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Every Thursday, the Buyobo leadership, including Olive (Director), Jackie (Assistant Director), Grace (Operations Manager), and Agnes (Assistant Operations Manager), meet with Melissa (East Africa Finance Director), to review the BWA operating budget. They have been learning the function of 32 tabs, and the computer skills to create each tab from scratch.

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During her first year in Buyobo, Melissa concentrated on the finances for Buyobo Women’s Association, making sure all transactions are properly tracked on computers, and creating a detailed operating budget. This year the focus is on sustainability, making sure that everyone in the BWA leadership team is familiar managing the budget, and will be able to create a new one in 2016.

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With four bank accounts, four quarterly loan cycles, and over sixty loan groups depositing both loan payments and savings twice a month, it is no simple business to track! The budget is also separated into three major categories– loan hub operations, ancillary village programs, and reimbursable expenses from WMI for Buyobo staff to establish and support the other loan hubs across Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Recently, budget lessons have focused on creating account registers, identical to PostBank bank statements at the end of each month, to make sure each deposit and withdrawal matches BWA records, and to check that neither bank or loan hub made any mistakes.

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This week, ladies created an Operations Account register, combining all loan deposits, withdrawals, and fees for the month of February in a single table. As Olive transferred all February deposits and copied the equation to keep a running balance total, Melissa asked her: “When you took your first loan in the Blue group, did you think you would one day be doing all of this?” Olive sat back and shook her head. “No, I did not!”

Penina’s School

Along with running the WMI loan hub, all Buyobo Women’s Association staff are also teachers in Buyobo or nearby villages. It is a requirement for BWA Coordinators to be literate in English, and this targets the local teacher population. These women teach, coordinate loan groups and office operations, while also running businesses and raising their families. They are an impressive group of women!

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Penina, one of the Local Coordinators, founded and directs her own primary school in nearby Budadiri: Ambassadors Preparatory Nursery & Primary School. She started her school in 2011, teaching four kids out of her living room. Four years later, another 130 young students have joined the original class, and the school has expanded to nursery through Primary 3.

Before starting Ambassadors Primary, Penina had been working at a school that honored her for her teaching but did not pay her for a year . She says it is much better to work for yourself!

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In order to expand, Penina used her four loans from WMI to rent a few shops in a row, construct a wall to close them in from the road, build an additional classroom, and buy desks.

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When Melissa and Karen visited it seemed that all the students and teachers adored Penina, and that she ran things with a mixture of kindness, confidence, and enthusiasm. In each classrooms students sang for the visitors. Favorites included “Shake, shake, the mango tree. One for you and one for me…” As well as songs in Lugiso. After visiting each classroom, students gathered for a full assembly to dance and sing some more.

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Songs are built into the daily routine. After a break in the courtyard, kids move off to their respective classrooms singing “class, class! We go to class, class, class! We go to class!” If a student volunteers or answers a questions correctly, the teacher has her/him stand up with hands on hips, and do a little dance while classmates clap and sing: “Lovely, lovely, nice, a very good girl/boy!” Alternately they might give their classmate “flowers,” reaching their arms towards the student and waving hands for a few seconds in recognition. To remind students to sit still, teachers have them sing “I am sitting like a boss, boss, boss. I am a boss, boss, boss.” With their arms and legs crossed, they sit back in their seats and look silently all around them, like the big person in charge.

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In nursery students practiced shading letters. Top Class was adding “objects to objects,” counting pictures of cups, chairs, and books. Primary 1 students formed English sentences with new vocabulary of household items. P2 had progressed to adding three-digit numbers together. Finally, in their religious studies class, P3 was having a discussion about the qualities that make a good leader—including respect for others, being humble, loving one another, and sharing.

These are the leadership qualities that Penina exemplifies. She says to a fault she is slow to talk about her achievements. She prefers to let parents tell their neighbors about the school, and has expanded through word of mouth about the quality of education. Indeed, Melissa knew her for over a year before she first mentioned directing the school casually during a training.

