Dec 21, 2020

LET THERE BE LIGHT!

WMI Staff Inspecting Gombe Construction
WMI Staff Inspecting Gombe Construction

Dear Donors,

WMI is currently building its eighth meeting pavilion, due to be completed in time for loan training and issuance in January 2021. Constructing pavilions, like this one in rural Gombe, Uganda, is just one of the ways that WMI supports its rural lending program. The photos show just how remote Gombe is!

The open-air pavilions provide a space for training sessions, where our borrowers can sit away from the hot sun or pounding rain as they listen to the trainers explain how to run a business, how to save, and how to repay the loans. On loan collection days they provide a secure space for the ladies to undertake financial transactions. Construction of the facilities not only provides local jobs, but the resulting pavilion bestows the village with a venue for community activities such as local government meetings, weddings, and other ceremonies and celebrations.

As we expand further and further afield from our central headquarters in Buyobo, WMI is building at least one of these pavilions annually. Not only is our large 500-seat meeting pavilion at Buyobo becoming insufficient for the growing program on training days (we have 2,200 active borrowers in the Buyobo region alone), but the distances have become too far for the women to easily walk to attend meetings or make their loan payments.

The pavilions have grown in scope from the first totally open-air pavilion we built in 2013. We quickly saw the need to enclose it for security reasons (and to keep roaming roosters out!). Always improving, WMI soon began to include latrines in the building budgets and returned to add three or four-stance latrines to those pavilions that did not originally have them. Having a latrine system is a very big plus for village-level infrastructure, as good sanitation is extremely important in improving health outcomes in the often densely populated villages. Now, we are looking to add another component to our construction budgets – solar power.

Our use of solar power began back in Buyobo, our first village loan program, and now WMI headquarters. We built our office/meeting room in 2009, adding an electrical hook-up the following year. Although there is an electric line into the village, power is not reliable, and we soon added solar panels to the roof of our building. Beyond office needs, solar power extends the use of the meeting spaces into the evening and provides light for night-time security. And, although it wasn’t something we originally planned for, our buildings with solar power have become phone charging stations, enabling the community to power-up while social gathering. Although rural life in Uganda is still quite simple – cooking on open fire, latrines for sanitation -- mobile phones are ubiquitous in East Africa, used not only for communication but for financial transactions. Many of our meeting pavilions are in villages with no access to electric power.

While WMI funds the building construction from donations like yours, the ladies in the remote centers pool their time and funds to find, negotiate and purchase the land. We believe that by investing in the land, borrowers have a stake in maintaining and managing the new buildings (which they have been doing quite assiduously). The pavilions become a source of great pride to the local ladies and their villages, as there are few buildings of this size. In fact, they are so useful that they have become very popular – now there is a waiting list of sub-hub locations where the motivated local members have organized and want us to construct a pavilion.

Each pavilion, with latrines, costs between $25,000 and $30,000, depending upon location. Solar power can add another $5,000 to the cost. It is a major capital expenditure, which we meet through foundation grants, along with the generous contributions we receive from donors like you. Won’t you help us continue to build the meeting pavilions that have become the lifeblood of these rural communities?

Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season!

The Board of Directors

Women’s Microfinance Initiative

Building the Latrine
Building the Latrine
Dedicating Mutufu Building January 2020
Dedicating Mutufu Building January 2020
Aug 25, 2020

Navigating Through Covid-19

WMI Borrower Training Session
WMI Borrower Training Session

Dear Donors:

We hope that you are continuing to stay safe and well this summer. Although the world has changed substantially in the past six months, we are happy to report that Women’s Microfinance Initiatives are continuing, although at a slower pace than planned. We were fortunate that we were able to start most of our new initiatives early in the year before Covid-19 closed down much of the world. Loans were issued in January and, in some areas, again in July and August. Government lockdowns have eased in Uganda, but Kenya is still on hold. Tanzania is operating in a quasi-normal state as the government is not issuing any Covid-19 guidelines. This does not mean, though, that our borrowers are not experiencing difficulties.

Many loans are being repaid at a very slow rate as our borrowers’ businesses slowed or even shut down temporarily. The largest percentage of our women grow and sell agricultural and value-added products at local markets that have been closed for an extended period of time. Although many of them have found alternative ways to sell their products, we know there are likely to be losses.

