• Corona Virus Update

  • Jumbo Loan Program Launched in Karatu, Tanzania Loan Hub

  • Loan Program Expands to New Maasai Villages in the NCA, Tanzania

  • Amazi Foods Steps Up

  • Kenya's Rural Businesswomen Carry On

  • Enthusiastic Attendance at Workshop for WMI's East Africa Headquarters Staff

Corona virus update:

Uganda. In October, the government announced that schools will remain closed for the country’s 10 million students at least until January 2022, despite what Johns Hopkins University reports as a very low national infection rate of just 67 deaths last month and fewer than 400 new cases nation-wide. Schools have been closed continuously for the past 18 months. The official explanation is to protect parents from being infected by students but all other public spaces, like markets and churches, are open.

As a result of the prolonged closure, the National Planning Authority estimates that 30 percent of students are unlikely to restart their education and over 3,000 primary and 800 secondary schools are likely to close permanently. Teachers are finding other ways to support themselves and abandoned school buildings are being repurposed for other uses.

Last month, the United Nations Population Fund reported that in Uganda, “adolescent girls have been deprived of the social protection that school offers and have been exposed to risks of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, child marriages, and teenage pregnancies.” Estimates are that unwanted teen-age pregnancies have spiked 17-25% in the year and a half since schools closed.

In the past few weeks, the government took delivery of 2.2 million vaccine doses and expects to have a total of nearly 12 million by December. Currently just under 5% of the population of 44 million is vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy is rampant in rural areas based on safety fears. A 7 pm – 5.30 am curfew is still in place throughout the country.

Kenya. In the summer, Kenya announced its goal of vaccinating 10 million people by the end of this year. So far Kenya has administered nearly 6 million vaccine doses, enough to have vaccinated about 5.5% of the country’s population. Based on falling infection rates, Kenya lifted the nationwide curfew in October – it had gone into effect nearly one and a half years ago. Currently, under 5% of daily Covid-19 tests are positive.

Kenya closed schools for its 18 million students in March 2020, re-opened them in October 2020 for exams, and then fully re-opened them in January 2021. The non-profit Girls Education Challenge measured learning losses during the nine-month closure period and found, “The impact of school closures on the girls in our sampled schools has been stark – we find that girls have suffered very large learning losses in both math and reading.”

Kenya’s Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit conducted a study on The Impact Of Covid-19 On Adolescents In Kenya. It concluded that, “With the backdrop of school closures, economic challenges occasioned by the pandemic, and too much idle time on their hands, numerous adolescent girls faced teenage pregnancies and early marriages. The Ministry of Health information system records indicate that over 328,000 girls got pregnant in the first year of the pandemic – a significant number. As schools reopened a proportion of girls did not re-enroll due to inability to pay school fees and unintended pregnancies.”

Tanzania. The country’s vaccination campaign only kicked off this summer when President Hassan (who took office when President Magufuli, a pandemic denier, died this spring from what was widely speculated to be Covid 19 complications) received a highly publicized jab on national television. Since then, Tanzania has administered about one million doses of COVID vaccines to its population of 58 million.

In September, the government launched a program to increase vaccinations using mobile vehicles to reach marginalized communities and upping the number of vaccination centers from about 500 to over 6,000. Progress has been slow, with conspiracy theories and rumors about safety issues creating vaccine hesitancy, especially in rural areas. Infection rates have dropped, and fewer cases may also be contributing to vaccine hesitancy.

Tanzanian public schools closed for 4 months in Spring 2020 but have otherwise been open. A small survey of students in 15 schools in the Zanzibar district (including 10 secondary and five primary schools) revealed that at least 69 students dropped out of school during the period of the closure:15 students became pregnant, two students were married, four female students were subjected to sexual harassment, and 23 students engaged in child labor.

How WMI Can Help: The closure of schools in response to the Covid-19 virus has unleashed an ancillary pandemic disproportionately affecting teen-age girls. Unwanted pregnancies, forced adolescent marriages, and lost academic progress are threatening to deprive a cohort of school-aged girls with access to an education and future opportunities.

WMI and its local partners can assist with frameworks that support the safe return of girls to school after pregnancy. WMI can publicize and prioritize the reproductive health and rights of all young people, especially vulnerable, adolescent girls. We can continue to expand our girls/boys group program, which provides weekly sessions discussing topics such as sexual health and hygiene, as well as creative expression and business skills. 