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Humble she may be, but Penina is ambitious too! She says her next steps are to own the land she rents and expand over the next seven years to a full secondary school. She wants to teach the original students all the way through up to college.

A roughly 45 minute drive from Mbale, Buyobo Women’s Association (BWA) is one of the largest operations and employers in the Mbale area, with over 20 staff, and 1,460 women borrowers this year. From Buyobo village, BWA manages its own substantial loan program and oversees other WMI loan hubs throughout Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

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Animals, central to village life, pass each day in periphery of loan hub operations and even make their way inside the office. One day Grace, the operations manager, removed a goat that snuck into the main office room and dragged a power strip across the floor. She grabbed its two front legs, slid it back out to the hall and ushered it out the door.

Chickens and chicks roost outside, and wander in to ruffle through scrap paper and bins on the floor.

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Geckos observe work from the ceiling and walls.

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Outside the office window, cows and goats graze between the building and road.

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Last term, the BWA’s Girls Group chose a turkey entrepreneurship project, raising baby birds to sell, and learning about businesses.

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From a young age, children learn to care for their family’s animals. On a recent walk home, Melissa (East Africa Finance Director) and Karen (Spring Intern) passed their neighbor Wataka trailing a family member’s cow.

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Another evening, Peace proudly showed how she guides her goat home in the evening.

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A neighbor’s dog recently had puppies, who will find new homes as watchdogs in several months.

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Less common in the village, the BWA guesthouse, home to Melissa and interns throughout the year, recently saw the addition of new a kitten. GNut (or “ground nut/peanut”) has a mind of her own and quickly made herself at home in Buyobo. She gets lots of attention and provides some entertainment to the neighbors, also catching spiders and flies.

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In the WMI model, development happens from the ground up, creating change at the village-level. It is fitting that WMI bases its East Africa headquarters in Buyobo village, and with the oldest partner community organization. Some sizeable operations happen here in the middle of village life.

On Tuesday, February 24th, the Daily Monitor, one of Uganda’s national newspapers, had an article featuring a woman, Adoa, who built a number of schools using loans. She first started with loans from friends in England, where she studied education management, then later pursued larger loan from banks in Uganda. The article on Adoa raised many issues that are prevalent throughout Africa, such as the inability to pay school fees, feed children, and the education of girls.

Adoa is determined to help underprivileged children; growing up she feared that if she quit school or didn’t keep busy with work that she would be married off (she believes that the government needs to step in and create measures to reduce the high drop-out rate for girls). This is one reason she is inspired to help financially challenged children – she wants to give them hope by helping them receive an education. She has had many challenges, which include parents not paying on time, or at all. She claims the ability to pay school fees has worsened due to escalating poverty. Another challenge has been the instability of food prices; the price increases in many food products has led to an increase in the cost of operations.pic 1

Despite the many challenges of running successful schools, Adoa is determined to keep improving her schools. She said she has learned that the best way to use a loan is to put all the money in its intended use and not be tempted to keep it.

As the issues noted by Adoa are prevalent throughout Africa, WMI has also noticed these issues and has worked hard to partner with the ladies in Buyobo to improve conditions. Through the loan program, women have said that they are able to generate income, which allows them to pay school fees for their children, feed them more than one meal a day, and help pay for school uniforms and supplies. The ladies have learned that all the money from their loans should be invested in the business, and not kept at home.

WMI/BWA also helps children by paying for some meals at the local primary school. In addition, a teacher from the Buyobo Primary School was trained to teach entrepreneurship and health education classes to girls, in an effort to boost their self-confidence and give them tangible knowledge and skills that will help them in their lives.

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The women in Buyobo have many different businesses. One of our ladies, Penina, chose to take the same path as Adoa. She also cares about the future of Uganda’s children. In 2010 she started a school out of her house. In the past few years she has grown her school from a few children to many classrooms. She used her WMI loan to buy desks, materials, and build a wall around the school compound. It is because of ladies like Adoa and Penina that the children of Uganda will have a brighter future.IMG_3843

A Powerful Investment

Computers are a powerful tool for women running a village loan hub, and for families in Buyobo!

