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By Kirsten Miner, WMI Resource Fellow

WMI proudly supports the operations of eight loan hubs within Uganda, as well as two each in Kenya and Tanzania. Buyobo Women’s Association staff were lucky enough to visit many of our Uganda hubs in November and December of 2016 and we very much enjoyed engaging with our colleagues in different parts of the country.

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A map of our WMI hubs within Uganda, hand made by Intern Natalie Andrasko

You can see from the map that the hubs are located far and wide across Uganda, a country of over 90,000 square miles and widely varying environments. Our first visit took our group to Northern Uganda to visit our hubs in Gulu and Atiak, areas that were heavily affected by conflict in the 90s and 2000s. The WMI hub in Gulu, Karin Community Center, and in Atiak, Blessed Women’s Association, have both been up and running since 2011. Our team met with their Head Administrators, Local Coordinators and many borrowers to discuss the loan program and inspect their large pavilion, which was built in collaboration with WMI.

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Meeting with Blessed Women’s Association Executive Team in Atiak 

The following visit took our team to Bududa, a neighboring district to Sironko where Buyobo is located. Three WMI hubs operate out of Bududa District: Matuwa Microfinance Women’s Group, Bududa Women’s Development Group and Wesswa Women Development Group. Bududa is an unusually beautiful district nestled inside Mt. Elgon National Park with stunning mountain views, providing an especially scenic hour-long drive. Our hosts from Wesswa Women Development Group even gifted our team with a chicken to take home with us!

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Buyobo Women’s Association Director Olive Wolimbwa receives a chicken as a gift from the Wesswa Women Development Association after a site visit

Finally, we were able to meet with the teams from Buseesa Community Development Center and E. Lushaya Women’s Groups, located in Kibaale and Kabale Districts respectively. The teams at both of these locations are incredibly enthusiastic and we were delighted with the results of their loan programs.

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BWA and Buseesa Community Development Center staff at the BCDC offices in Kibaale District

Happy New Year from BWA! We are excited to continue our country-wide partnerships into 2017 and beyond.

 

Girls’ Group

Girls’ Group is a Buyobo Women’s Association community outreach activity which offers an opportunity for school-aged girls in grades 5, 6, and 7 to come together outside of class to learn health education and entrepreneurship skills. The goal is to prepare these young women for healthy, productive futures and to instill in them the entrepreneurial skills that WMI values.

Uganda is ranked as the most entrepreneurial country in the world: 28% of Ugandan adults own or co-own a business. That means our girls’ group graduates will have stiff competition after they complete school to develop successful, sustainable businesses. We hope that offering opportunities early on for girls to learn basic business skills, including budgeting and making a business plan, will give them a strong leg up as the enter the workforce.

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2016 Girls’ Group graduates receive their certificates upon completion of the program

The Girls’ Group is gaining first-hand business experience by caring for three pigs – two females and one male. Piggery is a common income-generating activity in Uganda, and the girls have been very eager to learn how to care for the pigs.  Recently, both female pigs delivered babies! The girls are now caring for both mothers as well as their combined 15 piglets. This offers a great first-hand opportunity for the girls to operate a business by planning for upkeep costs, marketing and sales of the piglets and managing the group’s income. We are very excited!

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The HIV epidemic in Uganda, and all over Sub-Saharan Africa, affects young women in disproportionate percentages to their male peers. Girls’ Group offers an opportunity to teach HIV education in a safe, single-gender environment that promotes active learning. We teach about how HIV is transmitted, the risk factors for HIV and how a girl can prevent infection. The group focuses both on biological and sociological factors that lead to HIV transmission.

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Girls’ Group Facilitator Susan teaches a class

So far, we are proud to have graduated dozens of girls from this program over the past two years. We are very excited for their success in their secondary educations and in their careers to come.

The Ganako Women’s Community Organization, one of WMI’s partners,  reaches 250 women in five villages in northern Tanzania. GWOCO keeps an office in only one of the villages. But in reality, the entire communities serve as their offices. When visiting other villages, the staff often relies on schools and village governments to lend meeting spaces, but that doesn’t always work out.

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Martha, the GWOCO secretary (left), counts a loan repayment in a forest clearing in Sumawe Village. 

 

 

A few weeks ago the staff arrived at Gongali Primary School to fill out loan applications for 35 borrowers. The teacher told the women they would have to wait a few minutes for a classroom to be available. But the borrowers wanted to get right to it, so they sat down in the grass and started work right there until the classroom was free.

On a recent trip to Sumawe to collect a loan installment, the staff and borrowers found themselves locked out of the village office that they usually use. The borrowers confidently led the staff around to a forest clearing behind the office, and held the entire meeting there. A few coins were briefly lost among the leaves, but they were recovered and the rest of the meeting went off without a hitch.

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Even GWOCO’s official office is fully integrated into the community. A new friend wandered into the office one day during work and had to be herded out. 

WMI’s partners don’t always work under ideal conditions, but they do always get their work done. Whether in their own office, a borrowed classroom, or a forest floor, the ladies of WMI are ambitious and determined. We are proud are team is able to be so adaptable and impactful in the community!

 

Beyond the Call of Duty

Jess Littman, currently working to create economic and development opportunities for women in rural Tanzania as the 2016 GWOCO Fellow, shares how her experience extends far beyond her work into the heart of the community. 

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Levina’s oldest grandchild, Ima, feeds a piece of cake to Kim.

