Thursday, October 23, 2014

Visiting the USA: Investing in Our Partners

Exciting things are happening at Spark--both for our team and for our partner organization, Hope Ministries! Three of our friends from Zambia have come to visit us in the U.S. for a unique cultural exchange. We invest in our partners on multiple levels, not just with financial contributions or by promoting travel to our partner locations. We have the privilege to visit our partners in their homes, and so we think it's important to return the hospitality. For us, investment in Hope Ministries sometimes means inviting our partners here to meet investors and help raise support to continue our work. In addition to our big event last week, our Zambian friends were busy exploring the city!

The Zambian team exploring Chicago!

Checking out Willis Tower... anyone afraid of heights?

A picture at the Bean is a must for any tourist in Chicago

Teacher Ng'oma's taste of a classic American beverage!

This past week, our Zambian friends have not only seen the main tourist sights here in Chicago, but have also in visited local schools. As educators they are especially interested in comparing and contrasting education systems and meeting children. These trips have proven insightful for both the Zambian group and the local teachers, administrators, and students! Everyone benefits from the unique cross-cultural exchange afforded by this adventure!

Margaret takes in every detail on one of our school visits



The group has been able to interact with students, participate in music class, and share stories about school in Zambia

What's coming up for our friends? Tuesday evening they shared coffee and desserts with Spark supporters in Kansas City and they will be headed to San Francisco next! Check out these upcoming events in San Francisco and D.C. and let Stephanie know if you'd like more info.

Thursday, October 30: 8:30-10:00am
An Investor Breakfast - Palo Alto, CA

Hosted by Spark supporters
Continental Breakfast & Brief Presentation

Saturday, November 22: 7:00-9:00pm
An #Inspired Evening - Washington D.C. Area (Great Fall, VA)
Hosted by Spark Board Member & supporters
Heavy Hors D'oeuvres, Drinks, & Brief Presentation

We would also like to extend an invitation for you to come visit these three amazing people and all the rest of the dedicated Hope staff and students in Zambia next July for our annual partnership trip! We have extended early bird pricing on the trip just until the end of October. Come see firsthand what investing in Spark can do for a community while having the experience of a lifetime. Details here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

#inspired Events


Maybe you've heard... we're feeling pretty #inspired here at Spark. We are eagerly looking forward to our fall event at the Chicago Cultural Center on Friday, October 17th. It will feature a curated photography exhibit, heavy hors d'oeuvres, and drinks, including Lagunitas beer and a signature cocktail. Guests will have the opportunity to purchase framed photographs from the photo exhibit and Spark Ventures coffee table photo books. But the most exciting piece? We are thrilled that we will have some very special guests joining us from our partner organization, Hope Ministries, in Zambia! Tickets are limited (tables are already sold out), so get yours here!

      

Margaret Mumba: Co-founder and Director of Hope Ministries

Chimfwembe Ng'oma: Head Teacher at Hope Community School

Cephas Mwanza: Former student of Hope Community School & resident of Hope House Orphanage

Our guests will be staying with us for a few weeks and would love to meet as many supporters as possible. We will be hosting a number of #inspired events in October and November, and you are invited! These events will be held in Chicago, Kansas City, Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C., and we will be giving updates on current projects in Zambia and Nicaragua and sharing Spark stories and news, upcoming events, ways to get involved, and opportunities to travel with us. If you are a current Spark supporter or newly interested and would like to join us at any of these events, please reach out to Stephanie.