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Agnes, a local coordinator and liaison to other loan hubs, started training in the fall to review the computer work of BWA Operations Manager, Grace– tracking loan deposit slips, entering budget expenses in excel, and downloading and filing the documents and reports from other loan hubs.

After just a few months she has learned a lot, and gained a lot of confidence and skill!

This Christmas, she used her savings to buy a computer for her son Jonathan, which WMI brought over from the US. Jonathan just graduated from secondary school, and will be starting at university next fall, where he plans to study computers!

IMG_4437Jonathan brought his new computer into the office last week to show us a favorite video about tech company founders, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell. His laptop also functions as a tablet, with the back folding over and removable stylus pen. During the WMI graduation, he used the laptop’s camera to take a video of Robyn’s speech.

He recently brought his computer to Mbale, and met with Grace and Karen (WMI intern) at an internet café to start to use the more extensive internet functions. It will be a big help for him at school in Kampala this year!

A computer is a powerful investment. Jonathan’s is the second computer that Agnes has bought. She got one for her first son last year, and has asked to buy another one this summer! Jackie, BWA vice president, recently also asked for one for her two kids to share, who are currently taking computer courses. Having their own computer would help them practice and learn more quickly, and make them a good resource for their mom!

Graduation 2015!

Buyobo Women’s Association held its annual graduation ceremony On Saturday, January 30th! Nine groups, or 180 women, completed paying back their fourth BWA loan in 2014. As BWA program graduates, they have the track record, experience, and training to participate in conventional banking and take larger loans. Twenty new borrowers will now take each group’s “recycled” loans this year.

Evelyn, BWA local coordinator and sub-hub liaison, was up all night with other women preparing the matoke and other food for the graduation feast! More women joined early in the morning to help prepare the food.

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Robyn (WMI director) and Olive (BWA director) took a break from setup to pose in front of the WMI sign.

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The day started with a parade, led by a high school brass band from Mbale, with a few children in the front too!

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Lined up in their different color groups, women marched from Buyobo to the next town and back.

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Olive (left), BWA director, addressed the graduating borrowers. Jackie (right) served as the master of ceremonies, introducing each speaker and performer. Any breaks in the program were filled with music, and often dancing.

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The BWA team, in matching gomesi’s, sang “We Are WMI Family” and “How Wonderful Is A Woman!” Girls from the BWA Girls Group, who complete entrepreneurship and health classes throughout the year, prepared a song and dance for the guests as well.

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A representative from Postbank Uganda, WMI’s partner bank, encouraged the graduating women, and honored the growth and success of this village-level loan program! Olive’s daughter performed with a local dance group.

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After her speech of appreciation in Lugisu and English, Robyn and Olive hand out umbrellas to the graduating women. Each graduating woman receives a WMI umbrella after completing four cycles, and the four leaders from each group get kettles.

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Acrobats from the Mbale band performed at the end. After a delicious meal, WMI/BWA staff, and recent graduates, posed for a picture, before women headed off to their home villages.

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Along with loans, Buyobo Women’s Association provides community services at their loan hub. The 10% interest from loans covers BWA operations, and village-level services including adult literacy, girls group, and health screenings.

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Rain Uganda and WMI banners

For the third year in a row, Buyobo Women’s Association partnered with Rain Uganda, an Mbale-based NGO, to do HIV, breast cancer, and cervical cancer(CaCx) screenings. On January 22nd, three midwife/nurses, counselors, a lab team, and volunteers came for a full day of work in Buyobo.

The Rain team started off by sanitizing metal and plastic speculums, first in a disinfectant, a detergent, and then 15 minutes in boiling water over a charcoal stove.

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Education sessions

BWA set up chairs and tents outside to hold education sessions.

Women met one-on-one with counselors for a pre-screening consultation. After testing, they met with these same counselors to go over their results.

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Pre- and post- consultations with Rain counselors

After the day’s work, staff sat down for a meal prepared by BWA!  They tested 131 women for HIV, and 97 for cervical and breast cancer.

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