SPRING 2020           

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    • East Africa Covid-19 Update
    • Implementing Virus Guidelines in the Villages
    • Orphan Feeding Program - Buyobo, Uganda
    • Food Pantry Program - Aitong Village, Kenya
    • Economic Impact on the GWOCO Loan Hub in Karatu, TZ
    • Planned Loan Program Expansion in Tanzania
    • Annual Virtual Fundraiser Postponed to Labor Day
East Africa COVID-19 Update  
The Covid19 virus has still been slow to spread in East Africa with the following number of cases and deaths reported: Uganda: 281 cases and 0 deaths; Kenya: 1,471 cases and 554 deaths; Tanzania: 509 cases and 21 deaths. Testing is quite limited so the number of infections could be much higher.
The governments in Uganda and Kenya quickly locked down their countries, closing schools and most commercial activities, with only essential businesses allowed to stay open for a few hours a day. Tanzania was much slower to respond as the president questioned the seriousness of the pandemic.

Uganda began easing lockdown restrictions during the last week in May, allowing private cars and taxis
Hand-washing at WMI's HQ
back on the road and allowing shops and restaurants to reopen, although a 7 pm curfew remains in effect. Everyone must wear face masks in public.  Last week the government delayed the easing of restrictions so that people would have a chance to acquire masks and the president announced the government would provide masks to all citizens over the age of six.  Hand-washing and other safety measures are being emphasized extensively in the media.  We are adopting all of these safety protocols at WMI headquarters in Buyobo.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya addressed his country this week agonizing over the economic suffering many families are experiencing and the threat of an upsurge in cases if restrictions are lifted too quickly. He indicated that, "if Kenyans are disciplined, follow protocols of hygiene, social distancing and use of masks, then the country can be gradually reopened and return to something resembling normalcy." This past week Kenya reached a grim milestone of doubling the number of new cases (total of 123) from the prior day. With this kind of uptick in infections the government is very wary about lifting the curfew and allowing businesses and markets to reopen.

After 50 Tanzanian truck drivers tested positive for the Covid-19 in mid-May, while crossing the border into Uganda, President Magafuli announced that through vigorous prayer, Tanzania has defeated the virus. The country is discouraging criticism of its lackadaisical approach to safety measures. The international community noted that the country's reported confirmed virus cases has remained static since early May and there is speculation that cases are not being tracked accurately.

Major open air markets throughout Easy Africa, especially in rural areas, remain very restricted, opening only a few hours in the morning, if at all. This has caused a serious problem for our borrowers and their families as many depend on these weekly markets to sell their goods. Governments are worried about the likelihood that people will not observe social distancing and other guidelines at these extremely crowded and very busy venues.

Masks and social distancing on loan collection day at WMI's HQ
Because of the interruption to normal commercial operations, many of our borrowers are doing limited business or have had to put their activities on hold altogether. As a result, WMI is restructuring its loans, extending payment periods and adopting other measures to support the women and their families during this difficult time. Our goal is for the ladies to stay in business and we intend to help them pick up the pieces of their economic lives as the pandemic restrictions ease.

Our Fellows continue posting on social media to keep us current on the situation. You can follow us and check in using these links:   Instagram    Facebook       Blog

Implementing Virus Guidelines in the Villages
Our headquarters in Buyobo remains open with a skeleton staff to 
support the loan program members.  Appropriate social distancing 
Authorities using bamboo canes to police vendors at local markets
measures have been adopted as well as other safety guidelines. 

We have instituted a crisis budget, cutting staff stipends in half and reducing expens es. Some of our borrowers are still doing businesses permitted under the lock down and we are using mobile money transfers and other flexible mechanisms to ensure loan repayment (for those who continue to make them) is done is a safe manner. PostBank Uganda continues to provide outstanding service and support, sending a mobile armored van to the villages so women can easily continue to do their banking.

With marketplaces only allowed to operate limited hours and curfews in place, some local authorities have been very aggressive policing venues and enforcing curfews, carrying large bamboo canes to intimidate vendors. Products and inventory have been destroyed, motorcycles confiscated, and borrowers injured trying to do business.  The situation has been very difficult for the women because the guidelines on marketplace operations are not always clear or consistently enforced.  The ladies are desperately trying to protect their health and that of others while still earning enough income to feed their families.  
Receiving  Cream Star soap

Hand-washing practice
On a very positive note, the Village Health Teams, which WMI supports, continue to be 
acti ve, handing out soap to rural families and explaining distancing guidelines.  Children in particular are given instructions on how to wash their hands correctly.

We are continuing to provide information to rural families about the virus and measures they can take to protect their health.  Staying connected with the most vulnerable in the community is critically important.  Rural villages are a highly interconnected network and everyone's health is interdependent in such a densely populated society. We applaud the leadership the VHTs are providing to the community.

Orphan Feeding Program - Buyobo, Uganda
Two years ago WMI's college interns started an annual orphan support program in Buyobo, providing local
Food sack distribution
children with school supplies, backpacks and clothing to start each school year. Our local 
partner, Buyobo Women's Association has continued to fund the program with income from the loans. Food donations from the Buyobo community assist the orphans throughout the year. 

