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