Irene - WMI Head Trainer
A cheerful and kind-hearted woman, Irene serves as WMI’s Deputy Assistant Local Director and has had a large role in shaping WMI over the past six years. One of WMI’s pioneer borrowers, she also volunteered to help organize her group members (borrowers work in groups of 20). Later she was selected to participate in a Training to Train program where she learned how to train others. Now WMI’s head trainer, Irene has worked to educate new borrowers about business skills, managing small businesses, writing records, making a budget, and more. Through this training and resulting business success, gender relations and living conditions have improved. Irene explains, “Women are now empowered. Where there is WMI there is a change. Women are not shy like they used to be. They are happy!” Women are also able to contribute more to their households, which has improved relationships in the village. Using her hands to demonstrate that husbands and wives have come closer, Irene observes that “when you over depend on somebody you become a body. But now when you are also contributing, that relationship—you become close, you are close to each other.”
In addition to healthier relationships, Irene tells us that the members of the community are physically healthier since she began taking loans with WMI. “Buying clothing for children, feeding, everything was very difficult.” WMI has helped rural Buyobo, Uganda develop and will continue to do so. It gave Irene the tools she needed to move out of poverty and she willingly works to make the same possible for other women across Uganda.
Irene has changed her business several times since taking her first loan in 2008 and this new business has become more profitable. While she was originally selling second hand clothes, her second WMI loan enabled her to introduce shoes to her business. By the third cycle of the loan program, Irene used her profits and the loan money to switch to selling produce. Now, having graduated from the two year program, Irene can self-finance her business and is also pre-approved at WMI’s partner bank to take commercial loans as she needs them.
Irene has noticed a great improvement both in her own life and in the community since WMI began due to increased access to education. Irene’s daughter recently graduated from University and she has another daughter who is graduating in August. She also has children in primary and secondary school. “Had it not been for WMI,” Irene says, “I think I wouldn’t have any money. The little salary I get [from teaching alone] is not enough to pay for University.” This sentiment is echoed throughout Buyobo—many women use their profits to pay school fees for their children. Irene is not alone in saying “education is number one. I give it priority.”
Despite the value women place on educating their children, paying for school fees is not always easy. Most men are farmers, Irene explains, so the local economy is very dependent on coffee. Since coffee is harvested in the fall, paying school fees in January is generally not a problem for most families —however, Irene notes, “when the season is over, we go back to our poverty.” Women who have businesses they started with WMI loans tend to have more savings and a more constant source of income, and have less difficulty paying school fees for the second semester. Through its sustainable impact on education, Irene feels that “WMI has helped not only Buyobo, but Uganda as a whole. Because if I educate my child she can work anywhere in Uganda…as you educate the child you are investing in that child. With time you get the fruits!”
Irene’s daughter is now searching for a scholarship to continue school and explore the world. “We do not want them to end where we have ended. They will reach beyond!”