FALL 2019           


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  • Beginnings, Endings and New Beginnings 
  • Exploring Loan Program Expansion Options in Northern Kenya
  • Graduation of Borrowers in Karatu, Tanzania
  • New Borrowers Join Tanzania Loan Program
  • Outreach to Hearing Impaired and Special Needs Students in Uganda
  • What Happens When A Borrower Defaults on Her Loan Payment? 
Beginnings, Endings and New Beginnings
WMI welcomes Kaycee Corcoran as the 2019/2020 Resource Fellow in Buyobo, Uganda! Originally from Philadelphia, PA, she earned her BA in Sociology from Penn State. After graduating in December 2016, she embarked on her 26-month Peace Corps Service in a rural town in Eastern Uganda, teaching alternative gardening to combat climate change, especially drought, and methods to improve household nutrition through diet changes.
Additionally, she worked at the grassroots level with women's groups to introduce low capital income-generating products that could meet local needs such as bio briquettes (formed charcoal made from organic materials or charcoal dust), and potholders. Previously, the village had used gathered firewood and women experienced burnt fingers daily before they started sewing their own potholders, both of which are now small sources of income for the women in the group.
Kaycee is also a founding partner and manager of Beyond Culture LTD, a Ugandan based non-profit that has created a fashion line, provides management assistance for musicians, and spearheads other social projects and fundraising events related to the arts. She hopes to gain more insight into micro-finance and how micro-lending enables women in rural communities. This is the beginning of her third year in lovely Uganda, and she is ecstatic to share the next year with the women of Buyobo, helping to manage and expand loan program operations.
With Kaycee's arrival, Buyobo said a fond farewell to WMI's Fellow of two years, Caitlin Seandel. Much beloved by the ladies in the loan program and the Buyobo community at large, Caitlin's cheerful demeanor, quick wit and endless patience for problem-solving will be sorely missed. But we are happy to report that after working with the WMI loan program for the past two years, Caitlin has decided to stay in East Africa and is developing a business training program for rural women. She is also consulting to WMI and just filed her first report on initial visits to northern Kenya to explore loan program expansion possibilities.

Exploring Loan Program Expansion Options in Northern Kenya

Caitlin Seandel, WMI's former Resource Fellow in Buyobo, is beginning preliminary assessments on the potential for starting a loan program pilot in northern Kenya. She traveled to the Reteti area of Namunyak with staff from the Northern Rangelands Trust, a community led, non-governmental organization whose mission is to develop resilient community conservancies, which transform people's lives, secure peace, and conserve natural resources. This week she updated us: 
Last week, I traveled to Reteti Elephant Sanctuary to research the viability of WMI starting a loan program with women who live in the surrounding area. Reteti is an area in the Namunyak C onservancy in northern Kenya. This conservancy is part of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) which oversees 39 conservancies in 10 counties in northern Kenya. Reteti is the first community-owned and run elephant sanctuary in Kenya and about a third of the elephant care-givers are women. 
We started out from Lewa Conservancy, where WMI has been operating a joint loan program for the past five years. Traveling for an hour and a half on the new highway corridor which connects Nairobi to Addis Ababa, it was easy to see how an upgraded, paved road substantially improves transport in the area! Turning on to a dirt track about 10 miles from the Sanctuary, we passed manyattas (temporary compounds where pastoralist communities live) and Samburu children who were watching over their families' goats and sheep while they grazed under the blazing sun.

After my visit, I realized that there is really no other locale where WMI is lending that comes close to replicating this area, lifestyle and culture. Below are some reasons why:
1)    In the area surrounding Reteti there has been no lending to women. No financial institutions provide access to this community.  The area is extremely remote.
2)    Northern Kenya has been struggling with extreme drought (due to climate change) for the past decade and currently there is widespread food insecurity. This is a semi-arid region with little rainfall and relentless sunshine. Desertification is rampant.
3)    The populations in Northern Kenya are pastoralists, moving with their livestock for grazing purposes. Usually men manage the livestock while women build and tend a temporary manyatta (for about a year) to house their families. Pastoralists keep their assets in the form of livestock.
4)    These communities depend on rains for grass for their livestock. Climate change à unpredictable rains à less and less grass à less and less food for the cattle à cattle die à no money à destitution. It's a vicious cycle.
5)    A majority of people in these communities have never had a formal education and are illiterate.
6)    The men in these communities own guns for protection (their domesticated herds are grazing in what are now wildlife conservancies, sharing the land with elephants, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas etc).
7)    There are numerous tribes throughout northern Kenya, and when natural resources are scarce conflicts can arise. Working through the NRT, the tribes now have a governance structure and organization in which they can all participate and create long-term plans. While their relationships are not perfect, the level of cooperation is increasing.
8)   Reteti is a community-owned sanctuary - it is a unique resource for wildlife in the area and additionally provides jobs for the local community.
9) Reteti is a success story that the community can try to build on to serve more rural women.

