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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!

As May came to a close we said our fond farewells to the lovely ladies who made up GWOCO’s very first loan groups in Karatu, Tanzania. Over two separate graduation ceremonies we celebrated seven groups’ successful completion of their loan cycles, the first ceremony at the end of April and second at the end of May.

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A selection of the happy graduates awaiting the start of the celebrations. 

Much to all of our members’ delight, the first ceremony was timed perfectly with a visit from Judy Lane. Judy was a founding sponsor and is a frequent visitor to the staff of GWOCO. She was able to attend as guest of honor, alongside Jaime Thomas and Kim La Reau who have each contributed much time and effort into ensuring the success of the program.

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Judy Lane congratulates the graduates and wishing them success in their future business endeavors.

Lead in by their wonderful teacher Christina, our Girls Group kicked of the ceremony with a lovely selection of congratulatory song. The girls had been practicing their dance moves and learning lyrics as one of their class activities for several weeks during Girls Group sessions in preparation for the event.

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Girls Group opening the graduation ceremony with song and dance.

Thrilled to have their years of effort recognized the graduating ladies celebrated in great style. Having settled into the event with copious quantities of food they sat listening to speeches given by the staff and other guest speakers providing a brief history of the program and congratulating the graduates. The graduates responded to this with personalized songs dedicated to GWOCO and its sponsors along with joyous dancing participated by all. As a gesture of recognition to their efforts during their time in the program they received gifts and certificates of completion together with their personal savings.  

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New graduates dancing in celebration as they come to receive their gifts and certificates. 

The GWOCO staff were among those graduating and took the opportunity to thank all of the individuals from both the US and Tanzania who have helped and continue to help make these loans possible. Each of our dedicated staff members have managed, very successfully, to expand their businesses and through these expansions they have not only managed to improve their quality of life but also the lives of their families and friends. 

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Levina, GWOCO’s assistant chairwoman and treasurer dancing her way to receive her certificate from Judy.

All one hundred and twelve of our newly graduated members have worked very hard to develop their businesses over the past few years and we have been extremely lucky to be witness to their success. While we are sad to see these ladies leave the program we wish them continued success and look forward to seeing where the future takes them.

Buusita Pavilion

Construction of a new pavilion in Buusita is well underway and scheduled to complete this month!

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The beautiful scenery surrounding the Buusita pavilion, located near Mt. Elgon

Loan collection centers are important meeting points for WMI borrowers. They offer a place to host support group meetings, conduct new borrower trainings, issue loans and organize collections. New centers with only a few groups organize with a local church or school to use their facilities as collection points. But many WMI centers, like Buusita, grow over many years, becoming community institutions of their own and supporting hundreds of borrowers and several staff members.

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BWA Director and Buusita Assistant Coordinator visit the construction site

The Buusita community is comprised of these dedicated groups and BWA is proud to support the construction of a pavilion for this center. The borrowers have shown strong investment in the program, contributing to the fund for construction and paying additional membership fees.

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Kids in Buusita energetically greet the visitors from Buyobo

The Buusita loan collection center has grown significantly over the past several years, starting with only one loan group of 20 women and now facilitating hundreds of borrowers. The pavilion will house these ladies for collections and will be very helpful during Uganda’s very heavy rainy season.

The Buusita pavilion will also support the local community. It serves as a meeting point for other, smaller organizations and will be rented out for community events. We are very excited for its completion!

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The new building has a roof!

 

New Regional Office

The Buyobo team supervises and supports three other loan hubs in Eastern region: Wesswa, Konokoyi and Bupoto hubs, all located in different districts. In order to better facilitate frequent meetings, BWA has rented a tiny office in Mbale’s central market.

Mbale town is a central location for all four loan hubs, with frequent transportation moving from each hub to town. It also houses our banking partner, PostBank Uganda, so the teams can also visit the bank for deposits or other business during their visit to town.

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Meeting with the Wesswa team at the new office in Mbale town

The office is already being put to use! Buyobo team met with Wesswa, Bupoto and Konokoyi teams during the previous week at our location in town. It was a great opportunity to check in on the hub’s status and identify the challenges each hub is facing and their successes as groups. We had several productive meetings and we’re excited to see all of the teams again next month for a check-in.

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Attempting a selfie with the Wesswa team outside the new office!

Fortunately for the team, the office’s new neighbor is a coffee shop serving amazing Ugandan coffee for 1,000 shillings (about $.30) per cup, ensuring that all WMI staff is properly caffeinated for our meetings.

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BWA’s new friends: the coffee shop next door!

 

 

Every year, the Buyobo Women’s Association comes together in early February to throw a graduation party celebrating the prior year’s loan program graduates. This year was no exception, and the ceremony was an extraordinary success!

img_9283In 2016, BWA graduated 500 women entrepreneurs from its loan program. That’s a record amount, and it represents a new influx of businesswomen into the community with improved financial literacy and money management skills.

Our two-year training program includes:

  • Four loan cycles of progressively-increasing loan amounts, starting just under $100
  • A strong emphasis on savings culture, with each progressive loan requiring savings minimums by the borrower
  • Thorough skills training in budgeting, marketing and record-keeping along with other necessary information for running successful businesses
  • Two years of entrepreneurship guidance and support from our experienced staff – all of whom are graduates of the loan program themselves and have their own active businesses

 

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Preparations for the celebration began several days in advance! Food for over 500 guests was prepared, which required time, effort, teamwork and huge cooking pots to accomplish.