 

Working in a Tanzanian village is never just about work: everyone here is part of the community. As the WMI Fellow for almost a year now, I have been welcomed into village life far beyond the office.

Recently Levina, the Treasurer of WMI’s local partner organization in Tanzania, celebrated the confirmation of her daughter, Venosta, and a young girl, Katie, whose care and support she has taken on as part of her community leadership.

Levina hosted a mass in her backyard in a tent overflowing with friends and family. In addition to prayer and a sermon, we sang songs and danced in celebration. Venosta and Katie wore bright colored dresses and glitter in their hair, and received gifts from their loved ones.

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Leonila (left), chairwoman of one of the loan groups, dances with the choir.

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This month 40 women joined the WMI family in Tanzania. They are the Tumaini (“hope”) group in Tloma and the Ebeneza group in Gongali. They will providing their communities with milk, clothing, bricks and more from their small businesses.

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Martha (left), GWOCO Secretary, and Eliminatha (right), GWOCO Chairwoman, debate who will get to hand off the next loan to the borrower (middle).

The borrowers are delighted to be joining the program and moving towards financial independence. Agnes from Gongali will be selling kitenge, a fabric that comes in beautiful colors and patterns and is worn by all the women here. She traveled to the nearby city of Arusha the day after receiving her loan to buy her first stock of kitenge.

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Agnes signs the group loan agreement.

Amy from Tloma has been working for one of our local staff members for a while. Now she is using a loan to start a salon in the village. Amy is going to make our borrowers as stylish as they are successful!

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A borrower from Gongali receives her very fist loan!

The borrowers who are starting out in Tloma have an average annual household income of just $265. After a few loan cycles, most borrowers in this village are bringing in almost $1,000 a year from their business – a quadrupling of income! We hope you’ll join us in wishing our new groups the best of luck as they start and expand their ventures.

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Buyobo is excited to welcome a new addition to the community: a motorcycle ambulance! The initiative to develop the ambulance program was developed through a partnership of Buyobo’s Volunteer Health Team and our team of WMI summer interns, including Noah Martin, Natalie Andrasko and Michael Chang. Thank you to all those who donated to the ambulance fund!

The Volunteer Health Team is a group of 80 dedicated community volunteers who support health efforts in Buyobo and the surrounding areas. The VHT identified the need for an ambulance to take patients to area clinics, particularly pregnant women in labor. Delayed access to health care is one of the primary factors responsible for maternal mortality. An ambulance can drastically reduce transportation time from a patient’s home to a local clinic and has the potential to truly save lives.

Motorcycles, colloquially referred to as “boda bodas”, are a major source of transportation in Buyobo and around Uganda. These vehicles are often able to tackle the region’s tough roads better than a car and they consume significantly less fuel. We purchased our ambulance from PULSE, an international non-profit that manufactures motorcycle ambulances specifically for use in rural communities. You can read more about them on their website: http://pulse.ug/.

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Our team of drivers demonstrating how the ambulance transports patients

Buyobo is lucky to have identified three excellent volunteer drivers to respond to emergencies. Our drivers are Walimbwa James, Makwasi Sam and Wobwomba David. These dedicated men will be available day and night to drive patients to the nearby Budadiri Clinic or the Mbale Hospital, about 25 kilometers away. They have completed a two-week training and are now fully certified by Pulse to operate the ambulance safely.

In order to develop a sustainable program, the Volunteer Health Team and the Buyobo Women’s Association have teamed up to form an Ambulance Committee. This team manages vehicle maintenance, dispatch, and the ambulance operating fund. The Buyobo community agrees that the best way to maintain the program is via a cost-sharing measure. Patients will pay a small user fee that will contribute to fuel and upkeep of the vehicle, ensuring that the service will continue to be available for many years.

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Interested onlookers

We could not be more encouraged by the outpouring of support for this project. Those generous donations not only purchased the vehicle, they created an operating fund that will keep the program up and running for at least two years. This ambulance is a lifesaving measure that will certainly help many patients for years to come. We are so excited and encouraged by your support.

Business Expansion

Some borrowers in Tloma village, Tanzania, appear to be on their way to becoming moguls. After years in the loan program, borrowers are diversifying and expanding their businesses to maximize their profits and services for the community.

Tecla used her first loan to open a shop in Karatu town, near the village. She trained her sons to help her early on, and that proved to be an important decision when she started another business and was able to leave day-to-day shop operations in her children’s hands.

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Levina (left), the Treasurer of our CBO partner here, interviews Tecla about her businesses. 

Once Tecla had made some money from the shop, she was excited to start expanding her house. She started making bricks in her backyard for the construction, and it occurred to her that she had enough natural resources there to make extra bricks and sell them. Now she focuses on the brick business – she sells 10,000 bricks every dry season – while her children serve customers at her shop.

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Tecla holds up one of the 10,000 bricks that she expects to sell this dry season. 

Yohana also used her first loan for a shop, but when taxes went up recently, she no longer felt that the shop was profitable enough. Instead of giving up, she sold her stock and store and used the money, as well as a follow-up loan, to buy dairy cows. Now she sells milk from her beautiful brick house, which she is continuing to improve with her profits.

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Yohana poses in the garden of her home. 

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Unlike most residents of their villages, whose homes are made of mud, cow dung, and sticks, Yohana and Tecla have both built brick houses with their business profits. This is Yohana’s beautiful home, surrounded by her garden and cowshed.