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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!

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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.

These are some of the beautiful faces of the hard-working businesswomen in the WMI loan program. Sylvia is a 65 year-old tailor who has used her profits to buy farm land and 2 small store front shops that she rents out – she is planning for her retirement!

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At 47, Lydia has a booming business buying and reselling charcoal. She has managed to build a permanent house and is paying University tuition for her 2 older children, as well as senior school fees for her 2 younger children. 16684194_10211294734905345_3623252868801321185_n
Rose makes and sells mandazi (delicious doughnuts) at schools and in the market. She is currently building a permanent house and has just ordered another load of bricks for it.
These ladies are making between $1,000 – $3,000/year, which is terrific income in a country where school teachers start at $75/month and bank clerks at $200/month! Give a rural African woman a loan with training and she will turn it into a profitable business!16684286_10211294734505335_8370457652966879751_n

It is wonderful to be back in Buyobo, Uganda at WMI headquarters, catch up with the staff, chat with borrowers and see all the community projects the loan program has been able to provide.

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Arriving on a loan collection day is always a thrill as the building fills with hundreds of borrowers repaying their loans and meeting with their sister loan group members.

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The 500 seat pavilion we constructed last year is able to accommodate a whole variety of activities, including providing a safe room where staff from our partner, Postbank Uganda, can provide banking services for the rural women in the loan program right in the village.  Our local staff is proud that this is the only program of its kind in the area to provide banking services outreach to rural women.

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This past year income from the loan program coupled with WMI grants financed the reconstruction of the water system in Buyobo sub-county – it now serves over 5,000 people in the community.  With the new filtration system, the water is clean and can be drunk straight from the tap – the only system in all of Sironko District with potable water.  Clean water means healthy families and less housework for women so more time for business!

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The loan program in Sironko District has grown so much that we have established sub-hubs to accommodate all the 2,000+ borrowers.  Touring the sub-hubs, we are greeted with enthusiastic dancing and singing – everyone dances no matter what their age!

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In Busita, I was asked to break ground for the new pavilion we are building there for meetings and loan collection.  Miraculously, no one was injured as I wielded a very sharp hoe!

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The loan program is moving on well and expanding.  Collecting personal narratives from borrowers helps us verify the ongoing positive impact the loan program is having in reducing poverty and in bringing rural women access to the financial services that are essential to start a business.  Rose Wanyina, a 50-year-old borrower with 3 children makes mandazi (something like doughnuts) which she sells 6 days a week at schools and markets.  She can sell anywhere from 100 – 500/day, resulting in about $100/month profit, which has allowed her to buy a plot of land and build a0 permanent house.  All of her children are in school, and she told me none of this would have been possible without her loan from WMI!

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