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Many innovations in clean energy, including biogas, have demonstrated incredible applicability and success within communities here in Eastern Uganda. We have begun exploring the feasibility of bringing home biogas solutions to Buyobo and the surrounding villages for the following reasons!

Challenges surrounding today’s energy sources are increasing:

Homes in remote villages rely primarily on burning firewood to power stoves used for cooking. In some cases, homes have supplemental power from solar panels to fuel small lights. However, the environmental and humanitarian impacts of so many homes and villages using firewood are getting increasingly severe.

The challenges with this significant reliance on firewood include:

  • There is a diminishing supply of trees which can be chopped for wood (especially due to the logging companies)
  • Reduced foliage makes the land more susceptible to landslides (especially during the ~5 month rainy season) which have ruined homes, villages, roads, and bridges across the region as well as killing many people in their path
  • Villagers must travel increasingly farther away from their homes to source firewood, creating sometimes dangerous and lengthy treks through unfamiliar forests

Biogas is a potential solution:

In order to reduce the dependence on firewood, one option is for homes and villages to install biogas solutions in their homes. Biogas is fuel that is produced by fermenting organic matter, such as cow dung and household waste (process diagramed below1). Household systems are typically small outdoor structures with pipes that run underground into the home and rely on cow dung as the organic input.

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In order to see biogas in action we visited Namisindwa a village on the other side of the mountain to see how their home systems were working for them! Below are some photos from our visit:

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homeowners put the cow dung here and it will slowly make its way to down to start its change from dung to gas! Surprisingly it doesn’t smell.

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A gas nozzle

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The gas pressure gauge inside a house

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the stove that is powered by biogas!

 

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A training school has also installed a biogas system to power their kitchen. They use a mix of human and cow waste

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One of two cookstoves in the kitchen of the training school which feeds 300 students everyday

There are several international organizations involved in bringing biogas technology to Uganda. To learn more about these efforts, called the “Uganda Domestic Biogas Programme (UDBP),” please visit www.heifer.org and www.africabiogas.org.

 

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Hi everyone,

Our newest interns arrived at the beginning of June and will be here for 2 months working on data entry, teaching english games to the teachers and students of Buyobo nursery school, working with a small group of orphans for a pilot run of a potential new outreach project and interviewing borrowers!

Without further adue please let me introduce Lilia and Cerina!

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Hi! My name is Lilia, I’m 21 years old (as of yesterday!), and I’m from the great city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I love to learn languages, meet new people, sing and play music, and travel whenever I have the chance. I am passionate about children’s rights issues and community development, and hope to have a long career making the lives of kids and families around the world a little bit better. Currently, I am entering my second year at Leiden University in The Hague, Netherlands. I study International Studies with a concentration in Africa and the Swahili language. In my course of study, I’ve had the chance to learn about the languages, cultures, history, and politics of many places in Africa, but I wanted to experience East Africa from a more personal, “boots on the ground” perspective. Studying in an international university in such a diverse and multinational city as the Hague has exposed me to new friendships and relationships with people from all around the world, which motivated me even more to seek knowledge and experiences of the places my friends call home.

In my future career, I plan to work in international development and human rights law in Africa, so I wanted to gain some experience and perspective on the issues facing vulnerable communities here. I knew that the socioeconomic situation in Uganda is particularly harsh in rural villages, so when I found out about the work that WMI is doing to empower rural women and their communities here, I knew I wanted the chance to be involved. I reached out and applied, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to join WMI as a summer intern! I am especially enjoying the work we are doing with the orphan outreach program, as supporting the development and wellbeing of vulnerable children is something near to my heart. I am loving my time here in Uganda, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to learn, experience new things, and be a part of the incredible impact that WMI is making throughout Uganda and East Africa!

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Hey my name is Cerina! I am 19 years old, and come from Auckland, New Zealand. One year ago, I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my family and friends and moved to the U.S to study Economics at Princeton University. I hope to initially find a job in the financial sector, and then transition into a career that more closely mirrors the work that I have been doing here in Uganda – perhaps as a consultant for a NGO or in working for a development bank. I really like working with numbers, and analyzing data, so am pretty set in finding a job in the business sphere.

 I love to travel, and I especially enjoy exploring new cities, so living one hour away from NYC was one of the highlights of my freshman year. Coming to Africa was a tick of my bucket list, as I have always wanted to visit, but could never quite convince my parents to book a family vacation here as opposed to our regular holiday spot in Australia. I have only been in Uganda for two weeks and already know that it holds a soft spot in my heart. It is a beautiful country, and I have been humbled by the mountains that surround Buyobo and Mbale, and by the beauty of the Nile River. Everybody here in Buyobo has been so welcoming and kind, which has made staying in Buyobo a true pleasure. I am looking forward to seeing more of what Uganda has to offer, and working closely with the community of Buyobo for my remaining month and a half here.

 

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Recently I had the opportunity to sit with 12 of our lead coordinators to talk about budgeting, savings, and personal financial planning. Often, budgeting isn’t the most fun topic (especially when we realize how many different expenses we have!) but the BWA women excitedly and actively participated in the discussion.

