A Powerful Investment

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


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.


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


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



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


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

WMI President, Robyn Nietert, arrived in Uganda last week and after heading directly to Gulu and Atiak in Northern Uganda to visit the loan hubs there, she and the team from headquarters in Buyobo made the 2 hour journey to the Bupoto loan hub, located near the Kenyan border.  The ladies in this WMI loan hub are called the Matuawa Women’s Group and the very first borrowers there, who had entered     the loan program two years ago, were graduating from WMI’s rural lending program to loans from Post Bank Uganda.  The loan hub held a graduation celebration to honor the achievements of the first group of 20 businesswomen.IMG_2830
The WMI van was met half a mile from the village by a parade of local WMI members dressed in their WMI color group T-shirts.
 The Matuwa ladies performed many songs and dances for their visitors. Head Administrator, Jennifer Khayawa praised the ladies for working so hard at their businesses for the past 2 years.
 Robyn gave a short speech in Ligisu thanking the ladies for being so responsible in repaying their loans on time and encouraging them to continue to expand their business operations. She also planted a tree on the land dedicated to the Matuwa ladies. 
 As a graduation present WMI awarded ponchos and umbrellas which were a huge hit with the ladies.
 It was a wonderful celebration with spouses, local government officials and many villagers joining in to honor and support the village ladies of Bupoto who have started successful businesses with their MWI loans.

January marks Robyn, the president of WMI’s visit to Uganda. On her first day, she met with our partners at Post Bank in Kampala, Esther and Alex. They were so impressed by the work of BWA that they joined us this past weekend to observe new loan group trainings in our northern hubs—Gulu and Atiak.

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Robyn, WMI president, observing the first independent training in Pachilo, an Atiak sub-hub. Jackie (BWA Vice President), Olive (BWA president), and Melissa (East Africa Finance Director), seated in the background.

After two years, Atiak has become almost fully independent. We visited a sub-hub they established in Pachilo, and a new sub-hub they are just starting, Pawel.

Both Atiak and Gulu hubs are doing very well. They both recommended new women who are ready to become trainers, and could come to another Training for Trainers in Buyobo this year.

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When the ladies graduate from their loan program they now get new umbrellas. They love these gifts!

It was a wonderful visit, with both groups graciously welcoming the Buyobo women, and excited to see Robyn. We are proud of their progress!


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Unloading from the van! The team included: Robyn (WMI president), Melissa (East Africa Finance Director), and Karen (new intern), Olive (WMI president), Jackie (WMI VP), Falaska (Atiak liaison), Evelyn (Gulu liaison), and Irene and Jackie (trainers).

Sylvia training

Liversis and Sylvia (standing) train a new group of borrowers in Pachilo, a new sub-hub of Atiak. Falaska (seated), their BWA liaison, monitors their first independent training!

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Three new borrowers learning how to run small businesses.

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Alex, from Post Bank, at the training in Pachilo. Esther and Alex discussed getting a mobile banking van to make regular visits to the loan hubs. (There is no banking between Gulu and the South Sudan border!)

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Children in Pachilo village greeting the visitors!

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Women from the new sub-hub, Pawel, show their appreciation to Robyn and WMI with a gift.




During 2014, the loan hub Head Administrators and Local Coordinators throughout East Africa came to Buyobo Uganda and became trainers. The Buyobo staff taught leaders from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda how to teach new borrowers business skills. Once the trainers attended the trainers and became certified to teach business skills, they became responsible for training their borrowers every quarter. The Buyobo staff observed the Kenyan and Tanzanian leaders train new borrowers, and this past weekend, the first Ugandan loan hub (besides Buyobo!) trained their first borrowers on their own as a Buyobo supervisor observed.


The four trainers and their Buyobo supervisor


The Head Administrator addressing the borrowers


New borrowers learning business skills

Training the trainers was a huge step in sustainability for WMI and BWA. In previous years, BWA had trained the new borrowers for every loan hub in East Africa. By giving the leaders the tools to teach their borrowers in their loan hubs, WMI/BWA has given power to these women. They will now be able to run every aspect of their loan hubs independently, which means the future of each of these loan hubs is more certain. The leaders have been empowered to teach, which will install faith in their knowledge in all of their borrowers.


New borrowers working on their business plans

The Head Administrator from Bupoto, Uganda and her two local coordinators trained two new loan groups, or 40 borrowers. All three leaders were confident in their ability to teach, and each of them presented different topics to the new borrowers. The borrowers listened and took notes intently as they learned from their local leaders. The leaders are excited about their future as trainers, passionate about lending to ladies and helping them lead better lives, and improving their community for many years to come.

Posted by Nicole Bolliger, WMI intern in Buyobo, Uganda

WMI just finished issuing the loans for the last quarter of 2014.  This quarter there were some important milestones reached as several hubs began to train their own borrowers with WMI staff simply acting as back-up.  Loan hub Chairwomen in Kenya and Tanzania got to demonstrate their teaching abilities under the watchful eye of WMI’s experienced staff members who travelled from Buyobo, Uganda to support the loan hubs as they assume responsibility for training their new borrowers.

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Melissa and Nicole pose with loan hub trainers and borrowers

Another milestone was the loan hub in Atiak, located in far northern Uganda, graduating to independent operations. After two years of hard work and a great learning process, Sylvia Akello, the Head Administrator of Atiak, will lead her loan hub into the future. The local staff has acquired all the necessary skills to successfully run the WMI loan program. WMI will continue to support them if they have any question or need help, as for example by making a sample budget for next year. Instead of reporting to WMI bi-weekly, they will keep us up-to-date on their progress with quarterly status reports.

The continued conflict in South Sudan creates chaos in the Atiak area, but also presents opportunities for small businesswomen.  A newly-tarred road, constructed by the Ugandan government, now connects Atiak village with the much larger town of Gulu to the south, and the border of South Sudan to the north. This makes it easier for WMI borrowers to acquire inventory and then sell products across the border. Many of their businesses are flourishing thanks to the constant truck traffic and the commerce with South Soudan.  The Atiak loan hub has expanded so much that it just added a sub-hub with borrowers in the border town of Pachilo. The new road connects the two villages and makes it possible for Atiak to extend the reach of the WMI loan program.

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WMI ladies selling fish along the Atiak road

Income from the Atiak borrowers and a generous foundation grant allowed the construction of a new building for loan operations in Atiak. We had the honour to have our last training for new borrowers in this new building. Olive Wolimbwa, WMI’s Local director, aided by Local Coordinator Falaska, supervised the training while WMI’s Director of Finance for East Africa, Melissa LaRue, reviewed the financial situation of the loan hub.

WMI building in Atiak

WMI building in Atiak

I had the pleasure of teaching borrowers how to make reusable pads and talked with them about family planning methods and how to prevent HIV transmission to their children. In this region, the women have more children than the average in Uganda. Almost every woman came with a baby to the training. Everywhere the women are enthusiastic to learn, apply and share their knowledge. The reusable menstrual pads program is a success due to its practical use and low cost.

Nicole leads a workshop for Atiak ladies

Nicole leads a workshop for Atiak ladies

We also trained and reviewed the records of the loan hub in Gulu, which was the center of the fighting during the years of insurgency led by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  The Gulu area still suffers economic hardships from the decade of unrest the ended nearly five years ago.  Our loan hub here has faced numerous challenges, but the Chairwoman, Evelyn Achieng continues to work diligently to support local borrowers and their businesses.

Melissa and Nicole balance gourds in Gulu

Melissa and Nicole balance gourds in Gulu


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