We are buoyed by the knowledge that the loan program is crucial to our borrowers and they take their responsibility to repay their loans very seriously. We also want to keep our borrowers in business; we do not want to default their loans and so will work with each of them individually to restructure the loans by extending the term or wrapping the balance due into a new loan, under the advisement of our local loan coordinators. We think the most constructive scenario likely will be increasing an outstanding loan, so the borrower has the working capital to replace lost inventory, plant new crops or acquire depleted raw materials to start-up operations again. In some cases, the situation may be so egregious (watchmen in Uganda stealing women’s entire bean, onion, or tomato harvest) that loan forgiveness is the best alternative.

Unfortunately, we can only let this situation play out and see what the impact will be. WMI's local staff is monitoring the situation closely in each country. Where they can, our staff is proactive in finding solutions to problems. In our program in Buyobo, Uganda, for instance, the director arranged for the truck drivers to come to the village to pick up produce to take to the cities, rather than the ladies selling it locally in the market. Other businesses, especially in Kenya, must remain closed.

Because this situation will be with us for a while, we are creating a fund for Loan Restructuring and Forgiveness, and will it use to replenish the various loan funds, as necessary. We plan to fund this new priority at $25,000. If you are able, please consider making a donation now so that WMI will have the ability to get lending going again and assist our borrowers as soon as the sanctions are lifted. We’ve made tremendous progress in our effort to lift women and their families from poverty…you can help us to keep the trend going!

Thank you for your continuing support,

The Women of East Africa

May 4, 2020

WMI Women in the Time of Covid-19

Loan Coordinators on Collection Day
Loan Coordinators on Collection Day

Dear Donors,

How the world has changed since our last update! The Covid19 virus has been slow to spread in East Africa with the following number of cases reported: Uganda: 81; Kenya: 396 and Tanzania: 480. But the numbers are rising daily and testing is limited so the number of infections could be much higher. Many epidemiologists are expecting the counts in East Africa to explode in the near future. Others aren’t so sure.

The governments in Uganda and Kenya have locked down their countries, closing schools and businesses and prohibiting all but essential travel. Food can still be sold but shopkeepers must isolate. The Kenya government predicts a ramping up of infections in coming weeks, estimating the number of cases could reach 10,000 by the end of April.  Meanwhile, the President of Tanzania is still encouraging people to attend crowded church and mosque services, declaring that, "the virus cannot survive in the body of the faithful". The countries in this region are closely connected economically; they have very porous geographic borders and fragile public health systems. The internal situation in each country is sure to spill over into the adjacent states.

WMI's local staff is monitoring the situation closely in each country. They are suspending meetings and loan collections as necessary to comply with government guidelines and to keep themselves and borrowers safe. When lock down measures are lifted we will assess the impact in the various loan hubs and take whatever steps are needed to restructure loans so that the ladies can stay in business.

While lockdown protocols are necessary for reducing the virus' spread and keeping people safe and healthy, and while the government is working tirelessly to ensure the vulnerable are being provided for, it is still important to understand that lockdown and social distancing are temporary mitigations that are easily done in developed nations, but more challenging in developing nations. It is difficult to social distance when you live in a two-room house with multiple family members or have neighbors close by. It becomes a challenge to sustain your family when livelihoods depend on going to the garden every day to ensure your family has something to eat or produce to sell to keep your small business operating. The ability to pause life temporarily is a privilege.

And as you can expect, this has already impacted our borrowers, whose businesses require open air markets and travel, and may not be related to food or medicine, and may not be considered essential services. It has also affected our staff, who often travel on public transportation to reach our office, and loan collection centers. And not to mention the rest of Uganda, which is home to entrepreneurial individuals who live "hand to mouth" and need to work daily to afford something to eat for that day. While some are still able to keep their businesses running, others have had to deal with the effects of temporarily closing their businesses until the situation improves.

East Africa and our WMI program management have their hands full but are proactive and reactive to what is thrown their way. We will weather the storm together.  

If you are able, please consider making a donation now so that WMI will have the ability to get lending going again and assist our borrowers as soon as the sanctions are lifted. We’ve made tremendous progress in our effort to lift women and their families from poverty…you can help us to keep the trend going!

Please stay safe!

 

Photos by Milly Walimbwa, WMI Finance Manager, Buyobo, Uganda

Counting Loan Payments
Counting Loan Payments
Village Woman Washing her Hands
Village Woman Washing her Hands
 
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