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In the January 22, 2014 edition of New Vision, a Uganda daily newspaper, the Market Briefing section’s headline article proclaimed: “Uganda’s Onion Production Too Low.” The article urges Ugandan farmers to capitalize on the current demand for onions. “Onions are on demand because of the various advantages, but our production does not even reach half of what is required” Two kilometers off the main road between Mbale and the Sironko District headquarters in northeastern Uganda,surrounded by steep mountains covered in thick vegetation rising from the fertile soil, is Buteza village.

Onion Queen

This is where you will find The Onion Queen of Buteza – a borrower in the WMI program. She plants and harvests thousands of these purple bulbs each year, selling them to neighbors, traders and townspeople. Uganda is blessed with two growing seasons, so she harvests twice a year, once in the winter and then again in the summer. After harvesting she stores her onions and waits until the perfect time to sell. Late in the growing season, when the current crop is not yet ready and the local supply of onions from the previous harvest has dwindled, she opens her stores and sells her onions at a higher price. The Onion Queen of Buteza did not have to read the New Vision article to know that onions are a sought after crop that stores well. As a savvy rural businesswoman armed with a WMI loan, she has developed a comprehensive understanding of the fluctuations of the local market, the needs of the local consumers, and advantages of her crop.

WMI is frequently asked why we do not train women in creating handy-crafts for export to the United States. Paper wallets, hand-woven African baskets, colorful-beaded jewelry and other handy-crafts are all staples of the non-profit-supported African export market. Non-profits identify products for participants to produce for export, provide loans and training to develop the business, and then create the export chain. Although this is a common model, WMI’s program encourages women to choose their businesses based on their skills, contacts, and the dynamics of the local economy.

The Onion Queen of Buteza knows that onions are a stable crop to invest in because not only are they hearty and can be stored for long periods of time, but also because they appeal to the local consumer and are affordable. There is an immediate customer base for onions; The Onion Queen does not have travel across the ocean to find a market for her goods. While there is a huge variety in the businesses that WMI borrowers own, they all have one thing in common: they are producing goods that cater to the everyday needs of East Africans.

The vast majority of handy-craft products made specifically for export are not items that African villagers are going to use. Their main market is the American consumer, not the East African consumer. Women who sell these products are limited in what they can do to expand their businesses because they have little connection with their market. Unlike WMI borrowers, they cannot sell their goods to schools, or in town or even to neighboring countries. Cultivating local markets is an integral step in building strong economies in the developing world. The WMI loan program not only helps individual women raise the standard of living for themselves and their families, but the program also supports the rural economies that are the backbone of East Africa’s larger economy.

To find out how you can support WMI’s work with rural African women log on to: wmionline.org

 

 

Adult Literacy

The WMI Fellow and the Program Intern recently started an adult literacy class in Buyobo. The WMI local coordinators were very excited by this idea, and thought it was greatly needed. The coordinators spread the word, and soon a group of about thirty women—a combination of borrowers and non-borrowers—showed up ready to learn to speak, read, and write English. Translators were needed, and two local coordinators who are primary school teachers volunteered to help.

It became apparently quickly that there were two levels of students. Those who had never attended school, or had only attended for a few years when they were very young, wanted to practice writing letters and small words. They were shy at first, and are now very proud of what they’re working on. They can all now write their names and write and differentiate both lowercase and capital letters.

The students who had attended more years of primary school were comfortable writing in the local language, Lugisu, and were already comfortable with letters and small words in English. They wanted to work on basic conversation and business language. They have been learning verbs and grammar, and spend this week working on plural nouns and sentences involving the words how much, how many, have, buy, and sell. Both groups have been meeting twice a week, and there are about twenty eager learners who regularly show up, homework ready to turn in. The Program Intern is working on creating lesson plans for the next few weeks in the hope that the summer interns will help move the project forward and the local coordinators will carry it on after that.Image

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The Resource Fellow and the Program Intern are working hard at starting up a new session of Girls’ Group. These girls learned entrepreneurship lessons in the fall session, and have returned to learn further skills and information. On Tuesdays the girls are focusing on building a turkey coop. This will teach the girls valuable lessons in money and resource management as they learn to save and re-invest their profits. The girls have worked on a budget, and began building their turkey coop. They have enlisted help from Buyobo Primary School and from a local contractor who has worked on previous WMI projects.

