1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa

by Women's Microfinance Initiative
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1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa
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

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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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Judith and her Posho Mill
Judith and her Posho Mill

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Judith. Judith is the Chairperson of Karimi Women’s Group, one of WMI’s lending groups in northern Kenya. She is 65 and the owner of a posho mill, a convenience shop and a dairy farmer.   Posho is ground cassava root flour, and serves as a staple in the Kenyan diet. All of her businesses are located in her compound at the bottom of Mt. Kenya.

With her first WMI loan, Judith bought a small mill that helps process food for her dairy cows. The mill grinds up grass and stalks in just a couple of minutes. Without the mill, this process takes interminable hours. The mill provides substantial fodder for her cows while saving her a significant amount of time. After milking her cows, she takes the milk to a cooperative to sell. In a month, she is able to make anywhere between $190 (19,000 KSH) to $260 (26,000 KSH). With the time she saved, Judith was able to open her other businesses.

In 2011 with her profits, she bought the posho mill which brings in about $50 (5,000 KSH) a month. The posho mill’s high season is July through September. During this season, she expects around 10 customers a day to come in to process around 300 kilos (661 pounds) of posho. Because she is the only one in her community with a posho mill, a nearby school came to order posho from her as well. The mill has minimal operating expenses, the most notable being grease, to make sure that the machine runs smoothly. The grease costs $4.50 and it lasts for a week during the busy season.

Her third stream of income is her shop -- a small convenience store. She said that she went to a fellow WMI borrower and shop owner, for advice before opening up. Her shop brings in about $40 (4,000 KSH) a month.

Judith and her husband run all of the businesses together, allocating the responsibilities proportionally. When he gets sick it is challenging because she is then responsible for managing everything on her own, plus cleaning, cooking and attending to her husband. We asked her what happens when both she and her husband are sick simultaneously and she said, “A woman never gets sick: even when I feel that I can’t wake up, I force myself.” Sadly, many women feel that way!

With the income from her businesses she buys stock for her store, livestock, and helped her son improve his house by helping him buy iron sheets for his roof.

We asked Judith for her advice to other women who want to start their own business:

“Own your own business rather than doing agriculture farming only. With farming, you are only able to get money every couple of months when you harvest but with your own business you have income every day.”

We are so inspired by Judith and the other hard working women of East Africa who are making a better life for themselves and their families.  Won't you please consider making a donation to support these rural women who never get sick?

Judith and Moses in Their Shop
Judith and Moses in Their Shop
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Eunice at her Knitting Machine
Eunice at her Knitting Machine

Meet Eunice.

“I love to knit, it is very enjoyable for me.”

Eunice is 55 years old, and the secretary of Karimi Women’s Group. She owns a shop in the trading center of Ntirimiti in northern Kenya. In her shop, you will find a knitting machine as well as pots and pans that she sells. The pots and pans are supplementary to her knitting, which she has been doing for more than 30 years.

In 2011, Eunice opened her knitting business, making all of the items by hand. In 2016, she took her first WMI loan and bought a knitting machine, which allowed her to take on more business as it cut her production time down immensely. It’s cold at night in northern Kenya and people wear knitted hats and sweaters to keep themselves warm. Customers can put in customized orders or purchase pre-made items. Her hottest selling items are pullovers, beanies and socks. One of her favorite things to do is to make new designs for all of her items. This along with her high-quality materials is what puts her ahead of her competition. Currently, there is one other shop in the trading center that makes knitted goods but Eunice says that people prefer her. She is also an outstanding marketer, showing her items at community gatherings so people see her work as well as buy!

When she started her business the community and her family were very supportive and excited for her. With the income generated after the purchase of her knitting machine, she has been able to buy grazing cows as well as pay school fees for her three children, two of whom are in university, the eldest having finished and now earning a living as a farmer. With this same income, she was able to expand her business to include pots and pans in her shop which help offset the slow season for knitted goods.

High season for the sale of knitted goods is when each school session starts: January, April and September, meaning that most of the year is slow season. Along with selling pots and pans, Eunice also mends clothes throughout the year and has started teaching women to knit! She charges $50 (5,000 KSH) which provides customers 2 hours a day of teaching until they learn to knit competently. To date she has trained 6 women. With all of her income streams, Eunice averages about $150 (15,000 KSH) a month in income.