Sunday, October 12: 10:00am-1:00pm
Spark Partnership Trip Reunion Brunch

Hosted by CEO Rich Johnson
Brunch & Reunion

Tuesday, October 14: Noon - 1:30pm
Lunch with Spark's Zambian Partners, the Loop, Chicago

Spark Office Building - 7th Floor Conference Room
Lunch & Brief Presentation

Tuesday, October 14: 6:30-8:30pm
An #Inspired Evening in Lincoln Park, Chicago
Hosted in the home of Spark supporters
Buffet Dinner & Brief Presentation

Wednesday, October 15: 6:30-8:30pm
An #Inspired Evening in Naperville, IL
Hosted in the home of a Spark Board Member
Pizza & Brief Presentation

Friday, October 17 - #Inspired at the Chicago Cultural Center - Tickets Here

Sunday, October 19: 4:00-6:00pm (after the Bears game!)
An #Inspired Afternoon - Northern Suburbs, Chicago
Hosted in the home of Spark supporters
Food, Drinks, & Brief Presentation

Tuesday, October 21: 7:00-10:00pm
An #Inspired Evening - Kansas City, KS
YaYa's Euro Bistro in Overland Park, KS
Hosted by Spark supporters
Dessert, Coffee, & Brief Presentation

Thursday, October 30: 8:30-10:00am
An Investor Breakfast - Palo Alto, CA
Hosted by Spark supporters
Continental Breakfast & Brief Presentation

Saturday, November 22: 7:00-9:00pm
An #Inspired Evening - Washington D.C. Area (Great Fall, VA)
Hosted by Spark Board Member & supporters
Heavy Hors D'oeuvres, Drinks, & Brief Presentation

Don't hesitate to reach out to Stephanie if you would like more information on any of the above events.

Margaret, Teacher Ng'oma, Cephas, and the entire Spark team look forward to seeing all of our friends across the country at these upcoming events!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guest Blog: Reflections on Reciprocity


Karin Scott is the Program Manager at Allowance for Good. She recently returned from traveling with Spark Ventures and Allowance for Good youth to Nicaragua on our August Partnership Trip. Karen wrote these reflections on day 3 of the trip, and agreed to share them here on our blog.

Together we can connect on a common human level by sharing simple words, smiles, high fives, and laughter.

As our Spark Ventures and Allowance for Good travelers reflected on their second day at Las Tías we were asked to finish the phrase “Together we…” My chosen phrase stems from my connection with my partner, Muriel. Muriel is a bright, big-hearted, eight-year-old girl who I have spent my mornings with at Las Tías.

My two mornings with Muriel have involved simple words, smiles, hugs, and lots of high fives. Through the exchange of “hola”, “que linda”, and “muy bien” we learned our ages, favorite school subject, preferred colors, and future aspirations. We drew pictures, played math flashcards, and tossed a frisbee countless times. In our few hours of interaction we have probably exchanged the same short phrases dozens of times. I point and say a word in English, and ask “en español?” She responds with the Spanish equivalent, and so it goes. But with each repeated phrase comes another smile, another high five, increased trust, and reciprocity.

Our interactions have been short and simple. But on the second day when Muriel greeted me with a hug, a smile, and a loud “Hola!” I felt like in some small way, we had reached reciprocity. We have exchanged languages, games, and laughs for our mutual benefit. My hope is that we have benefitted in equal ways, that Muriel week was brighter because I was a part of it, as I know my short time with her has opened my eyes and shifted my perspectives in new, challenging, and hopeful ways.

My connection with Muriel opened my eyes to the ways in which we can connect on a common human level, beyond the use of language. I was amazed by the way we were able to communicate with each other by only sharing a few words. During my second day with Muriel, I was pleasantly surprised by how much she wanted to spend time to me. The shyness of yesterday melted away into a budding friendship. As a fellow trip participant so accurately stated, “You are only a stranger once.” Muriel, and the other children of Las Tías, will forever remain in my heart.

Monday, August 11, 2014

So, what did YOU do on your summer vacation?


The students from Allowance for Good and other youth who joined us for our August Partnership Trip to Nicaragua are leaving a powerful impact on the lives of the children they met at Las Tías. The trip, as with all Spark Ventures Partnership Trips, incorporated lots of cultural learning, touring the community, and amazing local food (and company to eat it with). But, there have also been some great moments for giving back through targeted service learning.

So, when our new friends from AfG head back to school this fall (or when our other travelers head back to work) and someone asks them what they did on their summer vacation... they're going to have a LOT of stories to choose from!