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During the session, we reviewed the importance of:

  • Setting short and long-term goals; giving us a framework to envision how the money we make and spend today impacts our future
  • Creating a personal financial picture; equipping the women with the ability to understand the “lay of the land” when it comes to their personal finances
  • Establishing strategies to proactively manage expenses; developing plans to save regularly, including tactics to reduce extraneous spending to achieve goals more quickly

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The value of recording your inflows and outflows of money was one of the biggest takeaways from our discussion. Each woman had multiple sources of income that they received at varying times per year, ranging from their salaries as teachers to their multiple yearly harvests from their garden.

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And naturally, each had multiple different types of expenses occurring throughout the year. The “simple” practice of writing down these various income sources and expenses was eye opening for many of the women – as it is for so many people. By only keeping this crucial personal finance information in our heads we can often misestimate our financial situation and as they say here “eat money without realizing where it is going.”

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After two hours of discussion about goal setting, savings management, and personal financial planning the lead coordinators now have an outline to share and will continue to use this template as a training tool for current and future borrowers. Small steps and encouragement towards active management of their personal budget will help empower each woman to be confident in their financial situation and achieve the goals they set for themselves. It was a pleasure starting this dialogue with the coordinators and demonstrating the power of budgeting!

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Leaders of the WMI loan groups in the Maasi community of Ngarendare, Kenya have innovated well beyond all expectations.  Receiving their first loans 4 years ago, the group members have developed successful businesses and are now pooling their profits to start a local “Table Bank”.  As spokeswomen Pamela and Ndiagui explained to WMI president Robyn Nietert, more village women wanted loans and training and the experienced borrowers decided to follow the WMI model and start a new loan group of 20 women in 2018, each of whom will receive a $100 loan from the Table Bank.  With their WMI training and track record of success, the loan program leaders expect to extend business opportunities to more rural women who want to take control of their economic lives and be proactive in creating a better future for themselves and their families!

This is the type of critical ripple effect impact that a village run loan program has on the community.   It is difficult to measure using any type of linear methodology but the import is clear: these women have been empowered and have developed the confidence to take the loan program concept to a whole new level on their own!

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To live and work in any developing country patience, flexibility and innovation are key to be successful. The Buyobo VHT demonstrated these three qualities flawlessly once they heard that the Director at the USAID Mbale office had resigned and that we had to wait until a new one was implemented to move forward with our training.

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After learning of this, we had a meeting and it was decided that Winnie and Alfred would do the training on the materials and that USAID staff would come in the new year to do a follow-up assessment/retraining.

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Mr. Wesamoyo, Winnie and Alfred after the training 🙂

The training was a hit! Out of the 84 Buyobo VHT volunteers we had a 45 show up. They all found the material helpful and we realized that we actually need more to fully support Buyobo sub-county (that request has been made).

Our goal is to touch 1,000 people before USAID comes back and for the VHT volunteers to come to the retraining with questions that they have gathered while working in the field so that the USAID staff can answer them. Cheers to collaboration!

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VHT’s who were able to make it to training! Keep in mind these are all volunteers and they all traveled despite the terrible road conditions that day ❤

 

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Software in Buyobo

Being in Buyobo sometimes it is crazy to think that this is 2017. Before I continue, it is important to note that while the WMI program has had a HUGE and LIFE CHANGING impact for the community, it is still a village in eastern Africa and there is still a lot of work to be done. This setting provides an interesting back drop for a software engineer team to have clients.

That is right, WMI and BWA is having a software built to not only help manage our finances but also help manage our data so we are better equipped to help our borrowers in a more effective way. The lovely engineers who came out to Buyobo last week were Elvis and Joel, both in their early-20s and at the helm of the Ugandan start-up scene. Elvis and Joel have worked with Milly (our Finance Manager), myself and the previous fellow, Kirsten to perfect the software and make it fit to what we do. We are hoping that this will be ready to go before the end of the year and plan on having Elvis and Joel back out for the launch!

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It’s not about what you know but who you know. Use your connections. Reach out to people first and see what happens. This is all advice I have heard over and over throughout myself and I have applied it while working here and it has worked wonders! A couple weeks back I reached out to my friend Archie who works for USAID in their community health and knowledge sector to see if we could do a collaboration.

Archie and I set up a training for two of Buyobo’s Village Health Team leaders (Winnie and Alfred) to go over information regarding HIV, nutrition and family planning. Out of everyone in the room, I think I learned the most- especially when it comes to nutrition for new borns here in Uganda.

Now the plan is to do some community organizing to get this information out into the villages. USAID recommends group of 25 with one leader from that group to go over the information. We are going to work backwards- figure out how many people will attend these trainings and organize them by location. Form there choose leaders from those groups and organize a big training and then they will go and share what they have learned with their communities.

Thank you USAID for all of the free informational materials, your time and knowledge!

Back: Stephen

Front (left to right): Archie, Mark, Alfred, Winnie, Caitlin, Agnes

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