Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Microfinance Initiative’

Though not your typical sport, table tennis is a beloved sport in Uganda, which has some added benefits, such as High School and University Scholarships, for youth who prove themselves to be talented and dedicated. But how does a student in a village such as Buyobo get access to table tennis instruction, let alone a table tennis table? How can they come to play on the same “table” as youths from larger towns and cities, with more equipped schools and readily available instruction, such as in Kampala?

This is the question Kevin Mafabi, talented Top Table Tennis player and certified Level 1 International Table Tennis Federation coach, set out to answer when he proposed a table tennis project in partnership with WMI.

Laughing it off after missing the ball on her first try

He, and his cousin (WMI board member) June Kyakobye, have played table tennis for years, and have received University scholarships for merit in the sport. Both with ancestral roots in Buyobo, Kevin is a professional table tennis player and considered one of the best of Uganda, and June, competed in the 1996 Olympic Games, and the 2001 US Open. Table Tennis talent must run in their genes!

Coach Kevin and Assistant Coach Denise showing the students how it’s done!

And now, Kevin is passing the torch to the young generation of Buyobo!

After acquiring a table tennis table, several practice rackets, and a few dozen balls through funding from WMI, the pavilion of BWA transformed into an athletic training center, where Kevin and his assistant coach, Denise, instructed 76 students over their holiday break. Now, with the students back in school, and Kevin and Denise away, the students have begun training themselves under the supervision of Boy’s and Girl’s Group Teacher, Susan, and the training instruction of a talented older student, allowing them to self-sustain the project.

A student trying her hand at Table Tennis

Their training has not been easy, but they are dedicated! Students have been practicing daily, going through drills of balancing the ball on the racket, bouncing the ball up and and down while trying to keep it from hitting the ground, and other drills which involve racing relay races, along with various other exercises to keep them on their toes.

A student participating in a relay race

Kevin and Denise will be back frequently to check up on the progress of the students, especially with the interest all the students have shown, and the natural talent and abilities of several! With time, and lots of practice, we are certain we will have some future Professional, and maybe even Olympic, Table Tennis athletes from Buyobo!

Coach Kevin Mafabi, and assistant coach Denise with the many future Table Tennis athletes from Buyobo!

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Making my 12th trip to WMI loan program hubs in East Africa, I am delighted to report that the impact of the loan program continues to grow.  We first traveled due west 4 hours from Kampala to the Mubende area where we partner with the Buesessa Community Development Association to off loans and training.  The ladies were enthusiastic in their welcome and so happy I had made the trip that they presented me with many lovely locally-made baskets. They readily escorted us to tour businesses that lined the main roadside.  Business owners reported earning $100 – $500/month from hair braiding salons, dress design and tailoring, shops and sales of maize and beans.

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The lovely women of Buseesa greeting me with hugs and gifts

Many women in the area were refugees from the Rwanda genocide.  As children and young adults, they fled violence and chaos.  In western Uganda they found stability and a chance for a new life.  They were not resettled by an international agency; they did not receive government subsidies or support.  They persevered by virtue of their own hard work and determination.  WMI is proud to be able to offer resources that help their businesses expand and thrive.

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Borrower in her domain helping and greeting customers

The welcome at our WMI HQ in Buyobo was overwhelming. Women’s businesses now dominate the main road through town.  Catering, small restaurants and snack stalls have become common – prepared food is big business in Buyobo.  Household improvements are visible everywhere, from brick houses, to satellite dishes to cows grazing in yards. And, women now dress very smartly!

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Robyn, Jackie (Assistant Director in Buyobo) greeting Olive (Director) during our annual celebration

Our annual celebration for the community was the largest ever, drawing more that 700 women and their families, as well as community leaders and guest speakers.  A day of singing, dancing, marching, musical performances, and speeches ended with a feast catered by our own staff.  What a wonderful way to acknowledge the ongoing accomplishments of the women in the loan program in eastern Uganda, which has now spread throughout Sironko and into Bulambuli, Manafwa and Bududa Districts.

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Borrowers are now able to construct permenant homes

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One of our lovely borrowers in Buseesa

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WMI Ladies preparing food for our annual celebration

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Satellite dishes can be spotted all around Buyobo

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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.


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:


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.


A gas nozzle


The gas pressure gauge inside a house


the stove that is powered by biogas!



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


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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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.


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


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.


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.”


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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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.


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.


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!


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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. 


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.


Leonila (left), chairwoman of one of the loan groups, dances with the choir.


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This month 40 women joined the WMI family in Tanzania. They are the Tumaini (“hope”) group in Tloma and the Ebeneza group in Gongali. They will providing their communities with milk, clothing, bricks and more from their small businesses.


Martha (left), GWOCO Secretary, and Eliminatha (right), GWOCO Chairwoman, debate who will get to hand off the next loan to the borrower (middle).

The borrowers are delighted to be joining the program and moving towards financial independence. Agnes from Gongali will be selling kitenge, a fabric that comes in beautiful colors and patterns and is worn by all the women here. She traveled to the nearby city of Arusha the day after receiving her loan to buy her first stock of kitenge.


Agnes signs the group loan agreement.

Amy from Tloma has been working for one of our local staff members for a while. Now she is using a loan to start a salon in the village. Amy is going to make our borrowers as stylish as they are successful!


A borrower from Gongali receives her very fist loan!

The borrowers who are starting out in Tloma have an average annual household income of just $265. After a few loan cycles, most borrowers in this village are bringing in almost $1,000 a year from their business – a quadrupling of income! We hope you’ll join us in wishing our new groups the best of luck as they start and expand their ventures.

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