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WMI President, Robyn Nietert, blogs about her annual field visit to WMI loan hubs in East Africa.

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Visiting the loan programs WMI collaborates on with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on the Laikepia Plateau in northern Kenya is a great opportunity to see an innovative approach to involving local populations in the management of scarce resources.  Lewa is a pioneer IMG_3413in the concept of community conservation.  They believe that the welfare of local people is key to a thriving wildlife heritage and have invested extensively in the livelihood of their neighbors with programs that focus on education, healthcare, water, microfinance and youth empowerment.  Of particular importance are programs that focus on women’s groups.

IMG_5004WMI partners with Lewa to bring business loans and skills training to the women who live in villages surrounding the conservancy.  There are currently 1,800 women in the loan program operating small businesses that include: retail shops, butcheries, flour mills, hair dressing and tailoring, poultry rearing, buying and selling cereals and livestock keeping. These businesses not only allow rural women to develop their own business potential but as the enterprises grow they create jobs for other women.  In IMG_65162018, WMI funded the addition of new loan groups in each of the 4 sectors surrounding the conservancy.  Women leaders have emerged to chair the groups and supervise loans.

Visiting these businesswomen to learn more about their financial needs and family life is a riotous affair that involves singing, dancing IMG_4124and very proud descriptions of their businesses operations, revenues and how the increased income has dramatically impacted their household living standards.  The women are very savvy about both their business and personal finances.  Owning a business has given them the tools and incentive to be proactive about their family’s economic well-being.

For a rural woman, operating a successful rural business is not a one dimensional undertaking.  Access to affordable health care, a reliable water source and educational opportunities for their children impact the ability of these women to focus on their business operations. IMG_6426

This year WMI funded counseling services for rural women who felt stressed by the myriad responsibilities they faced.  The women told us the counseling sessions were enormously helpful. Some were having issues with priorities set by their husbands and the counseling sessions helped them learn how to have a fruitful discussion instead of simply arguing.  Others were overwrought by the educational and career choices their children wanted to make and the sessions helped them learn how to listen and respond constructively to their children’s concerns.  IMG_4354Our team was struck by the universality of the women’s concerns.  We could relate to the anxiety created by family arguments and their relief in finding constructive ways to handle the stress.

I am so impressed by the dedication and effective outreach provided by the Lewa Community Development team.  John Kinoti provides excellent leadership at the top. Purity Mwenda oversees loan program operations and connects with the women in the loan groups on a very personal level.  She is a confidant, mentor and IMG_4348cheerleader all rolled into one very effective role model.  The liaisons who meet with the loan groups regularly and deposit collections have gained the trust of the women they serve.  The bottom line is that this loan hub is having a powerful impact on the women and their families and is making significant in-roads in poverty alleviation at the bottom of the pyramid.  WMI is continuing to work with Lewa to expand the loan program and provide additional services so more women in the area can start businesses and receive the support they need to make those businesses a success.

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Making my 12th trip to WMI loan program hubs in East Africa, I am delighted to report that the impact of the loan program continues to grow.  We first traveled due west 4 hours from Kampala to the Mubende area where we partner with the Buesessa Community Development Association to off loans and training.  The ladies were enthusiastic in their welcome and so happy I had made the trip that they presented me with many lovely locally-made baskets. They readily escorted us to tour businesses that lined the main roadside.  Business owners reported earning $100 – $500/month from hair braiding salons, dress design and tailoring, shops and sales of maize and beans.

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The lovely women of Buseesa greeting me with hugs and gifts

Many women in the area were refugees from the Rwanda genocide.  As children and young adults, they fled violence and chaos.  In western Uganda they found stability and a chance for a new life.  They were not resettled by an international agency; they did not receive government subsidies or support.  They persevered by virtue of their own hard work and determination.  WMI is proud to be able to offer resources that help their businesses expand and thrive.

