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As WMI President it is a thrill to make an annual field trip to East Africa to visit the loan hubs and spend time with the ladies in the loan program.

Our Buyobo headquarters is providing financial services to over 2,500 rural women in the Sironko, Mbale and Bududa Districts of eastern Uganda – all of the loans are managed by our village-level staff.  Even though the meeting pavilion at out HQ seats 500, it can’t accommodate all the ladies during loan issuance, loan repayment and trainings. So WMI is building smaller, 250-seat meeting halls in our remote centers which have 10 loan groups (200) borrowers within a few kilometers walking distance.  The ladies in the remote centers pool their funds to buy the land and WMI finances the building construction.

Building a remote meeting hall that belongs to the ladies in the loan program is a huge source of excitement, joy and pride for them.  There are few buildings of that size in rural villages: the ladies are so proud to have a place to call their own where they can meet and conduct their activities.  It’s so much better than meeting under a tree. Plus, when you have a building it provides a meeting place for ancillary programs, trainings and support activities.  It is also very unusual for rural women to own land in Uganda so it is a big achievement for them.

In 2019, WMI finished building its sixth remote meeting hall, located in Mutufu, Buhugu, Sironko District.  Dedicating the building meant a ceremony of hundreds of elated village women singing, marching, dancing and cooking up a storm to commemorate the happy occasion.  Our HQ leadership team dressed in their bright gomezi and traveled to Mutufu congratulate the Mutufu ladies on their hard work and business successes.

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You may have heard of Maasai Mara, the stunningly beautiful, and wildlife-dense home of zebras, elephants, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, (among others) and the perfect place for observing the great animal migration. But did you know that Maasai Mara is also home to a large population of Maasai people, and residents from other tribes around Kenya? Well, not inside the conservancy land of course, but bordering the conservancies, there are small towns, and one in particular, called Aitong, is situated adjacent to Maasai Mara North conservancy.

Map of the Conservancies in Kenya, with Aitong in the middle.

Aitong has many bustling shops, and is surrounded by plots of land sectioned off with lion-proof fences to protect livestock, one of the main sources of income in the area! The other biggest source of income is tourism, due to the close proximity of the game park. This includes the fee that conservancies pay to Maasai men each month for “renting” their land, the profits individuals make from running game tour services, and from sales made to foreigners visiting the town, especially the market.

Market day is once per week, and draws a large crowd from the surrounding areas. Some businesswomen and men have to travel through a public road that cuts through the Maasai Mara North Conservancy, often meeting wildlife on the way, while others cross bridges that may flood during rainy seasons, leaving them no option but to turn back. It may take them a long time to walk, or catch a boda (motorcycle taxi) there, but as the market is a large source of income, people will always brave the journey.

The women of Buyobo Women’s Association had the privilege of traveling to Maasai Mara North to meet with a group of women, called the Oiti Women’s Group, that were interested in beginning a loan program. The group is comprised of Maasai women, and others, who are already avid business women, but would like to expand their businesses.

Many craft and sell traditional beaded jewelry, including bracelets, necklaces, earrings, along with other beaded crafts such as keyholders, and trinkets. Some of the women sell Maasai shukas (similar to a blanket, with plaid patterns of different colors) and clothes. Others sell coffee, tea, or snacks, especially during market day near where many men sell livestock. A few also run Agrovets, a highly profiting business that caters to the needs of caring for livestock.

Agrovet shop owned by one of the women from Oiti Group

The women of Maasai Mara speak Maasai language, and Swahili, so training for the new loan program was done through translators, as BWA staff speak Lugisu, Luganda, or another Ugandan language. Despite this language barrier, everyone still connected and learned a lot about each other. BWA taught topics of financial literacy, record keeping, and discussed all aspects of the loan program, which was well received by the women of Oiti.

The BWA team is extremely grateful to Oiti Women’s Group for hosting them and making them feel at home, away from home!

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A few months back, Buyobo women’s Association hosted Geoffrey Oryema, a certified yoga instructor, freelance performing artist, and social activist, for a yoga session and short discussion with Boys and Girls Group.

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A native of Gulu, Geoffrey grew up in the war torn north of Uganda during the time of the LRA, where he “heard gunshots daily, and had to run for his life to survive”. He was abducted by Kony’s forces early in his youth.

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Because of his past turmoil, he has “come to appreciate living in a sense of peace, and promotes and creates peace in his community through his yoga, and dance”.

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He teaches yoga as an outlet and form of expression, and as a platform to discuss other topics close to heart, such as treating other people with respect and kindness “especially those within your community, because you never know when you’ll need them”, and giving back to your community, among others, all of which he shared with the students of Boys and Girls Group.

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Boys and Girls Group had a blast stretching into yoga poses while reflecting on the wise words of Geoffrey Oryema!

 

 

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WMI would like to welcome Kaycee Corcoran as the 2019/2020 Resource Fellow! Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she earned her BA in Sociology from Pennsylvania State University, where she also worked as a Research Assistant drawing data on political trends, in the Sociology Department. In 2015, she studied abroad in Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, which sparked her love of international travel, and a longing to live overseas.

After graduating in December 2016,  she spent her time volunteering at a non-profit called Community Action Agency of Delaware County, where she enrolled eligible families in the Safe and Healthy Homes Program, a project that “provides education and interventions to promote healthy homes and prevent injuries”. She knew immediately that non-profit was the path for her, and in June of 2017, she was able to pursue her love of service work, and fulfill her longing to live overseas by embarking on her 26 month Peace Corps Service in a rural town in Eastern Uganda.

