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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!

 

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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!

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.