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Borrower in her domain helping and greeting customers

The welcome at our WMI HQ in Buyobo was overwhelming. Women’s businesses now dominate the main road through town.  Catering, small restaurants and snack stalls have become common – prepared food is big business in Buyobo.  Household improvements are visible everywhere, from brick houses, to satellite dishes to cows grazing in yards. And, women now dress very smartly!

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Robyn, Jackie (Assistant Director in Buyobo) greeting Olive (Director) during our annual celebration

Our annual celebration for the community was the largest ever, drawing more that 700 women and their families, as well as community leaders and guest speakers.  A day of singing, dancing, marching, musical performances, and speeches ended with a feast catered by our own staff.  What a wonderful way to acknowledge the ongoing accomplishments of the women in the loan program in eastern Uganda, which has now spread throughout Sironko and into Bulambuli, Manafwa and Bududa Districts.

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Borrowers are now able to construct permenant homes

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One of our lovely borrowers in Buseesa

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WMI Ladies preparing food for our annual celebration

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Satellite dishes can be spotted all around Buyobo

2018 Summer Intern Wrap Up

From Lilia:

This summer spent in Buyobo interning for WMI has been such a rewarding and informative experience. It was so hard to say goodbye to all the incredibly hard-working and kind women I got to know this summer at BWA, and watch the trees and mountains pass for the last time on the car ride out of the village, but I know I will come back some day.

Now that I’ve spent a few weeks back at home reflecting on the summer, I realized that I’ve really learned a lot over the past few months, and not only in the ways I expected. On the job, I learned all sorts of new business related skills, like data analysis and graphic design, but I also learned some Lugisu phrases, how to be more flexible and creative due to the the temperamental internet situation, and how important it is to reapply sunscreen after spending a few hours around town conducting interviews with WMI borrowers!

Some of my favourite memories from my internship come from the time spent with the kids who are a part of the orphan outreach program. I loved playing new games with the kids each week, whether Cerina and I were the ones introducing them or the kids taught us. It was really sweet to see the kids reading and colouring on rainy days, and I love that I got to take home some of their adorable pictures. Also, the girls seemed to really enjoy giving me makeovers whenever they got their hands on my hair – which was essentially any time I sat down. It was one of the most refreshing parts of my week, to be around a whole bundle of kids having a good time, giggling and running around with so much energy. One memorable afternoon, one of the youngest girls got a scrape on her forehead, so I took out the first-aid kit and patched it up with a band-aid. Then, all of a sudden, EVERYONE then needed to have a band-aid on their head to look as cool as their friend, and before I knew it, all the band-aids were gone from the box, and on every girl’s head! I like to think I started a fashion trend in Buyobo that day…

I also really enjoyed designing and putting together the Fact Book, which allowed for a lot more fun and creativity than I had expected. It was interesting to see the whole process through from beginning to end, compiling all the data and calculating the statistics. It was eye opening to be seeing first hand the effects of the loan program, interviewing borrowers, visiting businesses and talking with the BWA Board of Directors about their experience with the loan program, and then realizing those effects could be multiplied more than 12,000 times across Uganda and Eastern Africa – it really put the value and success of the program into perspective for me. Looking at the statistics and data, and knowing the reality of empowered women and families they reflected was very encouraging. I especially enjoyed getting creative with the design process to take that information we compiled and calculated, and make it exciting and accessible for others to read. I am looking forward to seeing the published version very soon!

Over the last two months I spent in Buyobo and exploring Uganda, I met so many kind and welcoming people, and saw beautiful natural wonders I won’t forget. I can’t thank the women of WMI and BWA enough for the opportunity to join their team and work alongside them this summer, and I know I will be back to visit before I know it!

From Cerina:

I have officially finished my internship with WMI. Upon reflection, I can honestly say that Uganda delivered in ways that I could never imagine! Firstly, I had more contact with local people than I have ever had when travelling in a different country; which made me feel very in touch with and attached to the country as a whole. I believe that I saw all of Uganda’s sides, as opposed to only those that are readily in a tourist’s sights. My internship was more than data entry and videography, it was building a relationship with the children who we hung out with weekly, learning about the realities of running a business in a rural landscape, and seeing firsthand how passion and hardwork can shape a community. It was a privilege to take part in the work that WMI is doing if only for a summer.