Everyone took a turn in the kitchen this week, helping to dish up healthy lunches to the eager group of Las Tías students.


Our travelers spent lots of time one-on-one with a new friend, working on learning key English phrases (their new friends returned the favor and taught them a few useful Spanish phrases in return). We also had fun playing math memory games (yes, math can be fun!).


Everyone chipped in to help give some of the classrooms at Las Tías a fresh new coat of paint. Our travelers had fun teaming up with some of the kids from the adolescent program at Las Tías to get the job done together.


A few other travelers helped assemble new shelving for one of the Las Tías classrooms - not quite as easy as step-by-step Ikea instructions... but they figured it out!


We played a team-building game which involved moving your feet as a group without talking. And, that team-building came in handy right away when we all had to work to get a rogue frisbee off the roof.


The Allowance for Good team has been debriefing the experience each evening, with a 30 minute session of reflection and sharing. A powerful way to deepen understanding and reenforce everything we have been learning together.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dinner Nicaraguan Style


Another favorite activity on our Partnership Trips to Nicaragua is the traditional Nicaraguan meal the Las Tías team prepares for our travelers. Tía Corina (the matriarch of the Las Tías family) and the other incredible founding "tías" (which means "aunts" in Spanish) who started Las Tías 25 years ago certainly know how to be amazingly hospitable hosts. After a little help preparing the meal, the tías served up a feast of Nicaraguan dishes and everyone ate to their heart's content. Las Tías staff presented special gifts for each person in the group and then dinner was followed by a serious dance session.


Tostones (fried plantains) have been a big hit with our group, and the youth from Allowance for Good got a first-hand lesson in how to make them with some expert instructors.





The night before, at our beach dinner, we had given the whole Las Tías staff Spark Ventures t-shirts... and they all quickly added them to their wardrobe!



Sometimes trying out a new Nicaraguan spread requires a bit of explanation... Sandra and Maria José explained the many dishes we were about to feast on, including a Nicaraguan speciality of sausage, yucca and vegetables, wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked all day.



Our travelers and the Las Tías staff have quickly become close, and thanks to fabulous gifts from Las Tías, they can model some Nicaraguan swag when they return from their travels.



One of our travelers is spending his 60th birthday with us in Nicaragua. The Las Tías team wanted to share with him how honored they were that he would choose to spend such an important milestone giving back to the youth they serve, and they had the most perfect gift to mark the occasion - a leather belt made in the adolescent vocational program.

And then... the dancing began... (as it always does)...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Youth in Nicaragua, meet youth from Chicago!


Our Partnership Trip to Nicaragua this August is unique - in addition to travelers who have been part of the Spark Ventures community for years, we're also traveling with 10+ travelers from Allowance for Good, a fabulous Evanston-based non-profit we have formed a powerful partnership with. Allowance for Good (AfG) works with middle & high school age youth to encourage global citizenship, teaching about the power of philanthropy.  Between the AfG youth and a few other younger travelers, we have a total of 7 youth on this trip - and it has been amazing to watch them interact with the youth of Las Tías, our Nicaraguan partner. Here's a quick glimpse of what that looks like...


Las Tías always greats our travelers with beautiful cultural dances... plus a traditional Nicaraguan kiss on the cheek as a greeting.



The group then learned about the history of Las Tías and got a full tour of the facilities from Magno, one of the leaders of the organization.



Lots of fun and games followed, as our travelers and their new friends got to know each other better.





Afternoons and evenings on Spark Partnership Trips are often opportunities to get an additional perspective on the communities we serve. In Nicaragua, that perspective includes an amazing view from the roof of the city's main cathedral.





Our evening on the first night closed with a beach dinner, which has become a tradition since our first Nicaragua Partnership trip. Spark Ventures and our guests have the distinct honor of inviting the whole Las Tías team out to dinner at sunset on a nearby beach, where we get to connect with the amazing leaders of our partner organization, outside of the hustle and bustle of their tasks at the youth facilities.