On Thursdays, Girls’ Group is concentrating on sex education topics. The girls are learning about HIV and other STDs, pregnancy, and gender norms including how men should treat women with respect. During a recent day focused on HIV, the girls played an HIV transmission game. One girl was designated as “abstinent,” and two were designated as a “couple.” The rest visited three locations and met with a new “partner” at each location. The Resource Fellow and the Program Intern then explained that three girls in the larger group could realistically have HIV.  Three were chosen at random, and anyone who had partnered with them lined up behind them. Then, girls continued lining up, linking themselves to any partners who had lined up already. By the end of the game, all girls except the “abstinent” and “couple” ones would have been given HIV. The girls loved the game and learned a valuable HIV transmission lesson from it.

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Last week 100 village girls made reusable menstrual pads (RUMPS), a project that was met with excitement. Many girls lack the money to buy pads, and instead use unsanitary supplies that lead to infections or missing school. The Resource Fellow and Program Intern ran the RUMPS lesson, and took the opportunity to also teach the girls about reproductive health and family planning. The girls also had opportunities to ask questions and dispel any myths they had heard regarding birth control causing cancer or infertility. Each girl then got to make two reusable pads. 

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The girls left giddy and happy, showing off their new pads to each other as they walked home. 

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WMI has collected data to demonstrate how loans to rural women help lift them out of poverty. However, while WMI can show through data and stories that these loans can help rural women, there is no better testimony than a woman telling her own story and how a loan has impacted her life. The WMI President, WMI Fellow, and BWA staff visited Shikokho, Kenya and asked some of the women to share their stories, and tell how they have used their loans and what impact it has had on their households.  They were eager to share and here is what everyone learned:

Beverly Endesia – 35 years old – 6 children – married – White Group. 

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Beverly has a hair salon.  She used her first loan she to buy supplies, a hair dryer, and hair chemicals and was serving women  who were “just around.”   She used her second loan to move to the market and rented a stall, and is currently serving many customers.  She said being in a fixed location helps and she uses word of mouth to market her services.  She also opened a small side business to sell tomatoes and vegetables to school children; this is very common with WMI borrowers, as ladies have learned to diversify their products.

Her husband cuts hair short (a different business then a salon) and sells SIM cards.

She said it is not difficult for her to repay her loan because there is enough of a market to support businesses in Shikokho.

The WMI President asked if Beverly knew anyone who defaulted or paid late because the 10% interest was too high – she answered, “No.”  She said there are many women around who ask about the loan program.  Flora, the interim head coordinator, added that they have a waiting list of women who want loans.

Beverly said the loan group support at the village level is critical for the women, and so is the training, especially when they are first starting out.  She said because of the loan program: “Our brain is working here and there – we are not just idle.”

Anna Mmbone – 32 years old – 1 child – married – Pink group.

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 With her first loan Anna started selling tomatoes and onions (a common first business).  When she got enough money she diversified into also printing scarves for women.  She then got land along the road and built a structure with her profits – so that she is no longer selling from a tarp or blanket on the dirt – she said she “moved up” to a shop.  With her next loan she plans to stock her shop with more items.  Abba said her business would not be possible without the loan and that women need loans to start and grow their businesses.

Anna was very proud that Pink Group has a 100% repayment rate.  She was adamant that there were no defaults among Pink members and that they were all working hard.  

During the WMI President’s visit, WMI and BWA staff visited the Shikokho and Keveye hubs in Kenya. Both hubs are doing remarkably well, and both were very excited to have visitors. In Shikokho, women were eager to share their stories and tell WMI how the loans have impacted their lives. In Keveye, the women greeted WMI and BWA with song and dance, and were delighted to give speeches to let everyone know how appreciative they were for the loans, and the positive impact WMI has had on the community, just by having a presence in the area.