The second aspect of my time in Uganda that really exceeded my expectations was the natural beauty of the country! There were so many things to see, and so much to do. In just two months I hiked to the top of six waterfalls, went tubing and white water rafting down the Nile River, went on a coffee farm tour, went on a safari, watched the Fifa World Cup from bars, went sightseeing around Kampala and still managed to sunbathe by the pool most weekends. I have never thought of Uganda as a tourist destination before, but now I truly think it should be on the top of everybodies bucket lists.

I owe a huge thanks to WMI for making this summer happen, I will never, ever forget my time here!!!

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Cerina, Lillian, Ashley, Marissa, Lilia

USAID & VHT cont’d

The saga of our partnership with USAID continues! We held a training of trainers back in March, where members of the USAID came out for a full day training with 6 senior VHT members to give a comprehensive overview of the information in the materials and how to use these materials when doing community outreach.

Below are some photos from the training. The next and final step will be to get the rest of the VHT staff trained which will happen in the next couple of months. February, March and April are digging, planting and harvesting season for beans and maiz (this actually gets harvested in June/July) so everyone is busy in their gardens and is not able to take a day away from this to come to a training, which we understand 🙂 In order to be successful we have to be respectful (of people, their time, culture and priorities)!

Enjoy the photos and head to our instagram @wmionline to see a video! Stay tuned for our blog on the training of the rest of our VHT members!

 

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VHT Members with the USAID trainers!

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VHT Members, USAID Trainers and our fellow celebrating a successful training 🙂

Many innovations in clean energy, including biogas, have demonstrated incredible applicability and success within communities here in Eastern Uganda. We have begun exploring the feasibility of bringing home biogas solutions to Buyobo and the surrounding villages for the following reasons!

Challenges surrounding today’s energy sources are increasing:

Homes in remote villages rely primarily on burning firewood to power stoves used for cooking. In some cases, homes have supplemental power from solar panels to fuel small lights. However, the environmental and humanitarian impacts of so many homes and villages using firewood are getting increasingly severe.

The challenges with this significant reliance on firewood include:

  • There is a diminishing supply of trees which can be chopped for wood (especially due to the logging companies)
  • Reduced foliage makes the land more susceptible to landslides (especially during the ~5 month rainy season) which have ruined homes, villages, roads, and bridges across the region as well as killing many people in their path
  • Villagers must travel increasingly farther away from their homes to source firewood, creating sometimes dangerous and lengthy treks through unfamiliar forests

Biogas is a potential solution:

In order to reduce the dependence on firewood, one option is for homes and villages to install biogas solutions in their homes. Biogas is fuel that is produced by fermenting organic matter, such as cow dung and household waste (process diagramed below1). Household systems are typically small outdoor structures with pipes that run underground into the home and rely on cow dung as the organic input.

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In order to see biogas in action we visited Namisindwa a village on the other side of the mountain to see how their home systems were working for them! Below are some photos from our visit:

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homeowners put the cow dung here and it will slowly make its way to down to start its change from dung to gas! Surprisingly it doesn’t smell.

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A gas nozzle

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The gas pressure gauge inside a house

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the stove that is powered by biogas!

 

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A training school has also installed a biogas system to power their kitchen. They use a mix of human and cow waste

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One of two cookstoves in the kitchen of the training school which feeds 300 students everyday

There are several international organizations involved in bringing biogas technology to Uganda. To learn more about these efforts, called the “Uganda Domestic Biogas Programme (UDBP),” please visit www.heifer.org and www.africabiogas.org.

 

Hi everyone,

Our newest interns arrived at the beginning of June and will be here for 2 months working on data entry, teaching english games to the teachers and students of Buyobo nursery school, working with a small group of orphans for a pilot run of a potential new outreach project and interviewing borrowers!

Without further adue please let me introduce Lilia and Cerina!

