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To live and work in any developing country patience, flexibility and innovation are key to be successful. The Buyobo VHT demonstrated these three qualities flawlessly once they heard that the Director at the USAID Mbale office had resigned and that we had to wait until a new one was implemented to move forward with our training.

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After learning of this, we had a meeting and it was decided that Winnie and Alfred would do the training on the materials and that USAID staff would come in the new year to do a follow-up assessment/retraining.

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Mr. Wesamoyo, Winnie and Alfred after the training 🙂

The training was a hit! Out of the 84 Buyobo VHT volunteers we had a 45 show up. They all found the material helpful and we realized that we actually need more to fully support Buyobo sub-county (that request has been made).

Our goal is to touch 1,000 people before USAID comes back and for the VHT volunteers to come to the retraining with questions that they have gathered while working in the field so that the USAID staff can answer them. Cheers to collaboration!

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VHT’s who were able to make it to training! Keep in mind these are all volunteers and they all traveled despite the terrible road conditions that day ❤

 

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Software in Buyobo

Being in Buyobo sometimes it is crazy to think that this is 2017. Before I continue, it is important to note that while the WMI program has had a HUGE and LIFE CHANGING impact for the community, it is still a village in eastern Africa and there is still a lot of work to be done. This setting provides an interesting back drop for a software engineer team to have clients.

That is right, WMI and BWA is having a software built to not only help manage our finances but also help manage our data so we are better equipped to help our borrowers in a more effective way. The lovely engineers who came out to Buyobo last week were Elvis and Joel, both in their early-20s and at the helm of the Ugandan start-up scene. Elvis and Joel have worked with Milly (our Finance Manager), myself and the previous fellow, Kirsten to perfect the software and make it fit to what we do. We are hoping that this will be ready to go before the end of the year and plan on having Elvis and Joel back out for the launch!

USAID & Buyobo’s VHT

It’s not about what you know but who you know. Use your connections. Reach out to people first and see what happens. This is all advice I have heard over and over throughout myself and I have applied it while working here and it has worked wonders! A couple weeks back I reached out to my friend Archie who works for USAID in their community health and knowledge sector to see if we could do a collaboration.

Archie and I set up a training for two of Buyobo’s Village Health Team leaders (Winnie and Alfred) to go over information regarding HIV, nutrition and family planning. Out of everyone in the room, I think I learned the most- especially when it comes to nutrition for new borns here in Uganda.

Now the plan is to do some community organizing to get this information out into the villages. USAID recommends group of 25 with one leader from that group to go over the information. We are going to work backwards- figure out how many people will attend these trainings and organize them by location. Form there choose leaders from those groups and organize a big training and then they will go and share what they have learned with their communities.

Thank you USAID for all of the free informational materials, your time and knowledge!

Back: Stephen

Front (left to right): Archie, Mark, Alfred, Winnie, Caitlin, Agnes

10 Years and Counting

The whole of July and beginning of August have proven to be very exciting! We had our quarterly loan issuance for our borrowers and it was fantastic seeing all of the woman excited about themselves, their families and the future. Now that we are 10 years in, it is hard to imagine what Buyobo was like before BWA and WMI. Our executive board here in Buyobo is stacked with amazingly strong, intelligent, hardworking and respected women who are a huge reason for the success of the program and their borrowers. They themselves started as borrowers and were the pioneers here in Buyobo who were ready to start their own business and become financially independent back in 2008.

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The Board plus our fantastic staff that make BWA tic!

If you were to tell Olive, Agnes, Jackie, Grace and Irene that in 10 years’ time they would not only be directing BWA but would lend a total $4,494,848 to 11,918 women, they would laugh, shaking their heads in disbelief while responding with the Ugandan “ayyhhhh” – but that is exactly what they have done! Because of this, Buyobo and surrounding communities are stronger and more prosperous. We invest all of our profit back into the organization which has allowed for community projects to extend farther than the women and our board mentors smaller lending programs that are looking to do the same thing as us. Talk about women and community empowerment!

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July Issuance (these are just some of our lovely borrowers)

I would like to end this post with a toast to BWA, its borrowers, WMI, our partners in Uganda, the US and across the world that have backed and partnered with us to allow us to grow into what we have become today. We don’t plan on going anywhere and we hope that you feel the same!

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Olive, ready to hand out loans to our borrowers!

 

Hello from Buyobo!

This blog post is coming to you from WMI’s 2017 Buyobo Intern Team, and we are so excited to tell you a bit about what we have been up to this summer.