With the dramatic downturn in business caused by the pandemic, the community was struggling to find food for the orphans. WMI has made an emergency donation to fund food sacks for the orphans, which should help feed them for the next few weeks.   Hopefully, as the Uganda economy opens up, local businesses will pick up again and the community will be able to provide ongoing support for the orphans.

Olive Wolimbwa, always busy! 
WMI's Local Director, Olive Wolimbwa contacted us with a plan and the request for the orphan food sack distribution program.  She was aware that we do not have a budget to take this on as a permanent program and she outlined how this would be a one-time supplement to ease a serious food insecurity crisis.  

The plight of the orphans impacts the entire community.  Many of the women in the loan program have been sharing their good fortune to have a business by helping support the orphans.  We think this is the best protocol for solving local problems - giving people the resources to create solutions.  In this unusual situation, WMI was situated to provide a bridge to help sustain the children while businesses get up and running again.  We are grateful for Olive's inspired leadership, close ties to the community, and insight on local issues, all of which contribute greatly to the loan program's success.   

Establishing a Food Pantry at Ailong Village in the Maasai Mara, Kenya  
We received this report mid-May from Manuella Sopia, chairwoman of the Oiti Self-Help Loan Group in Aitong village in the Maasai Mara, western Kenya, where we launched a new loan hub this past January:

Deserted Aitong marketplace
"The government has put
strict measures in place, including long curfew hours and country boundary closures, all impacting Oiti women self-help group businesses negatively. Most of them are not able to travel to get stock for their business. All markets are currently closed. Most women in the loan group closed their businesses for an indefinite time until post covid-19 pandemic.

The majority of Oiti women are the bread winners in their families and without any other sources of income their families are greatly affected. They are in dire need of help to safeguard their livelihoods. As the chairperson of our loan hub, I am asking WMI team to please try to find a way to help Oiti women in Maasai Mmara get food to feed their families at this difficult time of covid-19. 

If possible, I am not thinking of helping just the Oiti loan group women. We have so many needy families
Manuella Sopia
around us that really need temporary help so we will share equally in the area whatever help it is possible for WMI to provide. Our plan is to buy food through the Oiti Self-Help Group - beans and maize are the most important staples. We can manage the purchase, distribution and tracking of the food as well as identifying the neediest families and crisis situations. This will build our trust and relationship with the community.

Thank you to WMI and all your donors. I really appreciate your kindness and may God bless you and your team. I know the Oiti women and all the needy families that will get this food will be very happy. This is not a small help but a lifeline. It will build our relationship to be stronger and never will it be forgotten.  Please stay safe."

WMI has provided a grant to the Oiti Self-Help loan group to purchase maize and beans for the women in the loan program and the families in the local community. Because we have a strong local network on the ground we are confident that the food will be distributed in a fair and effective manner and that it will have a big impact in helping the community though this crisis.  Our advantage in being a small outreach program is that we can react quickly to emergency situations and provide the kind of relief that is needed to help stave off a downward economic spiral for the communities where we work.


Pandemic's Economic Impact on the GWOCO Loan Hub in Karatu, TZ
Our Fellow in Tanzania, Jane Masila, working with the loan groups of the Ganako Women's Community Organization (GWOCO), located in the villages surrounding Karatu, TZ, updated us on the situation there:

"Times are hard. People are not buying as they used to before corona virus. Business is now rock bottom. People here are beginning to realize that they also need to wear face masks in addition to washing their hands with soap and maintaining distance from each other to prevent the spread of the corona virus."
One lady of GWOCO in the Mnada (market) on 7th of May 2020 said: 'When is this corona virus going to
Customer wearing face masks at the Mnada (market)
end? How am I going to feed my children?' These are questions which have been asked by small business women of GWOCO while shaking their heads.

Corona virus has affected a lot of small business women's of GWOCO in one way or another. Andrea, one borrower who sold banana on each and every Mnada day, has complained a lot about this corona virus. She usually gets a lot of customers before this pandemic disease rises but now the situation has changed. Mostly customers are afraid to come to the Mnada. So she decided to share the transportation cost with customers so that she can deliver bananas directly to them at home. She is thankful that at the end of day all the bananas have been sold out. 'I understand the risks of the virus and I am doing all I can to protect myself and family,' said Andrea.
Our member, Barbayd, says business has gone down but she cannot quit her small vegetable stall. She displays some tomatoes and a variety of green vegetables in each and every Mnada market day, hoping to sell something. 'Some of my customers said they are not getting their salaries due to the temporary closure of their companies', she reported.  

Selling green vegetables and tomatoes at the Mnada
On the other hand this corona virus does not only affect our women of GWOCO but also all other small business women's in Karatu/ Arusha and all over the country. Currently the world is on the brink of an economic recession owing to the impact of corona virus. But we have observed that at least for those who sell food stuffs, at the end of the day, they have sold something rather than those who sell others stuffs like clothes or household equipment. In these situations, a lot of people save their money for the purpose of buying food for their families and medical treatment only."

