1,000 Microloans for Rural Women in East Africa

by Women's Microfinance Initiative
Penina's Students

Along with running the WMI loan hub, our staff  are also teachers in Buyobo or nearby villages. It is a requirement our staff to be literate in English, and this targets the local teacher population. These women teach, coordinate loan groups and office operations, while also running businesses and raising their families. They are an impressive group of women!

Penina, one of the Local Coordinators, founded and directs her own primary school in nearby Budadiri: Ambassadors Preparatory Nursery & Primary School. She started her school in 2011, teaching four kids out of her living room. Four years later, another 130 young students have joined the original class, and the school has expanded to nursery through Primary 3.

Before starting Ambassadors Primary, Penina had been working at a school that honored her for her teaching but did not pay her for a year. She says it is much better to work for yourself! In order to expand, Penina used her four successive loans from WMI to rent a few shops in a row, construct a wall to close them in from the road, build an additional classroom, and buy desks.

Songs are built into the students’ daily routine. After a break in the courtyard, kids move off to their respective classrooms singing “class, class! We go to class, class, class! We go to class!” If a student volunteers or answers questions correctly, the teacher has her/him stand up with hands on hips, and do a little dance while classmates clap and sing: “Lovely, lovely, nice, a very good girl/boy!” Alternately they might give their classmate “flowers,” reaching their arms towards the student and waving hands for a few seconds in recognition. To remind students to sit still, teachers have them sing “I am sitting like a boss, boss, boss. I am a boss, boss, boss.” With their arms and legs crossed, they sit back in their seats and look silently all around them, like the big person in charge.

Respect for others, being humble, loving one another, and sharing: These are the leadership qualities that Penina exemplifies. She says to a fault she is slow to talk about her achievements. She prefers to let parents tell their neighbors about the school, and has expanded through word of mouth about the quality of education. Humble as she may be, Penina is ambitious too! She says her next steps are to own the land she rents and expand over the next seven years to a full secondary school. She wants to teach the original students all the way through up to college.

Today, Global Giving will give a 30% match to your contribution to Women’s Microfinance Initiative.  Won’t you take a minute to make a donation to support WMI’s loan fund and give another woman like Penina the opportunity to make her own business dream come true?  Thank you so much for your support!

Letter from a Borrower
Letter from a Borrower

We wish all of you a very happy and healthy New Year! Your support of Women’s Microfinance Initiative during the past year has been instrumental in fostering healthier and happier lives for our rural women and their families. With your donations, our lending and financial education program has reached over 5,000 women and their families. Since our inception in 2008 we’ve made over 15,000 loans totaling nearly $2,500,000. And most important, we’ve been able to continue our track record as a high performance/low overhead organization. Our feet on the ground are the ladies in the loan program who provide the local administrative infrastructure. There are no high priced consultants involved in WMI – only high quality, village-level staff members who have taken ownership of the program and are vested in its success.

We think you will enjoy this letter from one of our Uganda borrowers. She lives in a very rural area near the South Sudan border. In her own handwriting she tells her “Successful Story.”


I am ______. I have join WMI program in April 2013 in Attiak sub-county Amuru district and get a training for two days then after they have given me a loan of 300,000 shillings (about $150) I set with my husband and make a plan for the business to start. We have started selling rice, beans, cooking oil, onion, sorghum. Each day we sell we count the money together then save 5,000 in our cash box. Some times 10,000. So now as I take I have bought two goats, save 500,000 in my account. I have my house budget. There is no blind spending, no (much) depending on my husband, I am now able to assist the family well in term of feeding, dressing, sickness, school fee, and even sometime buying airtime for my husband. So I thank WMI program so much because they have help me. I was in slackness. They have remove me from the slackness and put me in the light where by I am now a wise woman.



This is Pamela, who was trained and received her first WMI business loan in April 2012. With her loan she started a drug shop, and with each successive loan she has expanded her business --stocking a larger inventory of drugs. Of course, her business isn’t what you probably were thinking when you first saw the headline. A drug shop is the rural Ugandan village version of a pharmacy. Most operators have some medical training and are allowed to treat common illnesses such as malaria and AIDs. Pamela’s open air drug shop is located in Atiak, the site of the largest massacre by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. In 1995, the LRA shot over 300 young men in the village, rounded up others and took many young girls as sex slaves.

