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
Eric coaching a young girl
Eric coaching a young girl

Dear Donors,

Whack, Whack, Whack. That’s the sound of table tennis balls being returned in the meeting hall at Women’s Microfinance Initiative’s headquarters in rural Buyobo, Uganda. We’ll admit it, it’s hard at first to see any connection between a women’s microfinance program and table tennis. The first is a serious endeavor at leveling the economic playing field by providing loans and training to poor, rural women. The second is a game, also known as ping pong, primarily played by children.

Not so in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa, where table tennis is a serious competitive sport. Students compete intensely for all-expense paid scholarships to secondary school and university, graduating to become competitive Olympic hopefuls. Table tennis is another step in the economic ladder for poor, under-served, rural Ugandans.

Back in 2013, WMI encouraged the development of a weekly after-school Girls Entrepreneurship program for 12–15-year-old girls within Buyobo, our first loan hub. The program used participatory games and activities to introduce concepts about leadership, self-image, social entrepreneurship, and business development. The aim was to develop the next generation – a cadre of empowered young girls with the skills, confidence, and audacity to look critically at issues facing their families and communities. Along with participating in lessons on healthy behaviors and responsible life skills (especially related to teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, the girls raised and sold pigs, turkeys, chickens, and cattle. The profits they made were theirs to use as the group decided. The program was (and remains) so successful, we soon expanded to include a Boy’s group, taught by an engaging male role model. Eight years later many of these children are now the first in their families to attend university. They have also become working partners with their mothers in their businesses.

Last year, we expanded our initiatives to provide a positive path for Buyobo youth through table tennis. It was the brainchild of Kevin Mafabi a top table tennis player and certified Level 1 International table Tennis Federation coach, with roots in the village. He and his cousin, WMI Board Member, June Kyakobye, received university scholarships in the sport. Kevin is now one of the best Ugandan professional table tennis players, and though officially retired from the sport, June’s skills took her to the 1996 Olympics and the 2001 U.S. Open.

Kevin, wanting to pay back his advantages to the community, volunteered to coach our Buyobo youth, along with his cousin Denise, who is now attending university in Kampala on a table tennis scholarship. WMI funded the purchase of the tennis table and equipment. Although the cities have more access to facilities and coaches to prepare for the tournaments that are the gateway to scholarships, the main determinants of success are natural talent and personal determination. That is something we have plenty of in Buyobo!

After an initial training during a school break attended by 76 young students, the most outstanding were selected to manage ongoing training after school while the coaches are back in Kampala during the week. The children have been working hard for the past year at developing their skills, learning the feel of the ball, and gaining the fine motor control necessary for advanced stroke techniques. Kevin and Denise report that several students have natural talent and determination. The children are hopeful that with a lot of practice they, too, will have opportunities for scholarships. We are certain that even though everyone won’t receive university scholarships, all the children participating will gain skills that will make them productive adults – focus, dedication, working as a team – as well as the concentration and motor skills that may serve them well in a profession.

This is just one example of the small projects we support that, while not directly falling into our lending and training focus, provide the spark or catalyst necessary to fulfill our larger mission. We call these special projects Nyongeza, a Swahili word for a booster, or something that is complementary. These additional small investments we can make through your donations have a huge payback in terms of improved village life. And just think, you may be helping a future Olympian!

We hope you will continue to support WMI as we expand our outreach across East Africa.

Wishing you happy and safe times ahead!

The Board of Directors

Women’s Microfinance Initiative

Learning the Proper Grip
Learning the Proper Grip
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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
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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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Organization Information

Women's Microfinance Initiative

Location: Bethesda, MD - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @wmionline
Project Leader:
Robyn Nietert
President
Bethesda, Maryland United States
$270,861 raised of $350,000 goal
 
2,893 donations
$79,139 to go
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