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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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By Jess Littman

“Reward her, reward her,” the ladies sang in Swahili as they wrapped me in a colorful kanga fabric. They spun me around and danced with me, admiring how I looked all wrapped up before handing around soda for the whole group.unnamed-2

It was my last visit to Sumawe, one of the five villages where WMI’s partner GWOCO operates in Tanzania. As a WMI Fellow for the past year, I have been visiting each village once a month or more for loan repayments, group meetings, business visits and seminars.

Now I am preparing to depart, and the borrowers are eager to give me beautiful mementos of my time here. At each village goodbye ceremony I have been entreated not to forget them – as if that would be possible. How could I forget Sweetness, from whom I buy delicious breakfasts at her stand across the street from my house? Or Paulina, who cracks jokes throughout loan repayments to keep everyone smiling?

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The ladies who will always be at the forefront of my memory are the ones who have served on GWOCO’s board during my year here. There is Martha, the quiet woman whose math skills and amazing memory make this program possible. There’s Eliminatha, who had 11 children before her husband abandoned her, and who then built up her business to support her family on her own. And there is Levina, whose house is full of other people’s children whose care she has taken on as a leader of her community.

I have learned so much from these ladies. Levina’s verbal smack down of a man who objected to our preference for lending to women will stick out in my mind every time I fight for women in the future. I hope that I have imbibed some of Eliminatha’s ability to find hilarity in virtually everything.

WMI’s borrowers in Tanzania are the strongest, funniest, bravest and wisest women I have ever met (besides, of course, my strong, funny, brave and wise mom, who inspires everything I do). They face obstacles that I cannot believe, from abusive husbands to droughts, with positive attitudes and determination. I believe that they can do anything, and they have taught me that I can do anything, too.

By Jess Broughton

With a running start to the new year WMI has introduced a new girls group to Tanzania. Accepting school aged girls from 10 to 15, this after school group is a great opportunity for girls from different areas to meet and get in-depth and fun education on entrepreneurship, leadership and health. With an overarching goal of readying these young ladies for a healthy and successful future, the immediate aim is to provide a safe and relaxed environment to tackle important topics.

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The teacher, Christina, sits with the girls to answer questions after class

The group’s first day proved its immediate popularity when an anticipated 25 turned into 30 attendants followed by more girls approaching WMI staff with hopes to join. The girls gathered at Tloma Primary school from Tloma, Aya-Labe, Sumawe and Gongali villages and were provided with notebooks and pens before the start of an informative session on HIV/AIDS. Such an important topic for these young ladies was best taught in this group environment in which they could be open and comfortable to communicate and answer questions without any gender influence.

Following a detailed lesson on the topic the teacher separated the girls into small groups in which they were able to discuss questions together more thoroughly and thoughtfully. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and to become more comfortable talking to their peers about such a serious topic. The groups were left with questions to answer, given time and then asked to present their answers to the other groups.

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Students eagerly raise their hands to answer the question.

To finish a successful first day of the new club the girls were provided with a football and encouraged to play outdoors together, relax and bond further as a group after some intense work. With weekly sessions planned, more group activities and after session games these girls now have a great source of additional education.

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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