Posted by Nicole Bolliger, WMI intern in Buyobo, Uganda

WMI just finished issuing the loans for the last quarter of 2014.  This quarter there were some important milestones reached as several hubs began to train their own borrowers with WMI staff simply acting as back-up.  Loan hub Chairwomen in Kenya and Tanzania got to demonstrate their teaching abilities under the watchful eye of WMI’s experienced staff members who travelled from Buyobo, Uganda to support the loan hubs as they assume responsibility for training their new borrowers.

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Melissa and Nicole pose with loan hub trainers and borrowers

Another milestone was the loan hub in Atiak, located in far northern Uganda, graduating to independent operations. After two years of hard work and a great learning process, Sylvia Akello, the Head Administrator of Atiak, will lead her loan hub into the future. The local staff has acquired all the necessary skills to successfully run the WMI loan program. WMI will continue to support them if they have any question or need help, as for example by making a sample budget for next year. Instead of reporting to WMI bi-weekly, they will keep us up-to-date on their progress with quarterly status reports.

The continued conflict in South Sudan creates chaos in the Atiak area, but also presents opportunities for small businesswomen.  A newly-tarred road, constructed by the Ugandan government, now connects Atiak village with the much larger town of Gulu to the south, and the border of South Sudan to the north. This makes it easier for WMI borrowers to acquire inventory and then sell products across the border. Many of their businesses are flourishing thanks to the constant truck traffic and the commerce with South Soudan.  The Atiak loan hub has expanded so much that it just added a sub-hub with borrowers in the border town of Pachilo. The new road connects the two villages and makes it possible for Atiak to extend the reach of the WMI loan program.

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WMI ladies selling fish along the Atiak road

Income from the Atiak borrowers and a generous foundation grant allowed the construction of a new building for loan operations in Atiak. We had the honour to have our last training for new borrowers in this new building. Olive Wolimbwa, WMI’s Local director, aided by Local Coordinator Falaska, supervised the training while WMI’s Director of Finance for East Africa, Melissa LaRue, reviewed the financial situation of the loan hub.

WMI building in Atiak

WMI building in Atiak

I had the pleasure of teaching borrowers how to make reusable pads and talked with them about family planning methods and how to prevent HIV transmission to their children. In this region, the women have more children than the average in Uganda. Almost every woman came with a baby to the training. Everywhere the women are enthusiastic to learn, apply and share their knowledge. The reusable menstrual pads program is a success due to its practical use and low cost.

Nicole leads a workshop for Atiak ladies

Nicole leads a workshop for Atiak ladies

We also trained and reviewed the records of the loan hub in Gulu, which was the center of the fighting during the years of insurgency led by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  The Gulu area still suffers economic hardships from the decade of unrest the ended nearly five years ago.  Our loan hub here has faced numerous challenges, but the Chairwoman, Evelyn Achieng continues to work diligently to support local borrowers and their businesses.

Melissa and Nicole balance gourds in Gulu

Melissa and Nicole balance gourds in Gulu

In the beginning of September WMI’s first long-term intern arrived in Buyobo. Nicole Bolliger is from Switzerland, where she just finished her bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the University of Geneva.  She interested in development aid and East Africa.  With the aim of supporting the women in a sustainable development organization, WMI offers her the perfect insight in this field and also in Microfinance, which is rather new for her. Nicole will stay in Buyobo for five months and support the WMI staff with operations on the ground.

One of Nicole’s tasks is to help the local woman with budgeting, bookkeeping, and computer so the ladies can eventually continue with the WMI program on their own. Grace, responsible for the operations, is familiar with computer (taught to her by previous interns), so Nicole checks her work and helps her with more advanced computer skills. Nicole has prepared a computer manual explaining how to use word, excel, the Internet and e-mail, with the idea that Agnes, who is starting to learn computer, will be able to help Grace with her work.

One day, Grace and Nicole discovered that there was a missing deposit slip, which led to them developing a new system to file deposit slips. Checking the balances of color groups had been time-consuming because all the deposit slips were registered by date in a cardboard box. They are now organized by color group and stored by color groups in different folders in a filing cabinet, where each coordinator can easily access and check all the deposit slips for her color group.

