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On Thursday, June 25th, WMI supervised the making of reusable menstrual pads (RUMPS) in Buyobo Primary School to help girls, most of whom cannot afford to buy disposable pads, and prevent them from staying home from school due to their menstrual cycle. Eighty-five girls in Primary 6 and 7 classes, ranging in age from twelve to fourteen years old attended, from both Buyobo Primary School and Buyobo Parents. The coordinators, WMI East Africa Finance Director, Melissa, and summer interns, Abby and Jing, prepared for several days before, cutting rolls of the material into the right shape for the girls to sew and make into their pads during the workshop.

When Melissa, Abby, and Jing arrived at the school in the afternoon, a crowd of students welcomed them and they set up in a large classroom. Soon dozens of girls were at work creating their pads while listening to Melissa and the Girls Group teacher, Susan, give a lesson on hygiene and their proper use. Abby and Jing assisted cutting the remaining materials and took shots for the video they were making about Girls Group, a WMI program that teaches girls about health and entrepreneurship, many of whose members took part in the workshop.

The girls were happy with the results and they each left with two pads; while they wear one, they can wash the other. Susan encouraged them to teach the other women in their families how to create the pads so they can better handle their periods and avoid just using old rags.

After the workshop, the interns interviewed Susan, several students in Girls Group, and the headmistress of Buyobo Primary School to ask them about their impressions of the impact of Girls Group and the pad workshop. They stressed the usefulness of the reusable pads in helping girls manage their periods and stay in school.

On July 9th, the interns, Melissa, Susan, and the coordinators held a second workshop for about forty local secondary school girls from Secondary 1 through 4, ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen years old. While teaching them to make their pads, Susan also spoke to them about family planning and the importance of staying in school. Several girls came to the front of the classroom as the workshop was ending to extend their appreciation for the workshop. Nafuna Kadija, a sixteen year old from Senior 2, expressed her thanks saying, “You have brought for us something which will help us. Some of us, we are lacking money to buy pads. We have been missing school lessons because of menstruation. Thank you very much for what you have done for us.”

Given the success of the workshops for girls and the effectiveness of the RUMPS as a cheaper alternative to already-made pads, a third workshop, this time for interested WMI borrowers, will be held in the near future.

Nafuna Kadija, a sixteen year old from Senior 2, expresses her thanks during the second workshop.

Nafuna Kadija, a sixteen year old from Senior 2, expresses her thanks during the second workshop.

Girls Group teacher Susan

Girls Group teacher Susan

Girls proudly hold up finished pads

Girls proudly hold up finished pads

Melissa and Olive demonstrate how to use the reusable pads.

Melissa and Olive demonstrate how to use the reusable pads.

sewing a button onto a reusable pad

sewing a button onto a reusable pad

Interns Abby and Jing cut extra material during the workshop.

Interns Abby and Jing cut extra material during the first workshop.

Girls in the first workshop busy making their pads.

Girls in the first workshop busy making their pads.

Monday, June 1st was the first day of work for three newcomers. Abby and Jing arrived for a summer internship with WMI and Merida came for her first day of work as the new WMI secretary. They started the morning getting oriented around the office, learning more about WMI and BWA’s loan process, and going over job responsibilities. Merida learned about how information is filed in the office, how to track loan records, and how to print and copy surveys for borrowers. Merida, also a borrower herself, was helpful in answering Abby and Jing’s questions and was a fast learner! As the morning ended they all headed home for lunch before afternoon rain began to pour.

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Abby and Jing are here for nine weeks through Princeton’s International Internship Program. They left New York Friday afternoon and arrived in Buyobo late Sunday afternoon after staying in Kampala for a night, and they got a chance to take a beautiful first walk around Buyobo and meet coordinators and members of the village before getting settled in on Sunday night. A main goal for their internship is to create some videos to demonstrate WMI’s impact with narrative.

