Olive in her business started with a microloan
Gifting mothers is always tough. You aim to please. Is there a more pleasing gift to receive than one that speaks of inspiration, of kindness and of understanding? Giving a mother's day gift that lifts a mother out of poverty has to be inspirational; it speaks of your own heart. It beats those temporary gestures of kindness - roses, scented lotions, even that meal because it gives a fellow mother the opportunity to alter the course of her life in a society that still largely marginalizes and relegates women to second place socially, culturally and economically. We are asking you to donate to honor your mother or maybe her memory. But please do so after you read about our work below and the strides we have made.
THE PROBLEM: It was the Chinese leader, Mao Zedong who said, “Women hold up half the sky.” Today over 900 women supported by microloans from MCF are holding up their part of the sky with pride. After reading the book “Half the Sky,” by Nick Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn one realizes that in this 21st century, millions and millions of women only exist: they don't live. They don’t bother or even dare to look up to the sky, much less raise their arms and feel like they are “holding up” something as important as the sky that we all live under. In the U.S., 'the field' is not level, but legislation and hardwork have ensured that women can 'get on and play' but in Uganda and most of Africa, most women don't have access to 'the field'. How do we change that? Through empowerment! Economic empowerment that gives women a real opportunity and guidance to show that they have what it takes. MCF staff and mentors have looked at impoverished women in our microloan program squarely in the eye and told them that there is hope and that they can do it. And something amazing has happened. Over 900 women have been empowered! They seized the opportunity and like Olive below, have made it out of poverty they are on the 'field and playing'.
Olive, our microfinance beneficiary, was one of those millions of women who only exist. Illiterate, poor and married with five children, the whole feeling of holding up the sky was not in her frame of reference before May 2010. She and her husband had struggled to pay for the increasing cost of living. School fees were rising, and as they continued to have more children their daily expenses were steadily increasing. They worried whether or not they would be able to send all of their children to school or pay for medicine. Her children were attending Kengoma Primary School in Kabale, Uganda—a Mpambara Cox Foundation (MCF) supported school—when she heard about the call for women to come and listen to a proposed microfinance program at her children’s school. That program–Women In Support of Education (WISE)–was designed by MCF to help mothers like Olive keep their children in school. She was among the first women to show up at the school in early May 2010 and immediately knew she wanted to join a group.
THE SOLUTION: At about the same time in Rockville, MD, 20 women were getting together over dinner to learn about micro-finance and to support the first WISE group. After a briefing by MCF president, Anita, and WMI (Women’s Microfinance Initiative) president, Robyn, each of the invited guests donated $150 for each of the 20 Kengoma women. This kick-started the MCF/WMI partnership to empower rural women in Uganda. Now, almost six years later, that $150 has grown into a dream capital fund that is self-sustaining, banking over $50,000 per year. The fund is dedicated to the advancement of Elsie Lushaya Women’s Group (ELWG) – a group of impoverished mothers exclusively drawn from Mpambara Cox Foundation’s supported UPE (Universal Primary Education) schools in Kabale, Uganda.
The first WISE groups back in 2010 Photo: MCF
THE PROCESS: Olive survived the ‘peer-weeding’ process (a ruthless removal of those considered untrustworthy), underwent financial literacy training, passed the tests, attended planning meetings and formally joined a group of 20 WISE women in June 2010. The next month she received her first loan, 300,000 Uganda Shillings or $150 (at 2010 exchange rates). She made the all important “WISE Pledge”. The condition that her children were to remain in school and their attendance would matter—something she admits she never really fully understood at first. The loan would enable her to start her own business, she knew that this was her chance to help ensure her children would all receive an education. Olive then rented a small space in her neighborhood and began selling soda and beer to those living in her village. She began receiving shipments from beverage companies and selling the drinks both retail and wholesale to her loyal customers. For two years Olive continued growing her business with the loans from MCF, dutifully paying them back as scheduled.
Olive in her Nyakijumba shop Photo: JBlatter
On March 6, 2013, she qualified to became a WISER Woman—a program that introduces responsible borrowers to main-stream banking with surety provided by MCF/WMI. Olive underwent additional training and was able to borrow $600 or 1m Uganda shillings directly from the bank, effectively making her a millionaire in Ugandan currency. Now, Olive’s beverage store is filled from floor to ceiling with beverage crates. One expects that she would say she sells a crate every couple of days. “No,” she says with a pride-filled smile, “I sell a crate in a couple of hours.” How amazing!
MCF’s WISE has been so successful and exponentially grown. With your help we now add 40 women per quarter to the Elsie Lushaya Women’s Group (ELWG) that Olive joined back in May 2010. She is hailed as a success story in her village and is now a counselor to many other women that have since joined ELWG. As one of almost 900 women in 10 villages spread-out all over the hilly landscape, Olive remains illiterate but is no longer impoverished or marginalized. Each year she celebrates alongside her peers as they march through Kabale town in what is now a parade that aims to showcase these tough and hardworking women as beacons of success - empowerment!
MCF Women's Empowerment march through Kabale town Photo: MCF
WHERE YOU COME IN: Your donations help us expand the program to more women. While children are the center of our work, we cannot help the next generation escape poverty without the direct involvement and support of the parents. Olive is now committed to helping them get the best that she can offer thanks to counseling sessions from WISE. That is a true measure of success for a woman who just five years ago thought she would have to choose which of her children would remain in school and which ones would drop-out. “We continue to work hard to keep the family, happy, healthy, and educated,” says Olive. Looking at Olive squarely in the eyes, one sees a new found belief in self. Her dignity is secure. Her debts are paid. Her floor is cemented and her sales are soaring! Another important point that cannot be overlooked, her husband is a 'openly' supportive partner helping where he can to run the business.
Will you help us empower more women today? Your donation today, however big or small, will make a difference for other mothers like Olive for whom the opportunity of getting on 'the field' is still only a dream.
Thank you and Happy Mother's Day!
Olive and family with MCF Peace Corps Volunteer
WISE women march through Kabale town