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Hi! My name is Lilia, I’m 21 years old (as of yesterday!), and I’m from the great city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I love to learn languages, meet new people, sing and play music, and travel whenever I have the chance. I am passionate about children’s rights issues and community development, and hope to have a long career making the lives of kids and families around the world a little bit better. Currently, I am entering my second year at Leiden University in The Hague, Netherlands. I study International Studies with a concentration in Africa and the Swahili language. In my course of study, I’ve had the chance to learn about the languages, cultures, history, and politics of many places in Africa, but I wanted to experience East Africa from a more personal, “boots on the ground” perspective. Studying in an international university in such a diverse and multinational city as the Hague has exposed me to new friendships and relationships with people from all around the world, which motivated me even more to seek knowledge and experiences of the places my friends call home.

In my future career, I plan to work in international development and human rights law in Africa, so I wanted to gain some experience and perspective on the issues facing vulnerable communities here. I knew that the socioeconomic situation in Uganda is particularly harsh in rural villages, so when I found out about the work that WMI is doing to empower rural women and their communities here, I knew I wanted the chance to be involved. I reached out and applied, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to join WMI as a summer intern! I am especially enjoying the work we are doing with the orphan outreach program, as supporting the development and wellbeing of vulnerable children is something near to my heart. I am loving my time here in Uganda, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to learn, experience new things, and be a part of the incredible impact that WMI is making throughout Uganda and East Africa!

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Hey my name is Cerina! I am 19 years old, and come from Auckland, New Zealand. One year ago, I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my family and friends and moved to the U.S to study Economics at Princeton University. I hope to initially find a job in the financial sector, and then transition into a career that more closely mirrors the work that I have been doing here in Uganda – perhaps as a consultant for a NGO or in working for a development bank. I really like working with numbers, and analyzing data, so am pretty set in finding a job in the business sphere.

 I love to travel, and I especially enjoy exploring new cities, so living one hour away from NYC was one of the highlights of my freshman year. Coming to Africa was a tick of my bucket list, as I have always wanted to visit, but could never quite convince my parents to book a family vacation here as opposed to our regular holiday spot in Australia. I have only been in Uganda for two weeks and already know that it holds a soft spot in my heart. It is a beautiful country, and I have been humbled by the mountains that surround Buyobo and Mbale, and by the beauty of the Nile River. Everybody here in Buyobo has been so welcoming and kind, which has made staying in Buyobo a true pleasure. I am looking forward to seeing more of what Uganda has to offer, and working closely with the community of Buyobo for my remaining month and a half here.

 

Recently I had the opportunity to sit with 12 of our lead coordinators to talk about budgeting, savings, and personal financial planning. Often, budgeting isn’t the most fun topic (especially when we realize how many different expenses we have!) but the BWA women excitedly and actively participated in the discussion.

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During the session, we reviewed the importance of:

  • Setting short and long-term goals; giving us a framework to envision how the money we make and spend today impacts our future
  • Creating a personal financial picture; equipping the women with the ability to understand the “lay of the land” when it comes to their personal finances
  • Establishing strategies to proactively manage expenses; developing plans to save regularly, including tactics to reduce extraneous spending to achieve goals more quickly

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The value of recording your inflows and outflows of money was one of the biggest takeaways from our discussion. Each woman had multiple sources of income that they received at varying times per year, ranging from their salaries as teachers to their multiple yearly harvests from their garden.

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And naturally, each had multiple different types of expenses occurring throughout the year. The “simple” practice of writing down these various income sources and expenses was eye opening for many of the women – as it is for so many people. By only keeping this crucial personal finance information in our heads we can often misestimate our financial situation and as they say here “eat money without realizing where it is going.”

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After two hours of discussion about goal setting, savings management, and personal financial planning the lead coordinators now have an outline to share and will continue to use this template as a training tool for current and future borrowers. Small steps and encouragement towards active management of their personal budget will help empower each woman to be confident in their financial situation and achieve the goals they set for themselves. It was a pleasure starting this dialogue with the coordinators and demonstrating the power of budgeting!

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