On Monday afternoon, Abby and Jing returned to the office and brainstormed some ideas for video subjects with Melissa and Olive. They look forward to developing them over the next few months while continuing to get to the know WMI’s model and the women and community in Buyobo.

This teacher holiday WMI staff attended a training in Mbale hosted by Spark Microgrants (www.sparkmicrogrants.org), learning about their community-driven facilitation process, advocacy, and project planning.

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Jackie (BWA assistant director) participates during a session on proposal development

Last November Spark facilitators attended WMI’s Training of Trainers held in Buyobo, teaching leaders at other loan hubs how to train new borrowers each quarter. Spark facilitators learned how WMI teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills, and now, in-turn took us through their 6-month community-centered proposal development process.

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Discussions during an afternoon panel

Along with four representatives from WMI, six other organizations joined the training from close to home and farther afield: Little Big Africa (Mbale), Bead for Life (Kampala), Child Fund (Soroti), Insieme Si Puo (Karamoja), Rafiki wa Mandaleo Trust (Kenya), and Peace for Africa through Economic Development (Kenya).

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Allen (BWA coordinator) and Grace (BWA operations manager) participated in the training each day

Each session involved lots of discussions and participation. It was a great opportunity to learn from Spark facilitators, and share insight and experiences with other organizations doing powerful work across East Africa.

Spark Training May 2015

The team! Facilitators and trainees on the last day

Construction for the new pavilion in Buyobo is under way! Sam and his team have been working hard over the past months to level the ground and build the foundation for the new 500-person structure. It will be a great addition for new borrower training, annual graduation celebrations, and more community development programs such as the health screenings and adult literacy classes that Buyobo Women’s Association arranges. It will also be available for community members to rent for events and can generate additional income for the loan program.

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Now that rainy season is in full swing, Buyobo frequently gets several hours of (very) heavy rain in the afternoons. Even with these interruptions progress continues and the new space is starting to take form. Special thanks to the Cordes Foundation for the grant for this new structure!

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On April 9, Women’s Microfinance Initiative and Spark Microgrants (www.sparkmicrogrants.org) co-hosted a networking event in Mbale, inviting contacts from the NGO, private, government, and education sectors. With roughly fifty people engaging in a panel discussion, conversation, and informal networking, the event was a success – there was much enthusiasm to potentially continue these networking events in Mbale quarterly.

1. Registration outside the conference room at Mt. Elgon Hotel

Registration outside the event conference room at Mt. Elgon Hotel

Jackie, the BWA Assistant Director, spoke on the panel along with Joshua Zimbe, the Eastern Regional Coordinator for Heifer International, and Anthony Nyungu, a Senior Business Manager at Techno Serve. Both Heifer and Techno Serve implement smallholder agriculture projects throughout Uganda.

2. Jackie (BWA), Anthony (Techno Serve), and Joshua (Heifer) on the panel

Jackie, Anthony, and Joshua on the panel

A portion of the discussion centered on how and in what capacity to involve rural communities in designing the development projects that affect them. A professor from a local university shared that his mother and cousin were both village-based and illiterate, and suggested it was the responsibility of the “elite” to design projects and come up with solutions for rural communities.

3. Audience Q & A

Audience Q & A

In her response, Jackie explained how many BWA borrowers are illiterate, yet they are still able to build successful businesses. Given the tools and support, these women improve their lives without “experts” planning for them.

4. Jackie (BWA) with Sherry from Elgon Foundation of Persons with Albinism

Jackie with Sherry from Elgon Foundation for Persons with Albinism

Both WMI and Spark approach development from the ground up, believing that rural communities have the knowledge and capacity to design projects and take the central role in rural development.

