick goodbye to Freddy and pay him for a memorable taxi ride.

We finally arrive to World Vision, which is headquartered in Arusha. It’s a rather large complex and it took some time to find James’ office. It was exactly 4:06. I gave him the short rundown of events and he says to me, “You aren’t even late”. A little piece of me laughs inside because I know Africa Time. I tell him that God wants this meeting to happen, so nothing was going to stand in my way. Not time-challenged shop managers, 100-degree weather, flat tires or Africa Time.

The meeting was wonderful. We got to discuss the awesome project that James and his colleague Linda are working on out in the bush, to create jobs. They were impressed by the products of Business Connect (www.buisnessconnect.net), whom I’m partnering with here in TZ to bring life enhancing products to those in need.

Sawyer Water Filter sold through Business Connect
By the time I got home and relaxed, I couldn’t wait to jump in the shower and clean up. As I went to turn on the hot water, I noticed we were out. Lucky me, I got to experience my very own ice bucket challenge, Africa style. I couldn’t wait to just fall asleep and forget the craziness of this day. Around 1am, I wake to a knock at my window. Normally that would scare the “bejeebies” out of me but since I was so exhausted it didn’t really phase me. I rushed out of my bed as I heard my guard calling out to me in his Swahili/Maasai mix. He is about 58 years old and is our village leader. He comes prepped with bow and arrow, blow horn to alert others of trouble and a blanket so he can nap on my couch outside until if and when trouble comes. I have no idea what he is trying to tell me but I get up, pull on a sweatshirt and go outside to find out what is so important to wake me up. But since I can’t get a clear understanding, I call Elisha our shop manager (who is always there for me and protects Shining a Light, like its his own). By some miracle he is awake or at least woke up to answer my call. I hand the phone to the guard and he explains to Elisha what is going on. The guard hands me back the phone and says "sorry Jennifer" and goes out the gate.

I discover that a lady in the village is sick and needed to go to the hospital. They wanted me to drive her to the hospital and most likely pay the fees. Elisha told him there are others in the village with a car and it doesn’t always need to be me. Because I am the only mzungu (white person) in the area and I tend to never say no to this sort of thing, he came to me. Now I have no problem helping my community out, this is why I am here. It's not just to empower the women and teach them to empower others but to shine the light to the entire community. In saying that, it doesn't mean that every time there is a problem they get to come to me for an easy fix. Empowering means to teach them to handle issues and fix problems themselves. Of course, if nobody else would step up I wouldn’t pass at the opportunity to help.

Once Elisha gave our guard other options, he found a neighbor to help. It was wonderful to see other community members step up and care for others in need. The only other time the guard has ever knocked on my bedroom window was when he first started. He knocked at 6:00am his first night to tell me he was going home. Precious! 

Having Shining a Light in this community is not to solve all their problems and give handouts. We are here to give a hand up and to teach them to solve their problems. That is true empowerment. I managed to go back to sleep that night. Before I did I spent time in prayer. I prayed for that woman, I prayed for knowledge to know when to step in and when to let them figure out a solution themselves. Lastly, I prayed that I would have patience to slow down, take a deep breath, and carry on with the calling God placed in my life.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -Anais Nin 

In November, Jennifer began praying for the Lord to bless Shining a Light with more individuals who could share in the vision and passion of the organization. She knew that in order to grow, we needed supporters who could network and spread the message.

Her prayers were answered at the beginning of December, when a friend introduced Jennifer to Marcia Gates. Marcia comes to us from years of experience in the nonprofit sector. She wanted to experience the program firsthand before she began helping in the States. Marcia was five months pregnant at the time and wanted to travel with a friend. She thought of Angela Sommers, a social worker who volunteered in Tanzania back in 2011. The ladies met with Jennifer to learn more about the organization, while also attending a speaking engagement. A week later, Marcia and Angie had both booked a flight to Arusha and couldn't wait to start collaborating with SAL. 
Pictured above: Marcia Gates (left) and Angela Sommers (right)

During their stay, the ladies had the opportunity to engage with the women involved in the program. They interviewed several of the women to better understand their culture along with the barriers they face in this community. Marcia and Angie also got the chance to sit with women and learn the techniques and construction of the sandals. They also got to experience the sewing class and were able to help with the launch of our new product: Wrap skirts!

Marcia and Angie spent their last week conducting home visits with a couple graduates. The ladies wanted to see the program come full circle. Towards the end of the trip, Angie decided that she would like to extend her trip to offer support in gathering the graduate data. Angie plans to stay another three weeks to meet with each graduate at their home to see the progress of our program. She will be collecting information on their current business, family life, and overall satisfaction with the program. We will use this data to help plan for our future classes and how we can better mentor our graduates leaving the program. 

Shining a Light is excited to announce that our current class will be graduating this spring. The women are currently finalizing their business plans and are excited to share that with all of you. We are also in the process of welcoming our new student for 2015. Applications have been distributed and we plan to conduct several interviews before starting our next group. 

The organization is off to a great start in our new year. We look forward to see the progress and growth that will take place this year. Jennifer VanderGalien will be returning to the states towards the end of March. We are currently booking speaking engagements and sandal parties for the Spring. Please contact Tiffany to set up the dates for those events. Her contact information is available through our website at www.shiningalight.org. 

Blessings to you for another year of empowering women one sole at time. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day Four Under a Tin Roof!

Happy sharing her story!
After spending a few days getting to know this close, beautiful family one thing is clear, Monika is not the average single mother. She has so much help and support from her three oldest children, Happy, Rosemary and Jennifer.  In Tanzania girls take on responsibility at a very young age. They begin helping with the housework around 8 or 9 years old and sometimes even younger. Their chances of education depend on the financial situation of the family and many never pass Primary School (7th grade). They know there is no money for them to continue school and their load of work at home often becomes too much to study and do well at school. Their future is finding a husband and having children. This is not the case with Monika's children. Monika has struggled to keep her girls in school. Although they are a huge help around the house they still study hard and hope for an opportunity at College.

I spoke with Happy to hear her story. Happy, the oldest is waiting to go to College. At 18 years old she has not only finished Secondary School but she has passed her exams. This is rare for a girl in her situation. The problem is there is no money to send her. Even though Monika has worked hard learning the skill of beading and sewing she doesn't make enough to send Happy for the 2 and a half years it's required to get her degree which is only $2,000. And so Happy waits. She is waiting for a miracle. Maybe help from another family member or the off chance her mother will find enough money so she can go. Most likely Happy will have to find another way to make her way in the world. My fear is that she will see that finding a man and having a baby is her only option and settle for that. A young girl sees marriage as a chance to change her status in this culture. Right now she is nothing, or so she feels. With no husband and no children and being a girl she is as low on the social scale as she can be in the eyes of her community.

This story is so common. When I mee
t and interview the women that come into our program I often hear how they thought marrying a man and having his child would make their life have meaning, that they would be something, if only a mother and a wife. Most of these women are left abandoned with out any way to support their child. The husband leaves or wanders coming in and out of their lives. This story is so common and so sad and yet at Shining a Light we are breaking that cycle. We are providing opportunities for women to support their families and change their future.

Happy has hope right now. A hope of making something better then her mother had and someday supporting her younger sisters to attend school. We will continue to search for a path that her mother can afford and a path that can further her younger siblings in life. She has two more sisters that are doing awesome in school and will one day need to decide where and how they will spend their future. Happy wishes to be a role model and Shining a Light is determined to assist her in making a way and changing the fate that so many of the Tanzanian women face.