Grace and Agnes currently enter all the deposit slips into a register after loan repayment, which Nicole helps them check every two weeks. Nicole is also assisting WMI by updating the status/liaison reports for all the loan hubs every two weeks. The Liaison Report is a way to collect the essential information from the loan hubs and to transfer information from WMI to the hubs.

Women’s Microfinance Initiative (WMI), within the past two years, has partnered with Arlington Academy of Hope (AAH) to help financially and administratively support two WMI hubs, MAWDEG and Matuwa. These loan hubs are located near the AAH primary school and Matuwa clinic and have been able to benefit from the many activities sponsored by both WMI and AAH.

In July, AAH kick started its 10th Anniversary celebration.  On July 22, as a part of its celebrations, the AAH clinic held free cervical cancer screenings, and then discounted screenings for the remainder of the week.

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A WMI woman in the crowd waiting to have a chance to be screened

While most city, and now even some village, clinics offer similar services regularly, Matuwa is an extremely remote area.  One AAH volunteer describes the location:

“No public transportation will go to this area, so you have to take a boda boda (motorcycle).  If there is even a hint of rain, you cannot travel, but if you are lucky and it is sunny your boda boda will travel at about 20 miles per hour—which is extremely slow given that I regularly ride ones that travel close to 100 mph—weaving in and out of the ditches that pockmark the dirt road.  These roads, if they can even be called that, climb almost vertically up the side of a mountain.  After riding across an entire mountain range, and after about 40 minutes, you will reach Matuwa, which is situated below the peak of a mountain and overlooks nearly all of Uganda.”

Given its remoteness, before the clinic came to Matuwa most people did not have access to health care.  Even still, it is hard to get many supplies to their clinic.  So, this free cancer screening is an enormous step forward for the community.

When the AAH staff reached the Matuwa clinic at 10:00am, there was already a crowd of women gathered around the clinic.  Chairs were scarce given the number of women present: Women were sitting two to a seat, and many were sprawled out on the ground.  Like most things in Uganda, the process of registering, and then actually screening these women, took an inordinate amount of time; it took hours to get through the line that had already formed.  Nonetheless, the women camped out on the clinic grounds, preparing to give up their whole day in order to have a chance at early cancer detection.

Several months earlier, WMI provided a similar service for their borrowers.  Over 145 women were examined at that time.  At the Matuwa screening the WMI women, identifiable by their colorful WMI polo’s, were numerous among the crowd of women in front of the cli nic.  While some of these women actually were waiting to be screened, most were running back and forth between the clinic and the Matuwa trading center, bringing more women to be screened.  When Jackline Nelemo, a WMI borrower, was asked what she was doing, she said that they were trying to convince others, given their own experiences, that the wait and the discomfort of the screening were well worth knowing more about your body.  By the end of the day, over 114 women had come from across the District to be tested.

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A group of WMI women who were either waiting to be screened or were encouraging their friends to do so

It was great to see that WMI women were using this second cancer screening as a way to share the opportunity they had already been given with the rest of the community. WMI’s mission is to support rural women and then use these women as catalysts for change in their homes and in their communities (and hopefully in their countries as well!).  And this could be beautifully seen during these screenings: WMI creates a small pool of strong, empowered women – ones who can achieve their career goals, be financially independent, support their families, and be in control of their bodies, but also ones that will feel motivated to teach others to do the same.

2014 Summer High School Interns: Orli Lesser, Pauline Fritz, Julia Matteson, Jake Schwartz, Aidan Bodurtha, Kristine Torres, Dario Jakubowicz, Alan Li, Celina Paloma

Chaperones: Laurie Safran, Jim Cannon

Buyobo, Uganda- High School Interns 2014 (June 25th-July 16th)

A little dirt never killed nobody. After a fifteen hour flight, the interns arrived at Entebbe, Uganda only to find the baggage carousel empty. Before long, everyone was in dire need of a new outfit, thus the motto: a little dirt never killed nobody. They proceeded to Murchison Falls for a two day safari and boat ride. From wild elephants to dangerously close hippos, the interns saw all types of native wildlife; even the crocodiles made an appearance. By the end of the week, the interns had plenty of pictures, and a few had their luggage. The rest of the luggage lay sitting in the darkness of London- Heathrow airport.