The pastoralist lifestyle is one of extremes. That, compounded by climate change, armed groups, little formal education, and lack of resources creates a difficult environment to operate a loan program. Basic program operations such as trainings, bi-monthly meetings, and depositing loan repayments become logistically challenging in this harsh landscape. Yet, the women are interested in obtaining loans and starting businesses. And, the very fact of Reteti's existence, its daily regimen of caring for dozens of orphaned elephants, is testament to the possibilities of what can be accomplished by the local communities.
I traveled with staff from NRT and from the Namunyak Conservancy, which jointly oversee governance-building programs in the area and also administer the elephant sanctuary. They have extensive experience working with the pastoralist communities and I was impressed by their depth of knowledge of the area, assessment of the challenges, and cautious optimism for the potential to develop an innovative approach to lending that meets the needs of local women.  

We met with Dorothy Lowatuk, one of the head elephant care-givers at the Sanctuary, who is passionate about outreach to rural women.  She had met with WMI's president, Robyn Nietert, earlier this year and discussed the possibilities for expanding the WMI loan program to this area.

Our current plan is to partner with these local organizations to explore the launch of a pilot lending project. Crucial questions about best operating practices in this unique environment cannot be answered by us, which is why it is so critical to have partnerships with organizations on the ground, that know their communities, and that the local communities trust. Stay tuned for updates as this pilot project unfolds!
Outreach to Hearing Impaired and Special Needs Students in Uganda
To introduce the summer interns to some of the day-to-day challenges that confront rural businesswomen, we arranged a visit this past July to the Budadiri Girls' Primary School (BGPS) in Sironko District, Uganda, about 5 miles from the WMI headquarters. The school was founded in 1938 by Catholic Missionaries to improve literacy, writing and reading comprehension for young girls, and currently serves 927 students.
In 1997, Head Teacher Sister Kassedde introduced the Hearing-Impaired/Special Needs Unit to assist pupils with hearing impairment and various other developmental issues. It is the only school in Sironoko District that specializes in educating the hearing impaired and children with other special needs, making it a very valuable resource for the surrounding communities. The Hearing Impaired/Disabilities Unit currently serves 42 students with disabilities ranging from deafness to Down syndrome, and is supported by 8 teachers. The teachers believe in inclusive education and have added the innovative use of visible learning aids in their classrooms, and also provide one-on-one instruction for the students.
There are few if any public or private educational facilities in rural areas that serve children with physical challenges or special needs. This can cause significant stress for mothers and families of special needs students who search for educational opportunities for their children. Trying to access non-local services can present enormous logistical challenges for rural families. The BGPS offers local families a facility where hearing impaired and special needs children can get the specialized attention that they need at the village-level.

After greeting the classes, the interns spent some time in the Hearing-Impaired Unit, where they learned basic greetings in sign language, were given sign names (usually chosen by a distinguishing facial feature), and later played soccer with the whole school. The visit was such a success that we have decided to make it a permanent part of the college summer internship. 

Experiencing first-hand the important work the school is doing and how it indirectly supports the women
in the loan program, prompted WMI to work with our local partner, the Buyobo Women's Association, to make an annual donation of materials and supplies to support both the Hearing Impaired/Special Needs Unit and the traditional education program. For the Hearing Impaired Unit Students, we provided bar soap, sugar, flip flops, and biscuits, all of which we individually packed for each student. Maize flour and whole grain was delivered for the school to use for lunches. We also brought the supplies for making reusable menstrual pads and coordinated with a Peace Corps volunteer to provide hands-on instruction.

Graduation of Borrowers in Karatu, Tanzania

This past quarter the WMI loan program outside Karatu, Tanzania, held its fourth graduation ceremony, with two groups from two different loan hubs. These women started their journey in 2016 with loans of approximately $100 and ended in 2019 with final loans of over $200. Thirty-four women succeeded in graduating from these two groups. Though each group started the loan program with 20 women, the challenges that come with starting and running any business are very difficult and over the course of two years six members left the program.
During their two years in the loan program, the graduates either launched new enterprises or expanded their existing businesses. Many borrowers were able to build or improve their houses, pay for their children's school expenses, cover household expenses, and still have money for emergencies from the income they made from their growing businesses. The borrowers managed all of this while also depositing savings to their group account on a regular basis.
These ladies leave the loan program with improved business skills and basic financial literacy. They also report the loan program has built their self-confidence, made them more open-minded and creative, and has given them the ability to compete in their local markers.
Graduation day was a way to acknowledge all of these borrowers' achievements. With a big meal, plenty of music and singing, plus gifts and certificates of achievement for the graduates, it was a community celebration. The ladies also received their two-year savings, and were delighted with how the account had grown over time due to their regular contributions. The women all enjoyed their day celebrating and our local staff was gratified to be able to share their accomplishments and acknowledge their hard work.

