WINTER 2019           


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  • Visit to A WMI Loan Hub: Buseesa, Uganda  
  • Buyobo Headquarters Update
  • Kenya Loan Hub Embraces Community Conservation
  • Tanzania Loan Hub Program Continues to Expand
  • WMI Expands Social Media
Buseesa, Uganda is 4 hours due west of Kampala - 3 hours on tarmac and 1 hour on a pot-hole filled dirt track. But the drive is well worth it - because at the end of the road you will find a very compelling story of how individuals can change the world.

The story begins with a young man named Nick Smith. He started an outreach program in this remote community when he was in college, forming the Buseesa Community Development Association (BCDA) to focus on education, healthcare and microfinance outreach for rural families. That was over 10 years ago. He has since acquired a Ph.D. in International Relations and is now a financial sector specialist at the World Bank. His Instagram posts are from all over the world - but his personal passion remains the same - he continues to mentor BCDC's local directors on program operations and strategy to reduce poverty.

Five years ago Nick (above) read about WMI and contacted us. While the BCDC loan program was successful, it was small and had hit a wall. WMI treasurer Deborah Smith and I walked through his operations with him, suggested some protocol changes, and decided to partner with BCDC to expand operations, introduce larger loans, and help fund more skills training. That expansion has been a roaring success. BCDC now has nearly 1,000 members, a loan fund of $100,000, and a 98% repayment rate.

BCDC doesn't just manage a rural loan hub for women - they also built a primary school and a clinic that provides free neonatal care and delivery. Each year BCDC organizes a medical outreach mission for 2 weeks for the local communities. A dozen health professionals from the US volunteer in a medical marathon for any and all villagers who need medical attention. Each day a different village is served from a local primary school. BCDC board member Emily Rymland (right), a family nurse practitioner from the Bay Area, masterminds the medical mission, which was in progress when I arrived. Hundreds of villagers received care every day.

BCDC's medical and educational outreach is a significant reason the loan program is a success. Through our ongoing surveys, we have learned that rural women are vitally concerned about their family's health. They are equally concerned about their children acquiring an education that will lead to career opportunities. Knowing they have access to medical and educational options reduces stress and allows them to focus on their business operations.

Tusabe and Winnie, BCDC program managers, skillfully arranged the packed itinerary for my one day visit so that we could meet women's groups in 5 different areas.  The second our van pulled into a village we are overwhelmed with singing, dancing and group hugs. These ladies have a lot of energy! It is always a staggering reception because the income from the businesses the women start with their loans has had such a profound impact on their household living standards. All of that emotion is poured into my visit as the emissary for all of you who make the WMI loan program possible.

The loan groups take great pride in presenting me with gifts as a way of thanking all of you for what you are doing to improve their household living standards. Hand woven baskets, hand-made jewelry, bananas, cassava, cabbages, eggs, chickens, cows and goats. The car is weighed down as I transport the gifts on the 7 hour drive to Buyobo where they contribute to the annual WMI community celebration. The Buseesa team is traveling to Buyobo in May for advanced administrative training and our Buyobo staff will enjoy reciprocating the hospitality these ladies extended during my visit.

After the greetings there are speeches - mine is always one of sheer admiration and encouragement. Afterwards we head to the village center to tour businesses. The ladies are very savvy about their local markets, inventory pricing, transportation costs, and how inflation affects their businesses. It is so impressive. The more  questions I ask, the more details they want to provide.   Then the owner will more likely than not pull out her account book to show how she is tracking income and expenses. Kids and husbands accompany the tour - these are family-run enterprises with women at the helm and their families supporting them from behind.

Business owners reported earning $100 - $500/month from hair braiding salons, dress design and tailoring, shops and sales of maize and beans. Many women in the area were refugees from the Rwanda genocide.  As children and young adults, they fled violence and chaos.  In western Uganda they found stability and a chance for a new life. They persevered by virtue of their own hard work and determination; WMI's outreach helps their businesses expand and thrive.

 Every hub visit calls for a food function - rural women can't properly greet a visitor without a feast! Matoke (mashed green bananas), rice, beans and greens are generally on the menu (and of course, warm soda). It's quite a pick-me-up! After heartfelt good-byes, our car pulls out in a billow of dust and we are on to the road for the 7 hour drive to Buyobo.

What an extraordinary experience for us to be able to connect with the women we serve on such a personal level. Visiting the villages and businesses helps us understand the ecosystem in which rural women live and work. It gives us valuable insight into how we can make sure the loan program responds to their needs.

Click on the 90 second video and experience a day in a loan hub field visit. The pictures and clips are in the sequence of events described above. The women's boundless energy and enthusiasm reflects the huge impact your contributions have had in making the loan program a reality for families in Buseesa. 



Spending a few weeks in Buyobo gave us time for an in-depth review of the operations at our headquarters. In addition to managing our largest loan hub, the Buyobo team is also providing mentoring and oversight for newer loan hubs.
We are very fortunate to have excellent local leadership for loan program operations with Olive Wolimbwa, Local Director; Jackie Namonye, Assistant Local Director; Irene Wetaka, Deputy Assistant Local Director; Grace Mangala, Operations Manager; and, Milly Walimbwa, Finance Manager (far left) - ably assisted by our Resource Fellow, Caitlin Seandel (near left). Milly and Caitlin have done a terrific job automating our budget and finances. We now have about 50 staffers at our headquarters who handle program operations.

In 2018, this loan hub issued nearly $750,000 in loans - a remarkable milestone for a village-level loan program. The ladies manage program operations very efficiently and the program is cash flow positive. In fact, they ended the year with enough surplus income to carry out a host of community projects including: boys and girls empowerment groups, feeding program for primary students in grades 6 and 7; teacher tea and bun program; primary school library; litter clean-up campaign (the streets of Buyobo have never been so clean); health screenings in the villages; and an orphan outreach fund (providing meals and school supplies). They can also finance the addition of several new loan groups next year.