Ravaged by a twenty year bush war, famine and subsequent under-development, life in Northern Uganda is difficult. Luckily, Atiak has begun to prosper as a result of trade and development in the new nation of South Sudan. The village sits on the main truck route between the capitals of Uganda and South Sudan. Atiak’s energetic women have profited from selling water and meals to the truckers, hotels and other businesses are cropping up and the village is beginning to look more prosperous. Last year, the local women contributed bricks and land to build a community meeting pavilion with the help of WMI funding. The pavilion provides a place for WMI borrowers to meet, learn and work out of the stifling sun or torrential rain.

In addition to her business Pamela has taken an active role in managing the local WMI hub. She has been a local coordinator, helping new borrowers with their businesses, collecting loan payments and keeping track of 40 borrowers! An English speaker, she also serves as a translator when non-speakers of the local dialect come to visit. Because Ugandan’s speak so many dialects, conversations must often undergo translations through English.

Pamela’s two children have also greatly benefited from her business. She is a role model for her children – something that you can’t put a dollar value on or count in a survey. As the women’s financial circumstances improve, they are able not only to better feed, clothe and educate their families; they are able to save for emergencies. Domestic violence is reduced.  Families are healthier and happier.  Children are educated and the vicious circle of poverty may be broken.  Women are becoming leaders in their communities. They are becoming knowledgeable advocates for themselves, their families, and their villages.  Their children are beginning to follow in their footsteps.

October 15 is a Global Giving match day! Please consider a donation to help other women in Atiak like Pamela.  Thank you so much!

Irene - WMI Head Trainer
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!”

The Onion Queen of Beteza
The Onion Queen of Beteza

A recent article in New Vision, a Uganda daily newspaper, proclaimed: “Uganda’s Onion Production Too Low.” The article urges Ugandan farmers to capitalize on the current demand for onions. “Onions are on demand because of the various advantages, but our production does not even reach half of what is required.” Deep in rural northeastern Uganda, surrounded by steep mountains covered in thick vegetation rising from the fertile soil, is Buteza village.

This is where you will find The Onion Queen of Buteza – a borrower in the WMI program. She plants and harvests thousands of these purple bulbs each year, selling them to neighbors, traders and townspeople. Uganda is blessed with two growing seasons, so she harvests twice a year, once in the winter and then again in the summer. After harvesting she stores her onions and waits until the perfect time to sell. Late in the growing season, when the current crop is not yet ready and the local supply of onions from the previous harvest has dwindled, she opens her stores and sells her onions at a higher price. The Onion Queen of Buteza did not have to read the New Vision article to know that onions are a sought after crop that stores well. As a savvy rural businesswoman armed with a WMI loan, she has developed a comprehensive understanding of the fluctuations of the local market, the needs of the local consumers, and advantages of her crop.

WMI is frequently asked why we do not train women in creating handy-crafts for export to the United States. Paper wallets, hand-woven African baskets, colorful-beaded jewelry and other handy-crafts are all staples of the non-profit-supported African export market. Non-profits identify products for participants to produce for export, provide loans and training to develop the business, and then create the export chain. Although this is a common model, WMI’s program encourages women to choose their businesses based on their skills, contacts, and the dynamics of the local economy.

The Onion Queen of Buteza knows that onions are a stable crop to invest in because not only are they hearty and can be stored for long periods of time, but also because they appeal to the local consumer and are affordable. There is an immediate customer base for onions; The Onion Queen does not have travel across the ocean to find a market for her goods. While there is a huge variety in the businesses that WMI borrowers own, they all have one thing in common: they are producing goods that cater to the everyday needs of East Africans.

Cultivating local markets is an integral step in building strong economies in the developing world. The WMI loan program not only helps individual women raise the standard of living for themselves and their families, but the program also supports the rural economies that are the backbone of East Africa’s larger economy.

Next Wednesday, May 7 is Bonus Day.  Contributions up to $1,000 will receive a 30% matching beginning at 9 am EST. $75,000 is available! Please make a donation to WMI to help borrowers like the Onion Queen of Beteza. Thank you!!


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Organization Information

Women's Microfinance Initiative

Location: Bethesda, MD - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.wmionline.org
Project Leader:
Robyn Nietert
Bethesda, Maryland United States

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