Even with all of her innovations, her business still faces difficulties particularly when it comes to people buying on credit. At times, they refuse to pay and she has to involve the local leadership to make sure that she gets paid back (which she does).

Her advice for women wanting to start their own business is: “Income from your business is so important. A way to make sure you have good income is understanding how to market your business, so you must make sure you know how to market it!”

Your generous donations help Eunice and borrowers like her access the working capital they need to succeed in business. A loan to buy equipment and materials will enable the borrower to generate the cash flow she needs to provide for her family – and pay back the loan so that another woman just like her can start a new business! Your support to WMI is giving African women the chance to work their way out of poverty, and the savings to stay out of poverty. Will you consider another donation today?

Eunice's Beanies for Sale
Eunice's Beanies for Sale
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Beatrice in her Fields
Beatrice in her Fields

This is Beatrice. She runs a Bogoya Business at Sonali Trading Center in Sironko District in Eastern Uganda. Beatrice joined the WMI Loan Program in 2007.

This is the story of how she was able to change her life.

Since 1992, Beatrice has been buying bogoya seedlings (a very popular type of fibrous banana plant typically used as a starch dish in traditional meals), planting them, nurturing their growth, and, eventually, cutting the branch of ripe bogoya and transporting it to market to sell. Each tree yielded one branch. A branch typically has about 100 bogoyas on it and weighs 50 - 60 pounds. She generally sold 6 branches each week in Sonali, barely making ends meet.

After she received her first loan from WMI in 2007, she began to sell her branches about 200 miles away in Gulu in Northwestern Uganda, for a much higher profit. Uganda hosts some of the largest refugee camps in the world, housing more than one million displaced people. The camps are in the Gulu area and there is a constant demand for access to fresh food. Beatrice recognized this demand and decided to take a risk to improve her ability to generate income for her family.

She used her loan money to buy bogoya branches from other farmers to transport them to Gulu and sell them there. She tries to acquire the branches about a week before they ripen so they won’t spoil during her journey to Gulu.

Beatrice’s weekly trip to Gulu starts with carving her initials on the 30 branches she typically transports. She waits beside the main road for a transport lorry to stop – these are 8 to 10 ton capacity trucks that ferry cargo around the country for a set fee. She loads all the branches into the back, making space among the produce already on board that belongs to other farmers. The lorry is generally piled high so that the truck owner can maximize profits. Beatrice must sit on top for the 15 hour drive in order to protect her branches from theft or damage. The roads are laced with pot-holes so the progress is very slow – the driver will stay at the wheel throughout the night.

At Gulu she will spend the day at the market, selling her branches at a significantly higher price than she can obtain in her local trading center at Sinoli. She is lucky to have family stay with while in Gulu. She leaves any unsold branches with a trusted friend there who will sell them on her behalf during the week. Beatrice then boards a matatu, a 14 seat mini-van taxi typically stuffed to bursting with at least 20 people, to travel home to take care of her family. Sometimes the truck will break down and her bogoya will get spoiled, but it is a risk she must take for higher profits.

Beatrice now cultivates over 300 Bogoya trees, employs workers to tend her crops, and consistently buys branches from local farmers. Each trip to Gulu she earns around $80, with $19 of personal expenses. Each month she proudly clears about $250.

As you enjoy the last weeks of American summer and head back to work, we know you will begin to think differently about your commute! Please help us support these innovative, hard-working ladies by donating a small amount to support a loan for these amazing women. The money Women’s Microfinance Initiative raises goes directly to our revolving loan fund. When one borrower pays back her loan, another is ready to take a loan, ensuring your donation is used over and over again. Thank you for your support!

Transporting Boyogas to Market
Transporting Boyogas to Market
Selling Boygoyas at the Market
Selling Boygoyas at the Market
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Women's Microfinance Initiative

Location: Bethesda, MD - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @wmionline
Project Leader:
Robyn Nietert
President
Bethesda, Maryland United States

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