WMI and GWOCO, are providing loans and training to village women whose businesses are providing support and comfort for their entire families. The loan program is their families' safety net.  That is why we are continuing to make expansion plans even as the pandemic temporarily interrupts routine operations.

Planned Loan Program Expansion in Tanzania
This past month WMI approved an expansion of the loan program in rural Tanzania in conjunction with our British partner, Weston Turville Wells for Tanzania (WTWT), and our local partner, Korongoro Community Trust. (KCT). We have been working with them for the past five years to support the communities in Nainokanoka Ward of the  Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) to help solve the issues of poverty, child mortality, genital cutting and women's rights, through education and microfinance. The expansion will be timed to the easing of Covid-19 concerns. In the meantime we are educating the women in local loan hubs on social distancing and other safety measures.

There have been many requests for loans from women in the 4 villages of Mto wa Mbu Ward and in
Maasai businesswoman
the 5 villages of Esilalei Ward. They are both Maasai communities outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), in the Arusha Region.   WTWT has been working in the area for nearly 15 years and has found just as much poverty among Maasai communities outside the NCA as within. The land is often too dry for their cattle to graze and they have to be taken far away. The challenges they have in common are lack of education among the adults, such extreme poverty that it is difficult to send their children to school, poor nutrition, poor health and lack of economic opportunities.

We plan to set up nine more loan programs, one in each village of the 2 wards Mto wa Mbu and Esilalei. Each group will have 30 women, and each woman will start with a $70 loan. We will also be supporting numeracy and literacy classes for adults and health education for women.  Though women still have traditional lifestyles, cultural changes are clearly underway, with more women wanting access to educational opportunities and business training.

Maasai businesswoman caring for her children
Working in the area for the past five years, WMI has seen how the women are vested in the small businesses that they run. They are so proud to be able to care for their families.

WTWT has found that the women are empowered by owning a business - it has reduced the anxiety of poverty: the uncertainty of whether they will be able to find enough food for their children or be able to send them to school or pay for health care. Savings from business earnings covers the cost of care when unexpected illness arises. The word has spread fast - there are always more women wanting loans, leading to this expansion of the program.

The women in the loan groups will range in age from 25 - 55, with most being 30 - 35.  Typical business will include: small scale farming; retail shops selling maize flour, rice, cooking oil, vegetables, tea, sugar, milk, meat, leather, and second hand clothes; bead work; raising and selling sheep and goats; and selling fuel for passing ranger and tourist vehicles.

Our track record lending to this community has been excellent. The loan groups will be responsible for issuing the individual loans of $70 to the women and for collecting loan repayments with interest, which happen at the weekly meetings. It is the responsibility of each loan group to follow up with defaulters and ensure repayment. This has worked well to date. Three women administrators for each loan group have a key to three separate padlocks on each village bank metal box, so all need to be present when money is deposited and removed. The returned loan money is re-loaned, so there is never very much money left in the box. Records are kept of all loans and repayments in individual books for each woman and central record books for the group. 

We will have a new loan coordinator for all of these villages:  Sinyati Ngamuriaki. She is educated to the diploma level in Development Planning and well qualified for the role. She provided us with this biography:

"My name is Sinyati Loramatu Ngamuriaki born 12/12/1998 at Engaruka village. My Father name is Loramatu Ngamuriaki, my mother name Paulina Yangan and also my parents are maasai. My parents have 9 children and I am the last born in my family, my father died in 2009. My parents engaged in activities which is pastoralism and agriculture but not more, our economic was very poor and the environment which they live was rural area the place which is called Uwanja wa Ndege at Arushani village. I start primary school in 2006 up 2012 at Engaruka Juu primary school, after that I joined the education of secondary school at Irkisale secondary school in 2013 up to 2016. In 2017 am joining at University of Institute of Rural Development Planning in Mwanza campus in certificate course. In 2019 I am joining in Diploma course of Development planning in Mwanza campus up 2020. I am excited for my new role loan coordinator in Mto wa Mbu and Esilalei will help poor rural women and families."

Annual Online Fundraiser Postponed to Labor Day  
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, we postponed our annual online Mother's Day Fundraiser to Labor Day this year.   By the end of the summer we will have a better idea of how the loan program has been impacted and what resources we will need in the near future.  

We have seen that the women and families we serve have experienced severe economic stress as their countries shut down.  With restrictions now starting to ease, we are optimistic that with WMI's support women can get back to business in a safe and reliable way, utilizing appropriate protocols.  We will keep you posted as plans for the annual online fundraiser unfold.


These are indeed trying times - particularly for women living on the edge of poverty, who depend on their business income to sustain their families. WMI is extremely grateful for all of the support provided by our donors, especially during this world crisis.  Your commitment is helping us support rural businesswomen during the pandemic and giving us the resources to get them back on their feet again.
The WMI Board of Directors  
Robyn Nietert    Betsy Gordon    Deborah Smith     Jane Erickson  
      Terry Ciccotelli     Trix Vandervossen    June Kyakobye  

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