The interns, mostly in smelly plane pajamas, headed to Buyobo Sunday night. The bumpy yet scenic road gave the interns a taste of what Uganda looks like. During the ride, they had plenty of time to get to know each other. Other than talking, the interns slept through the five hour van ride. Finally, they arrived, warmly welcomed by the elder interns at the WMI house. They settled in their new rooms and prepared for the week of teaching ahead.DSCN0376

Teaching at Buyobo Primary School was a challenge at first. For one, the children had shaky English. None of the interns knew at what level the students were on, the teachers taught in ways so mechanical, the children would simply repeat the words they saw on the board. The interns slowly adapted to the different style of teaching in Uganda, and began to really enjoy themselves. Later in the day, a women’s literacy class took place at the WMI building. There, the students taught borrowers and village women one on one. It was a very rewarding experience and a nice start to a week of teaching.

DSCN0384 The interns spent Monday through Friday teaching at the school in the morning and teaching classes at WMI in the afternoon. Women’s Literacy (every Monday and Wednesday) and Girls Group (every Tuesday and Thursday) became some of their favorite activities. Between teaching, the interns refurbished four outdated classrooms. They mixed and poured concrete to fill holes in the floor, and sanded and repainted the walls. With the help of the villagers and direction from Jim, the interns were close to completing the rooms by the end of week two.

DSCN0386Eventually, everyone got their luggage and is now happy and healthy! The interns are looking forward to whitewater rafting in Jinja and the chimpanzee sanctuary before heading home on the 16th.

During loan repayment last Saturday, June 14, Buyobo borrowers received family planning training. Marie Stopes Uganda conducted an information session and then gave the women an opportunity to receive one of five different types of birth control. For 2000 shillings—less than 1 US dollar– they could get female condoms, an IUD, birth control pills, an injection of Depo-Provera, or an Implanon (birth control that is inserted into the arm and works for three years).


Florence teaching the borrowers about different types of family planning

With an average woman bearing 6 children in her lifetime, Uganda has one of the fastest growing population rates in the world. Rapid population growth has been noted as a problem for developing countries and global poverty relief efforts. Additionally, having a lot of children is dangerous for a woman’s health. Women’s bodies are quickly worn from doing most of their family’s agricultural work during pregnancy and birthing many children. Maternal death rates are exceptionally high in rural areas of least developed countries because women do not have access to proper medical facilities.

To prevent these persisting economic and health problems at the local level, WMI established Girl’s Group in Buyobo. We recently began a new three-month session of entrepreneurship and sexual health education for middle-school aged girls. During their first class, the students named some of the issues in their community. “Poverty” was the most popular answer. But one little girl– without having read any of the scholarly articles on birth control or studies on rural poverty– responded, “People have too many children and not enough money to feed them.”


The women listening intently as Florence describes each family planning method

Marie Stopes is a world wide provider of reproductive health services for men and women. In Uganda, they partner with the Ministry of Health to give family planning methods to the rural poor for free, as well as providing services for the middle class at a low fee. In January 2014, WMI contacted Marie Stopes to organize an event for their borrowers. After a few visits to their office in Mbale, Marie Stopes agreed to visit the village. A mixture of men and women received the family planning information provided on Saturday. Marie Stopes will return in July to offer family planning procedures. Giving a woman a sexual health education and access to affordable family planning empowers her to make informed decisions about her family. Whether she personally chooses to use contraception or not, she is more capable of controlling her economic standing when she is educated about family planning options.