New Borrowers Join Tanzania Loan Program
Women graduate from the WMI loan program on a two-year cycle, giving new borrowers a chance to get a loan and start or expand a business. These ladies just entered the loan program outside Karatu, TZ and have high hopes for the impact it will have on their businesses and their lives. We continue to be impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit of rural women and the full lives they lead in their villages.
Grace Mzava, 58, a single mother of two girls and a boy, has struggled to make life comfortable for her family. She is very proud of putting her children through school despite having only a primary school education herself. She has even managed to help her first grandson attend school, as she believes it is the key to success.  Grace is an experienced nursery school teacher and still loves to work with children, though she decided to get a loan from WMI to grow her main business of farming and selling chickens (which she supplements with a small business selling used clothes). When she is not working, Grace sings in a local choir and spends time at home knitting and crocheting. She feels that her biggest achievement in life has been providing a home and education for her children. Her dream now is to make enough money to build a new home and save enough money for a comfortable retirement.
Melania Constantine Panga, 45, is proud to have completed her secondary education, followed by studies in entrepreneurship, leadership and cooking.  With her education, she felt very confident to join the loan program and is excited to use the loan to expand her business of making and selling soap and bread, as well as breeding and selling pigs, chickens and eggs. She has found that value-added products, like her soap and bread, have a very high profit margin. Melania is also a family woman with three sons and two adopted daughters. She sees her biggest life achievement as getting her children to university. Her dream now is to scale up her business and eventually have a factory so that she can be the best and biggest in the market in her community. She is a great believer in community development and wants to help educate her community on entrepreneurship.
Paskalina Ismail is a married 45 year-old mother of six who finished primary school but was not able to continue with her education past that point. Paskalina buys maize directly from local farmers and resells it - she joined the loan program to grow her small business. There is significant demand for maize and she intends to use her loan to expand her inventory. Years ago she used to harvest her own maize and it was one of her greatest passions but now in her free time she keeps herself busy with her livestock. Her family lives in a relatively small home. Her husband helps with family expenses but there are a lot of fees to pay for their children's education so it is always challenging. Paskalina dreams of growing her business so she can generate enough income to build a new home for her family.
What Happens When A Borrower Defaults on Her Loan Payment?
It happens. No matter how determined a woman may be about making her business a success, sometimes borrowers default on their loan payments. What are the consequences when a default occurs? It sets in motion a complex response system that is a pillar of the WMI loan program.
Borrowers are organized into loan groups of 20 women who are all acquainted with each other and who live in close proximity to one another. The borrowers cross-guarantee each other's loans. If a member of the group does not make her payment, the other members must cover it for her. They then decide among themselves how to handle the defaulter.
Our local women leaders believe it is crucial to run a strict loan program or the community will not take the guidelines seriously. They work with each loan group to review the circumstances surrounding a default and respond accordingly. If a woman is in crisis, they might recommend a work-out and restructure the loan. Or her group members may agree to pay off her loan to help her through the crisis. The women are extremely empathetic to domestic emergencies that can throw a household into disarray.   But if a woman is just trying to "dodge" making her payment, they will go to her home and confront her.
Olive Wolimbwa, WMI's local director, invited our Resource Fellow to tag along as a loan group pays a surprise visit to a borrower they suspect has significant assets (goats) but is dodging her loan payment. Check out the video and see how the ladies in the loan group work diligently to enforce their guidelines at the local level.  Out local partners believe it is of paramount importance to hold borrowers accountable and to run a rigorous program that fairly enforces repayment obligations.   Watch Video


WMI is extremely grateful for all of the support provided by our donors. Your commitment and thoughtfulness has allowed WMI to continue to expand and bring the benefits of economic opportunity to thousands and thousands of village women throughout East Africa.  
One of the most frequent refrains WMI President, Robyn Nietert, hears when she visits the far flung WMI loan hubs each year is: "Thank you for remembering rural women."  

A heartfelt thank you to every one for making our outreach to the rural women of East Africa a reality.
The WMI Board of Directors  
Robyn Nietert    Betsy Gordon    Deborah Smith     Jane Erickson  
      Terry Ciccotelli     Trix Vandervossen    June Kyakobye  
Contact Information
phone: 301-520-0865                   
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