In her first year in Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer, she spearheaded and concluded a grant project with a local organization, in which they taught alternative gardening methods to combat climate change, especially drought, and methods of how to improve household nutrition through diet changes, and the provided orange fleshed sweet potato vines (a variety high in vitamin A) and iron rich bean seeds.

Additionally, she worked on the grassroots level with a group of women to introduce low capital income-generating products to fill community-wide gaps in access, such as bio briquettes (formed charcoal made from organic materials or charcoal dust), and potholders. Previously, the village had used gathered firewood due to the high costs of charcoal, and women experienced burnt fingers daily before they started sewing their own potholders, both of which are now small sources of income for the women in the group.

She is additionally a founding partner and manager of Beyond Culture LTD, a Ugandan based not for profit company which boasts a Fashion line, Music Label/Artist Management, supports a village orphanage in Mugiti, Uganda, and spearheads other social projects and fundraising events related to the arts, especially music.

She hopes to gain more insight into micro-finance and how micro-lending enables women in rural communities. This is the beginning of her 3rd year in lovely Uganda, and she is ecstatic to share the next 11 months with the women of BWA, the borrowers, and the surrounding community of Buyobo!

 

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RAIN Uganda is a mobile medical clinic that works in partnership with AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHS) to provide free health screening services to communities, especially rural villages, such as Buyobo. Twice a year, Buyobo Women’s Association partners with RAIN Uganda to offer free medical screenings to our borrowers, staff, and their families, who otherwise may not be able to access the screening services elsewhere.

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This past month, RAIN Uganda made their way out to Buyobo for the day, with 11 staff members in tow, including 2 doctors, 2 midwives, 2 lab technicians, 4 counselors, and 1 one secretary.  Our compound transformed into a clinic as the medical staff got to work! They spent the whole day with us and our borrowers.20190912_141708

In total, 72 people came out to receive the different services, which included, cancer Screening, HIV tests, blood sugar screening for diabetes, blood pressure checks for hypertension, and blood tests for hepatitis B. Borrowers were also provided with medicine for de-worming. Usually, RAIN Uganda offers eye screenings and corrective lenses, but unfortunately, they glasses were out of stock this time!

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In addition to the screenings, the attendees were given a 30-minute health talk which focused on cervical cancer, and HIV/AIDS. They discussed causes, and transmission, and explained who should be tested, and the importance of testing. Additionally, RAIN Uganda answered all the pressing questions posed during the session, and the screenings.

This day was made possible by BWA and Rain Uganda, who both share the costs to see that these services are provided to the women borrowers and their families. Their generosity is highly appreciated!

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Hello! My name is Hilary, I am 24 years old and from Leicestershire in the UK. My family originates from Ghana so I have two places I call home.

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I studied Law at the University of Manchester in the North West of England, the three years flew by and following my graduation I found myself as a paralegal for a small but delightful law firm in the same location. Having realised my interests were instead peaked by developmental and human rights issues I decided to gain more experience in the field. I undertook a three-month volunteering experience in Burkina Faso where myself and 11 other volunteers worked to advance women’s rights in the rural village of Réo. We achieved this by educating young students and rural communities on HIV, domestic violence, sexual health and hygiene.

By working with WMI I hope to facilitate in the long lasting change to the lives of the women and young girls here, which has been made possible by the loan program. It will also be a great opportunity to assist with the introduction of reusable sanitary pads to the local area, which I also worked on during my time in Burkina.

I also enjoy knitting, baking and travelling. My most recent adventures took me to Melbourne, Australia where I met a string of people, took a thousand too many photos and camped under the stars with the local wallabies. I then toured New Zealand in a giant green kiwi bus. East Africa has been on my list of places to visit for a while and from the moment the plane landed I have not been disappointed.

Following my time in Uganda I will be taking a hop, skip and a jump over to Ghana where I will be working with the International Federation of Women Lawyers  (FIDA) in order to assist lawyers in the protection of women’s rights through 3 main projects. These projects entail gender inclusion and equality, the creation of better access to justice by increasing awareness to women of their rights and finally a research project into the education and literacy rates in a rural village.

In the meantime, I particularly look forward to getting to know the women of WMI and seeing how their business success continues to foster change within their community.

 

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My name is Will Kuenster, and I have just arrived in Buyobo for my two-month stint as a WMI intern. I am originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, so the weather in Buyobo has been a welcome reprieve from the cold and snow!

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in December with degrees in Finance and Risk Management. During my senior year in Madison, I was a volunteer intern with Wisconsin Microfinance, which operates small loan hubs in both Haiti and the Phillipines. Through this experience, I came into contact with Robyn and found my inspiration to make the journey to Uganda. Upon returning to the states, I will be starting a job with Deloitte as a Management Consultant in Minneapolis.

During my time in Buyobo, I will be conducting a series of case studies on the successful businesses built by our borrowers, ranging from Pharmacies to Schools to Tailoring Shops. The goal of the studies is to gain an in-depth understanding of their day-to-day operations and see how their businesses fit into and impact their daily lives. Our secondary goal, if possible, is to work alongside the borrowers to brainstorm and implement new ideas to help the businesses improve and grow.

I look forward to sharing the stories of these amazing women!

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