We arrived in Buyobo six weeks ago and have been busy learning from the amazing Buyobo Women’s Association staff ever since. We have learned so much that we feel we must’ve been here longer than six weeks! At the same time, it feels as if we have just arrived. Our departure date is looming- only a little over two weeks away- and we are all wishing we didn’t have to head back to school quite so soon.

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The 2017 intern team: (L-R) Julia Dreher (University of Michigan), Vince Dewar (Florida State University) and Emmanuella Kyei Manu (Princeton University.)

In these past weeks, we have been working on a variety of projects that will document the work of BWA and WMI in Buyobo. Emmanuella has been leading the intern team in compiling the annual fact book for WMI which analyzes the impact of the loan program on borrowers and Buyobo as a whole. Analyzing the quantitative and qualitative impacts of the loan program on borrowers was illuminating; income increased by 428% and every borrower said that their lives had been made better since they became involved in the loan program! However, it was even more astonishing when we conducted borrower interviews. We visited the women in their places of work to hear stories about the impact of the loan program on themselves, their businesses and their families. We were met with warm smiles, inspiring stories and, on occasion, a chapatti or two.

Another way in which we are capturing the stories of borrowers and staff is by creating short videos. Led by Julia, we have chosen to feature the impacts of the Water Source Renovation Project, which was completed in September 2016 in partnership with local government. In addition, Julia is leading the team to create a video that celebrates WMI’s ten years in Buyobo. We are truly excited to be working closely with BWA’s many partners and learning more about the community projects it oversees.

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Emmanuella and Julia document Girl’s Group graduation.

Beyond documenting the work of WMI through the loan program and community development initiatives, Vince is leading the team in setting up a climate resiliency project to support WMI’s borrowers who are farmers. The project hopes to better equip farmers in Buyobo to withstand the effects of changing climate patterns on their crop yields.

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The intern team with members of Buyobo’s Volunteer Health Team, a community-level health initiative supported by BWA.

Apart from undertaking these large projects, Emmanuella and Julia have been assisting in running Girls’ Group, a program that provides P5 and P6 girls with health and entrepreneurship lessons. They were especially lucky to be able to witness the graduation ceremony of last cohort before beginning a new 10-week course with a different cohort of girls. Despite not being able to witness a Boys’ Group graduation, Vince has still jumped in and assisted the Boys’ Group instructor in teaching health and entrepreneurship lessons to P5 and P6 boys.

Outside of our time at work we have enjoyed spending weekends exploring Uganda. We attempted to help our neighbors prepare a traditional Ugandan meal, hiked Wanale Ridge, visited Sipi Falls, ridden inner tubes down the Nile, spent time on the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria, and so much more!

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Emmanuella and Julia help to serve matooke, the Ugandan staple food, at a community lunch hosted by BWA’s neighbor, Irene (left). 

We have all been so grateful to spend our summer here in Buyobo. We appreciate all of the sites we’ve seen, people we’ve met, stories we’ve heard and lessons we’ve learned. We cannot wait to jump into the next two weeks in Buyobo—though we could wait a little longer to say goodbye!

Thank you for taking the time to read a bit about our experience. We hope that you love hearing about WMI as much as we love working here.

Best,

WMI Buyobo Intern Team

 

 

Much to the delight of all the ladies of Ganako Women’s Community Organization (GWOCO), Tanzania’s former resident WMI Fellow, Jess Littman returned to the country for a flying visit. Having spent a year working with GWOCO Jess completed her contract in January and later moved to Rwanda to work for an organization called Earth Enable. Rwanda celebrated its Independence Day on the 1st of July followed by Liberation Day on the 4th and Jess kindly saw her long weekend off work as an opportunity visit her old home in Karatu. With only a four day window she darted across the border and rushed to visit each of the wonderful staff members and other residence of Karatu who made her time there so memorable.

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Martha, Levina, Jess and Eliminatha reunited outside of Levina’s home in Tloma.

First on the list of destinations was Levina’s home, GWOCO treasurer and immediate neighbor to the loan program office. All three main staff members were able to meet there together and greet Jess. It meant the world to the ladies that she chose to use her very limited time off and come so far specially to visit them. Following a large lunch and the exchange of many stories from their time apart Levina took Jess on a tour of her land. Though predominantly covered with a vast area of maize, waiting to dry before it is ready to be harvested, Levina has numerous smaller crops on her land. She was proud to show Jess that this year, for the first time, she has started to grow chili pepper and plans to expand further, starting with a small patch of strawberries.