 Business is growing around Shikokho and Keveye. When the  ladies in Shikokho were asked if they, or others they knew, had a hard time doing business because Shikokho is too small, too remote, or too poor.  They all answered “No.”  They said there is a lot of economic opportunity for businesswomen in Shikokho.  The village has grown, there is a new school nearby and others are cropping up – more houses are being built – including high end ones by city people who spend leisure time in the village, the market has grown, more stalls are available and transport is available; according to the ladies, Shikokho is “coming up.”  Similar statements can be made for Keveye. The women are doing well and want to continue starting or expanding businesses.

 Since the two Kenyan hubs are doing so well and ladies will be ending their two-year cycles with WMI, WMI, BWA, and the Shikokho and Keveye leaders, met with a few banks in Kakamega to see what opportunities they had for women to transition to the banks. The women had met with banks in the area before, and wanted to hold follow-up meetings with a few of the banks they liked. The women met with two banks, and both of the banks presented very good products. Additionally, both banks were interested in partnering with the loan hubs and wanted to write a proposal to accept graduating ladies! The women are very excited to receive the proposals and to form a partnership with these banks. 

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On this year’s annual field visit to WMI loan hubs in East Africa, I have been able to spend time in all three countries that we serve: Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.  Operations in all countries are progressing smartly!

In Tanzania, I was able to meet up with WMI’s operating partner, Judy Lane, who was on a one month visit to support the loan hubs in Alailelai and Tloma.   We were able to meet with the Maasai ladies, who reside inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, on market day.  I am happy to report that the market has doubled in size since the loan program began.  There are more goods, produce and livestock for sale.  It was a vey busy place on Sunday afternoon!  Increased commerce is especially important for this area because the government forbids the cultivation of any crops inside the NCA.  All produce and grains of any kind must be brought in from the city of Karatu (a two hour drive) or villages outside the NCA.

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 The Head of the Maasai tribe for the area attended our borrower meeting and congratulated WMI for bringing the loan program to this remote area and the ladies for being so responsible in running their businesses and repaying their loans.  Ladies were very talkative in the meeting (held outside on the grass) and asked good questions about loan program operations.

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 Our guide throughout the say was Marie Johane Oloulu.  She is the assistant head administrator for the Alailelai loan hub and doing an excellent job organizaing the bookkeeping.

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I also visited the second loan hub in Tanzania – they are located in the village of Tloma, outside Karatu.  These ladies there are ripping up the pea patch with their businesses.  The area is heavily populated and many have started butcher shops, raising baby pigs and then slaughtering them for meat on a staggered schedule.  They employ local women to distribute 10 to 20 kilos of meat each in surrounding areas so that the immediate market does not get saturated.   The Tloma ladies met us in a local schoolroom and were very eager to talk about their businesses.

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 It was a quick trip of only a few days, but Judy and I found time to have dinner in Karatu’s best grilled chicken joint, The Carnivore.

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 Be sure to look back soon for more updates on our hubs in Kenya and Uganda!

WMI Graduation in Buyobo

Last Saturday BWA held a graduation ceremony for all of the women who completed their two years of successfully borrowing and repaying loans from WMI.  Graduation was a huge success and borrowers/administrators from various loan hubs, including a few hubs in Kenya, were in attendance.  In addition, Robyn, the head teacher of Buyobo primary, local government officials, and many others joined the borrowers for this celebration. There were so many guests that food preparation started two days before graduation and women took turns sleeping at the office to oversee the cooking the night before the ceremony!

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The day started with a brass band leading the parade of borrowers, guests, government officials, and villagers through the town.

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The ceremony then included various guest speakers, who praised the borrowers on their success as business women and their ability to pay well for two years and transition to the bank. The day was also full of entertainment; some borrowers performed a drama, the primary school girls completed a cultural dance, and the band impressed the audience with its acrobatic stunts!

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In the end, the women were congratulated and given gifts of appreciation.

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Robyn was also showered with gifts as a thank you – this one was probably her favorite!

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And, of course, to feed all the guests, there were massive amounts of bananas and 150 kilos of rice!

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