Teddy Namone works at Equity Bank in Mbale, Uganda - about a half hour from WMI's headquarters in Buyobo. The women in her family have been involved with WMI since it started in 2008. She gave us this account of how it has impacted the community, her family, and her own journey to a career in banking.
All of us want to have a better life and a bright future. A life where one can afford every want and satisfy every need. We all look up to a life where a family can afford an education for their children, good health, decent meals, and good shelter. In Africa, even what is considered as an average family really struggles to obtain these or sustain them.
As a young girl, many children in our community admired us because we could afford three meals a day, which was unheard of in many homes. I can say they were thinking our family was an average one, which was not the case if I am to look at things in a keen manner.
We were equally struggling so much with school fees and we didn't have a decent shelter either. My father had lost all his businesses and was back home in his farm land, looking at his coffee plants as the major source of income; coffee is seasonal and at that time had no clear market so the plants did not have any great value then, yet were considered as the main cash crop in the Eastern region of Uganda.
He made so many attempts getting involved in growing vegetables to supplement his income, which attempts were constantly frustrated by unpredictable weather changes that kept destroying the crops, in addition to unavailable markets. We grew up working so hard yet getting so little.
We went to rural Universal Primary Education [UPE] Schools where we were not paying a penny for tuition but still struggled back at home. The only stable income we looked up to as a family was our Mother's salary - a Primary Teacher's Salary, which is one of the lowest paying jobs here in Uganda. Meanwhile Mum had enrolled back in school for a Grade Five Certificate in Education (which would increase her pay), my sister Lillian was in secondary school, plus my two brothers (David and Seron) and my sisters Eunice and Jolly were still young and at home. All these along with dad and me depended on Mum's small salary.
When Lillian finished her catering course, Eunice and I were taken to a town school, Northroad Primary School, a modern UPE school, where we paid a little functional fee plus remedial lessons fee of approximately $3 which was not easily got either. This meant we were among the last kids to pay the fees, attain the school uniforms, or even the exercise books required.
My Primary Leaving Examinations Results came out good and I can say at some point, it became a village topic back home. Unfortunately, my parents wouldn't afford the best secondary schools in the region that had given me admission letters. I therefor enrolled in an averagely affordable school for my Ordinary Level Education and later, a community school for my Advanced Level Certificate of Education.
It was during my last year of secondary school when the Women's Microfinance Initiative was birthed in Buyobo. WMI had a vision for rural women. This vision caused a lot of transformation in my family and the community at large. My mother, Mayi Irene, joined WMI in the second group of borrowers. She was introduced to this great program by Aunt Olive, the Local Director of WMI in Buyobo. Many thanks to her generosity and great leadership.
This was a turning point for our family. Mum started securing some loans to start up income generating
activities. I personally actively got involved in a small business, selling shoes in rural markets during my form six vacation. This was a supplementary income for the family, which helped us to procure school requirements without having to struggle so much.
I joined a very legit University in Uganda, Makerere University, ranking the fifth best institution in Africa in the latest 2020 World University Rankings. I can boldly state that my life at university might not have been the best but I had this confidence, this esteem that I would complete and graduate because I knew we had finally gotten a shoulder to lean on. The first semester of every new academic year cost us approximately $545 at the time and the second semester approximately $405. During that very period, my sister Eunice also joined University and that means the cost doubled. At the same time, we had a younger sister, Jolly, in secondary school. One can imagine how life would have been without WMI. The same family that was struggling to raise $3 for primary school was the same family affording University education for two kids at the same time.
The role of WMI. As the program expanded, my mother with her teaching degree was given a part time job as a trainer and of course this attracted an extra wage, hence an extra income for the family. With the interns and program support teams coming to Buyobo, my sister Lillian with her catering skills earned a job at the guest house.
Through WMI, my mother has been able to start up different activities that call for man- power and this means someone else in the community has been able to earn themselves a job, thus a wage. As an example, I can take the year to year farm work - every family in Uganda has a small farm plot where they grow their basic food. That has offered a wage to different community members who plow, do the planting, the weeding, and the harvesting for our family. This is due to the fact that WMI has created employment opportunities and as Mum has her trainer's job and the children are also employed - we cannot fully do the garden work alone and we now have income to offer a wage to the farm workers who help us. Through this mighty loan program, a house structure that had failed on the foundation for years has been raised at our home, hence offering jobs to a number of youths who did the construction, who we were able to pay because of our businesses.
All this stated herein is about one particular family. How many more families have this similar testimony to give? How many children have been able to attain an education because their mothers are either employees of WMI or beneficiaries of the loan facilities and skills training classes? How many more mothers have been able to foot a hospital bill to save a life because they secured a little income out of a WMI financed business? How many people have gotten a contract and therefore an income because they can supply uniforms for WMI staff? To go an extra mile, how many graduates secured a job in say, Post Bank, WMI's local banking partner, because the bank needed to expand due to a big customer like WMI and its rural business-women members? To the larger community, these are just a few examples in a whole range of the impacts of this program.
During my childhood, I had seen men afflicting women because most women had nothing financial to offer to their families. They only waited for the husband to come home with "a black kavera" (plastic shopping bag) which sometimes turned out not as anticipated. The husbands instead ended up in a bar on their way home only to enter into a home late in the night when the wife and children have slept on an empty stomach. Many more women were beaten up once they raised a complaint concerning their husbands not providing for the family. They were looked at as liabilities in their own homes.
Through WMI, I have seen a transition in our community. Many women have woken up and are working so hard to put food on the table. Many have become a pillar in their homes and thus changed the face of their homes and communities at large.
Great thanks to the entire WMI Board in the US and all WMI supporters, plus Mayi Olive Walimbwa, WMI Local Director here in Uganda, and all the WMI staff that embraced this great vision and are tirelessly working to see that the mission of this program is achieved. Blessings to you all, we are so proud of you and are so lucky to have been born in this generation to experience your great efforts.