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A small portion of Levina’s land with the edge of her maize fields to the right and a verity of crops from carrots to chili pepper in the center.

On her last day in Karatu Jess was able to visit each of the remaining staff members. Starting with Eliminatha, GWOCO Charwoman, Jess had the chance to see all of the recent improvements that she had made to her home. Eliminatha has been working tirelessly to expand her house over the last year. While there is still a lot to be done, she now has a much larger space for her children and the extended family that depend on her. Second of the day was a visit to Martha, GWOCO Secretary and our newest member of staff. Martha joined the main body of staff in September of last year. During her time in the loan program she has been building up her savings with the intention of expanding her home to better fit the needs of herself and her five children. This was an extremely special day for the former Fellow as it was the first time she, or any other resident Fellow, had visited her home.

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Jess, wrapped in a zebra covered gift, with Martha and her family.

Last on the list, before Jess had to make a rush to the airport in time for her return flight to Rwanda and work the following day was to Josephine. Josephine worked as GWOCO Chairwoman before retiring in August of last year. She continues to volunteer her time to GWOCO as a teacher to new borrowers during seminar days and an adviser to the staff. Josephine was invaluable during Jess’s time with GWOCO, she was the best English speaking staff member and helped Jess find her feet when she first arrived at the beginning of 2016. Along with small scale agriculture, Josephine continues to make an income from beading work. She specializes in making and decorating traditional wedding dresses for the community and also makes and sells jewelry and other trinkets out of beads. She took great pleasure in wrapping Jess in one of her example dresses.

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A fine example of one of Josephine’s beaded wedding dresses proudly modeled by Jess.

However brief, it was wonderful to have Jess back in the community for a few days. Not knowing how long  it will be before they have the opportunity to see her again, the ladies vowed to write her monthly letters to better stay in touch. We hope for another visit soon!

The Buyobo Women’s Association is pleased to congratulate our Finance Manager, Millie Wolimbwa, in her one-year work anniversary with the team!

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Millie Wolimbwa, Finance Manager

Millie had already been a dedicated team member for over five years before she came on board full-time in June, 2016. As a high school student she starting volunteering during summers and term breaks, assisting with typing, filing and other secretarial work and learning the ins and outs of the program, and she continued volunteering as she started her university studies. When it came time for BWA to hire its first full-time Finance Manager she was a natural candidate. Millie formally joined BWA after graduating from Makerere University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Finance.

One of only two full-time staff members at Buyobo Women’s Association headquarters, Millie contributes a friendly face and positive attitude in addition to her deep financial knowledge. She is known to jump in to help with any job that needs doing – including accepting loan payments, helping borrowers fill out loan application forms and printing documents. Most importantly, Millie’s financial expertise has been critical to managing BWA’s day-to-day operations, banking relationships and constructing new financial inclusion programs over the past year.

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Millie (second from left) participates in a budget meeting with BWA’s Executive Committee

As a ‘born of Buyobo,’ Millie is proud to work for an organization that she has watched grow over the past decade.  She credits the community nature of the program for its success, noting that the mutual trust between BWA staff and borrowers is what has allowed it to flourish. BWA’s microfinance program is inherently referral-based; a woman may only enter the program if she is referred by a qualified current borrower or graduate. Millie notes that the program continues to attract well-qualified borrowers because of the very visible success of current participants and graduates, leading to an ever-growing community of female entrepreneurs.

Millie has had a unique vantage point from which to view the growth of BWA: she is also the daughter of BWA’s Director, Olive Wolimbwa! Her exposure to microfinance from a young age has taught her a lot, most importantly about the benefits of proper record-keeping. She says, “if you get to know a problem in your business, then you find a way of solving that problem.”

She also emphasizes how important BWA has been to her family. Her mother’s participation in the loan program was able to fund school fees and university tuition for herself and all of her brothers and sisters. As a beneficiary, Millie is even more motivated to work for BWA and contribute to the fullest as a way of showing her gratitude.

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Millie (right) engages in an epic hopscotch battle during a site visit to a BWA borrower’s business, a private primary school.

Next, Millie plans to become a CPA during a weekend training program in Mbale, the major town near Buyobo, and continue working with BWA during her studies. We couldn’t be more thrilled by her contributions to the team in her first year and we congratulate her on her accomplishments!