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The day began with a five kilometer march to the neighboring village of Sonoli Park, an emerging business district. The march was led by a talented brass band!

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Buyobo Women’s Association continues to develop its brand year after year as a highly professional and effective village-level loan program that contributes to the community not only through its microfinance operations but through reinvestments in human capacity in the area. Our growing notoriety as strong presence in Sironko District has brought support from many areas, including Ugandan government officials. This year, we were pleased to host two Members of Parliament at our function: Isma Mafabi, Youth Representative, Eastern Region and Florence Nambozo, District Woman Representative for Sironko District.

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In 2016, in partnership with the Women’s Microfinance Initiative and Buyobo Community Development Association, the community is celebrating the completion of the Gibugomu Water Source project, which provides clean drinking water to Buyobo Sub-County residents.

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The day progressed with musical performances by several student groups.

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At the end of the event, the audience heard speeches by WMI President Robyn Nietert as well as both of the attending Members of Parliament and other local government officials. We also heard from the head office team of our banking partners, PostBank Uganda, who travelled from Kampala to attend the event.

These are some of the beautiful faces of the hard-working businesswomen in the WMI loan program. Sylvia is a 65 year-old tailor who has used her profits to buy farm land and 2 small store front shops that she rents out – she is planning for her retirement!

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At 47, Lydia has a booming business buying and reselling charcoal. She has managed to build a permanent house and is paying University tuition for her 2 older children, as well as senior school fees for her 2 younger children. 16684194_10211294734905345_3623252868801321185_n
Rose makes and sells mandazi (delicious doughnuts) at schools and in the market. She is currently building a permanent house and has just ordered another load of bricks for it.
These ladies are making between $1,000 – $3,000/year, which is terrific income in a country where school teachers start at $75/month and bank clerks at $200/month! Give a rural African woman a loan with training and she will turn it into a profitable business!16684286_10211294734505335_8370457652966879751_n

It is wonderful to be back in Buyobo, Uganda at WMI headquarters, catch up with the staff, chat with borrowers and see all the community projects the loan program has been able to provide.

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Arriving on a loan collection day is always a thrill as the building fills with hundreds of borrowers repaying their loans and meeting with their sister loan group members.

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The 500 seat pavilion we constructed last year is able to accommodate a whole variety of activities, including providing a safe room where staff from our partner, Postbank Uganda, can provide banking services for the rural women in the loan program right in the village.  Our local staff is proud that this is the only program of its kind in the area to provide banking services outreach to rural women.

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This past year income from the loan program coupled with WMI grants financed the reconstruction of the water system in Buyobo sub-county – it now serves over 5,000 people in the community.  With the new filtration system, the water is clean and can be drunk straight from the tap – the only system in all of Sironko District with potable water.  Clean water means healthy families and less housework for women so more time for business!

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The loan program in Sironko District has grown so much that we have established sub-hubs to accommodate all the 2,000+ borrowers.  Touring the sub-hubs, we are greeted with enthusiastic dancing and singing – everyone dances no matter what their age!

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In Busita, I was asked to break ground for the new pavilion we are building there for meetings and loan collection.  Miraculously, no one was injured as I wielded a very sharp hoe!

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The loan program is moving on well and expanding.  Collecting personal narratives from borrowers helps us verify the ongoing positive impact the loan program is having in reducing poverty and in bringing rural women access to the financial services that are essential to start a business.  Rose Wanyina, a 50-year-old borrower with 3 children makes mandazi (something like doughnuts) which she sells 6 days a week at schools and markets.  She can sell anywhere from 100 – 500/day, resulting in about $100/month profit, which has allowed her to buy a plot of land and build a0 permanent house.  All of her children are in school, and she told me none of this would have been possible without her loan from WMI!

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By Jess Littman

“Reward her, reward her,” the ladies sang in Swahili as they wrapped me in a colorful kanga fabric. They spun me around and danced with me, admiring how I looked all wrapped up before handing around soda for the whole group.unnamed-2

It was my last visit to Sumawe, one of the five villages where WMI’s partner GWOCO operates in Tanzania. As a WMI Fellow for the past year, I have been visiting each village once a month or more for loan repayments, group meetings, business visits and seminars.

Now I am preparing to depart, and the borrowers are eager to give me beautiful mementos of my time here. At each village goodbye ceremony I have been entreated not to forget them – as if that would be possible. How could I forget Sweetness, from whom I buy delicious breakfasts at her stand across the street from my house? Or Paulina, who cracks jokes throughout loan repayments to keep everyone smiling?

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The ladies who will always be at the forefront of my memory are the ones who have served on GWOCO’s board during my year here. There is Martha, the quiet woman whose math skills and amazing memory make this program possible. There’s Eliminatha, who had 11 children before her husband abandoned her, and who then built up her business to support her family on her own. And there is Levina, whose house is full of other people’s children whose care she has taken on as a leader of her community.

I have learned so much from these ladies. Levina’s verbal smack down of a man who objected to our preference for lending to women will stick out in my mind every time I fight for women in the future. I hope that I have imbibed some of Eliminatha’s ability to find hilarity in virtually everything.

WMI’s borrowers in Tanzania are the strongest, funniest, bravest and wisest women I have ever met (besides, of course, my strong, funny, brave and wise mom, who inspires everything I do). They face obstacles that I cannot believe, from abusive husbands to droughts, with positive attitudes and determination. I believe that they can do anything, and they have taught me that I can do anything, too.