Our Uganda summer interns Amanda Conklin and Morgan Nelson have been working in the WMI office in Buyobo for the past three weeks.  Amanda is from Huntington, New York and will be a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame in the fall.  An International Economics major, Amanda is also interested in peace studies and international development.  Morgan, from Key West, Florida, will be a junior at Princeton University this fall.  She is majoring in Politics, and is interested in journalism and international development. The interns are already busy and have many tasks they aim to complete during their two months in Buyobo.


Morgan and Amanda smiling outside of the WMI office during one of their first days on the job. Morgan is on the left and Amanda is on the right.

Amanda and Morgan are learning more about the organization and structure of WMI thanks to WMI fellow Melissa La Reau.  Through meetings with Melissa and country director Olive Wolimbwa, the interns have begun work on the Buyobo Women’s Association budget. Additionally, they have started detailing a report of the financial status of each WMI loan hub.  Over the next few weeks they will be working more with the local coordinators of the loan hubs to improve the budgeting, record keeping, and overall efficiency of each hub.


Jackie and Irene demonstrated the importance of good record keeping and organization on Loan Repayment Day June 14th

In addition to assisting with finances, the interns have started to get more involved with the women of the Buyobo community.  This past week they began interviews with some of the first women to borrow from WMI and successfully graduate from the loan program.  The interns hope to learn more about the impact the WMI program has had on the women, children, and community as a whole—specifically, after the women graduated the loan program and stopped receiving loans from WMI.  Using these interviews, the interns will create an informative video for the website as well as a written piece focusing on the development of education in the community.


Allen, one of WMI’s first borrowers, was kind enough to show the interns around her store and provide them some complimentary popcorn!

Finally, this week the interns began working with the “Girl’s Group” started by WMI.  On Tuesday with the assistance of “Teacher Susan” they helped lead a lesson about leadership and entrepreneurship.  There was a remarkable turnout of young girls who discussed the problems they have seen in the local community and how to reduce those problems. The group will also be discussing reproductive health during Thursday meetings. Overall, the interns are already learning and have received a lovely welcome from the Buyobo community both in the office and during their morning jogs (the cheering is much appreciated) through town.


WMI Fellow Melissa La Reau helped to “warm up” the girls before Tuesday’s Girls Group meeting. By the time the meeting started this group had doubled in size!


This May, some of the Kenyan leaders from each of the four Kenyan loan hubs came to Buyobo to learn how to become trainers. Currently, the Buyobo ladies travel to the loan hubs in East Africa to teach new borrowers business skills for two days before they receive their loans. Since WMI would like to encourage sustainability and self-reliance for all of the loan hubs, it was decided that each of the loan hubs would travel to Buyobo, Uganda in 2014 so some of the staff from each hub could learn to train its own ladies.


Group Picture of All Loan Hub Trainees, the Buyobo Trainers, and the Director

The Training of Trainers, or TOT, for the Kenya ladies was the first TOT of the year; later in the year the Buyobo ladies will also train staff from loan hubs in Uganda and Tanzania. This training went very well and gave the ladies an opportunity to learn how to train, ask questions, and meet other WMI staff throughout Kenya. Since there are 12 trainers in Buyobo, it also presented the opportunity for the leaders to see various training styles. Each loan hub also has a laison, located in Buyobo, who helps the hub leaders with their finances, documents, and information on loan repaymenrs. During this week the loan hub leaders were able to work extensively with their laisons and ask them questions on procedures and how to improve their hubs.


Shikokho Ladies Working With the Director and Their Liaison


Kevey Ladies Working with the Assistant Director/Their Liaison

The Kenya TOT sessions included lessons on customer service, budgeting & accounting, marketing, WMI documents, WMI features, survival tips, support group meetings, why small businesses fail, challenges in different loan hubs, success stories, and much more!


Ntumburi Ladies Working With Their Liaison

It was a very busy week but all the ladies left with the knowledge and skills to train their borrowers. The ladies were very energetic throughout the week, and they are excited to bring their loan hubs to the next level!


Ngarendare Ladies Working With Their Liaison

And, of course, you can’t have an East African training without a little (or a lot of!) dancing!


The Women Taking a Break to Dance!


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