The Buyobo headquarters infrastructure grew with the addition of a garage for the WMI van and a storeroom for the 1,000 chairs we use for ourselves and to rent out for local functions. The ladies keep the compound spick-and-span. It looks just beautiful and is frequently mistaken for a government headquarters.  W e also dedicated our fourth sub-hub pavilion in Sironko District (right). The pavilions are forming a network to allow us to expand operations to areas that cannot be served from the Buyobo headquarters compound.  With our substantial physical infrastructure, talented local management team, and strong financial position, the Buyobo loan hub is poised to continue expansion to provide financial access and training to increasing numbers of village women.

Women's businesses are thriving. Catering, small restaurants and snack stalls proliferate - prepared food is big business in Buyobo. Household improvements are visible everywhere, from brick houses (left), to satellite dishes to cows grazing in yards. And, as Olive says, "Women now dress smartly!"

Ladies continue to report increases in revenue and gains in household living standards as a result of their business income. We continue to observe more women sending their children to secondary school and university. This trend has been going on for some years now. We are having more discussions about how to ensure that the children follow courses of study that are geared to lead to employment. Tuition is very costly and the ladies want to ensure that it is money well spent.

This year our annual community celebration in January hosted 800 borrowe rs, their families and well-wishers. It was a 2-day event with the first day devoted to field day games, including a very physical netball challenge where the village health team competed against the loan program staff (left)! Local government officials gave speeches congratulating the ladies on their achievements and performers from all over the District signed up to entertain. It was quite an event which ended with a delicious meal the ladies prepared with food the loan groups provided. Being able to meet with local leaders during the day long celebration and hear their endorsements for the impact the loan program is having on the local communities was a great way to end the field visit.
Visiting the loan programs WMI collaborates on with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on the Laikepia Plateau in northern Kenya is a great opportunity to see an innovative approach to involving local populations in the management of scarce resources.  Lewa is a pioneer in the concept of community conservation.  They believe that the welfare of local people is key to a thriving wildlife heritage and have invested extensively in the livelihood of their neighbors with programs that focus on education, healthcare, water, microfinance and youth empowerment.  Of particular importance are programs that focus on women's groups.

WMI partners with Lewa to bring business loans and skills training to the women who live in villages surrounding the conservancy.  Wildlife tourism is a significant economic base and WMI is working with Lewa to help ensure rural women and their families participate in the revenue generated by this sector.  The women have become sensitized to the benefits of preserving and protecting their wildlife heritage.    
There are currently 1,800 women in the loan program operating small businesses that include: retail
shops, butcheries, flour mills, hair dressing and tailoring, poultry rearing, buying and selling cereals and livestock keeping. These businesses not only allow rural women to develop their own business potential but as the enterprises grow they create jobs for other women.   The Kenyan population is becoming more urbanized and there is tremendous demand for food in cities and towns.  Many women in the loan program have focused their business on this sector and are generating profits from it. 

In 2018, WMI fu nded the addition of new loan groups in each of the 4 sectors surrounding the conservancy.  Women leaders have emerged to chair the groups and supervise loans.   Owning a business has given the women the tools and incentive to be proactive about their family's economic well-being.   For a rural woman, operating a successful rural business is not a one dimensional undertaking.  Access to affordable health care, a reliable water source and educational opportunities for their children impact the ability of these women to focus on their business operations.

This year WMI funded counseling services for rural women who felt stressed by the myriad responsibilities they faced.  The women told us the counseling sessions were enormously helpful. Some were having issues with priorities set by their husbands and the counseling sessions helped them learn how to have a fruitful discussion instead of simply arguing.  Others were overwrought by the educational and career choices their children wanted to make and the sessions helped them learn how to listen and respond constructively to their children's concerns.  Our team was struck by the universality of the women's concerns.  We could relate to the anxiety created by family arguments and their relief in finding constructive ways to handle the stress.


One of our partners in the loan hubs WMI funds in Tanzania is the British non-profit, Weston Turville Wells for Tanzania, (WTWT), run by Rachel Blackmore.  Together we have been increasing the loan program's reach in the community of Maasai women who live in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area that surrounds the Ngorongoro Crater.  Rachel just returned last month from visiting the loan hub and she travelled to the remote village of Kapenjiro, where the ladies had just been issued loans for the first time.  Rachel provided reported that:

"As we rounded the hill after a long and difficult journey in the land rover on untarmacked tracks, we could see a large group of women dressed in their finest clothes. Then we heard them singing.... 
They were singing of the benefits of their loans, being able to make savings, enabling them to send their children to school and have enough food. 

In talking with the ladies afterwards, one of them told Rachel that she advised her married daughters who also live in the NCA that they must join the loan program because, "It is a better life, you can afford to look after your children!" 

In addition to funding loans and training, WMI works with WTWT to expand health services for women and families.  Mbario, a young Maasai woman whom WTWT sponsored through Medical College, has now completed her Clinical Officer training and joined our local team. She teaches classes for students on the effects of child marriage and female genital mutilation. Providing this information to students is helping change local attitudes that perpetuate gender discrimination.  

In speaking with Mbario during her visit Rachel reported that many more families in the area have renounced the 'cutting' of their daughters. They are proud to stand up as an example to others and pass on the information of why it is important to stop this practice.  

Please follow WMI on social media!  We are posting new photos and updates from the field on a regular basis on social media.  It's a great platform for our supporters to see what village life is like and to keep up with the ladies in East Africa.  

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If you missed our Facebook post of elephant calves roughhousing at Reteti Sanctuary in northern Kenya, where WMI is working to give Samburu women career opportunities, click here!  elephant 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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