5. Grace (BWA) speaking with other networking guests

Grace (BWA) speaking with other networking guests

In todays New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, the First Lady made national news when she encouraged women to work for the improvement of their families. Mrs. Museveni was said to have challenged women to work with their husbands to improve income and welfare of their families. She advised women to adopt a saving culture and encouraged them to ensure hygiene and sanitation in their homes. IMG_5061[1]WMI believes that women can make the difference in their families and communities. Women are more likely to pay loans and pass profits to their children – they pay school fees, buy clothing, and feed their families with their incomes. In WMI women are also encouraged to work with their husbands and families so their businesses can succeed; with the family working together the business can make more profit and the family can learn to work together to support each other. IMG_4134[1]In addition to giving loans, WMI also encourages saving. A saving culture is not so prominent in Uganda, so it is often a new concept for women. However, with a savings component built in to the new business training the women attend and incentives to save throughout the quarter (best savers receive gifts), a saving culture is emerging within the WMI loan hubs. A2With profit from the interest collected on the loan, WMI encourages the ladies to decide what services would be important to them, and to bring an organization to the village to address these issues. Women often quote health as something they would like to improve, so the ladies have had various health organizations come to address hygiene, infections, and other health issues. A3WMI is working to improve the lives of women and their families, and it is nice that the First Lady is striving to accomplish the same goals!

This past weekend, WMI staff trained new borrowers preparing to take their first loans in April. Sixteen new groups will start the WMI program, with eleven color groups graduating and recycling their loans to new borrowers, and five brand new groups receiving funding. Staff trained in a comprehensive set of topics to prepare the new women, including loan features and repayment schedules, the importance of saving, why small businesses fail, record keeping, and business planning.

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Staff trained in Buyobo, and in Buyobo sub-hubs—smaller centers managed by Buyobo staff— farther afield. Penina and Joyce trained in Kapchorwa, the farthest sub-hub, up in the mountains near Mt. Elgon. To get there from Buyobo requires a motorcycle, two buses, and another motorcycle—at least a two hour journey— which Penina, Kapchorwa’s coordinator, makes every two weeks to collect loan payments from the women here.

In Kapchorwa, Joyce and Penina trained two new borrower groups in English. The local language is Sabean, different from the Lugiso spoken in Buyobo. There are over forty languages spoken in Uganda, which makes English the main language of communication across regions. A local translator worked besides the two WMI trainers.

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When the ladies arrived, Penina and Joyce began training by explaining: “right now you are a group of forty sisters. Some of these women you have never seen before, but now because of WMI, they are your sisters. That is why I call you lucky!”

Although most of the women from Kapchorwa have never been to Buyobo (and vice-versa), they are included as part of the Buyobo family. Penina explained that Mai Olive (BWA Director) has never been to this hub, and never met you, she knows you, she has all of your names, and you are part of our family.

Each woman was advised to get to know their new friends very well during the training, as these women would be their support in growing their business, and every last member was accountable for paying back the loan in order for anyone to get a follow-up loan in the future.

Penina used a physical demonstration to describe the clusters of five neighbors who form a support group, having four other women stand with her, hold hands, and help pull her up from the floor when she was struggling and fell down. These groups are support systems for women, both sharing advice in making their businesses successful and overcoming challenges, and also helping solve health problems and personal issues.

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As the coordinator here, Penina explained that women at this loan hub are up against a lot. It is the custom here for men to sit and talk, while women do most of the work, farming, caring for the animals, and taking care of the children. She says there is a cultural stigma against family planning, and men do not like using it, so women have many children. Indeed, many women brought their babies to the training. Penina says that even though it is far, she thinks the WMI loans have a huge impact here, and it is worth the effort.

A woman graduating and completing her fourth loan in April told how she started a tailor business with her WMI loans. A widow, she had moved back to live with her parents, and although her brothers were very wealthy, they did not help her. Now, she has a successful business, and has built her own house, able to care for herself and her children.

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Back in Buyobo, the WMI staff was in full force, alternating teaching the topics they liked best. Whether “budgeting” or “destroyers of money”.

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A WMI training would not be complete without many songs, and the trainers stand together to sing and teach them: “How wonderful is a woman!” and “Where WMI found me.”

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