WMI’s mission to fund and train rural businesswomen is creating a network of empowered mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers who have the resources to reach out to adolescent girls in their villages who need their help to emerge from this unforeseen crisis.
Jumbo Loan Program Launched in Karatu, Tanzania Loan Hub
WMI, led by our Tanzania fellow Jane Masila, has spent the past year developing a jumbo loan program to reach ten women across five different villages in the Arusha Region of Tanzania. Each woman received roughly $450 to support her business venture and the loans carry an extended ten-month loan term instead of the usual sixth-month term.

Our 2021 Business Visiting Report shows that the jumbo borrowers have expanded their businesses by hiring more employees, offering more products, or upgrading their equipment or work areas. To date the jumbo borrowers have maintained a perfect repayment record. They have also been able to contribute to their savings and that has in turn inspired other women to save more of their income. This program provides a new realm of possibilities for rural women who need larger loans to expand their businesses and we are looking forward to their assessment of the jumbo loan’s impact once they have completed the ten-month loan term. Learn more about these impressive ladies:
Asneti Baha joined the WMI loan program in 2015 and has developed into a savvy businesswoman who continually improves her business operations. She has three children and operates a retail shop in town. Asneti’s income covered school fees for her children and the eldest is now employed at Tanzania National Parks. As part of her business, she buys crops from local farmers at wholesale prices and resells them at retail. With her jumbo loan she expanded her shop by adding new products.
Adesiana Elizaria also joined the loan program in 2015. She owns two businesses, a retail shop, and a small restaurant. She too has paid her children’s school fees from her business income and covered most of her family’s basic needs. Her eldest daughter has been able to attend college and will graduate next year due in part to her mother’s hard work and commitment. Her daughter plans on helping to continue to expand the business so that her siblings can also continue their education.
Tanzania Loan Program Expands to New Maasai Villages
Under the leadership of our local community partner, Naiborr Omom Initiatives (NOI), and with the strategic advice of WTWT, our development partner in the U.K., WMI was able to expand the loan program to the three villages of Alailelai Ward: Olchaniomelok, Sendui and Alailelai, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).
We are very fortunate to have Maria Mirumu working as a local coordinator for the new loan groups. She is 24 years old and a graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam with a B.A. in Statistics. She was born near the shores of Lake Manyara in Arusha region into a family of more than 15 children. Her father is a traditional leader (Alaigwanani) with three wives. As a Maasai girl from a poor family background she was unlikely to receive an education but for a scholarship from Asante Africa Foundation and the unwavering support of relatives. Maria is married and has one daughter.

Our team on the ground received many requests for business loans from women in these villages who had heard about our loan program operations in adjacent areas. There is a lot of poverty amongst Maasai in this ward, being more remote from the tourist area. The challenges are lack of education amongst the adults, insufficient income to send their children to school, poor nutrition, poor health, and lack of economic opportunities. The new borrowers have gotten off to a great start with their business training, first loans and support from our local coordinators.
Amazi Foods Steps Up

In 2018, WMI began a pilot project with Amazi Foods, a small organic, dried-fruit snack company here in the U.S. that sources its ingredients from Uganda. Amazi builds direct relationships with jackfruit and plantain farmers and pays its partners higher than local market prices. The snacks are manufactured and packaged by Amazi’s partner company, Negonja Organics, which is staffed entirely by Ugandans, over 90 percent of whom are women or youths (under 30 years old) or both. Amazi was founded by Renee Dunn, a Bethesda, MD native, who is the company’s CEO.

In September, Amazi snacks were showcased on Good Morning America’s Deals & Steals feature. If you are interested in more information on their products, check out their web site: https://amazifoods.com/
Kenya’s Rural Businesswomen Carry On
With businesses rebounding over the summer, WMI and its local partner, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, plan to expand loan program services this fall in the villages surrounding the conservancy on the Laikipia Plateau in northern Kenya. This past year we facilitated field trips for the women in the northern cluster, who are mainly pastoralists living in an increasingly dry region. They visited large farms to learn effective dairy farming techniques. 

The women were trained on the dairy farming process (milch cows) to reduce over-reliance on pastoral farming (cattle, goats, sheep) which requires continual access to grasslands for free-range grazing. Climate change has led to more droughts and floods which increases the vulnerability of pastoralists' households whose livelihoods depend on selling healthy livestock. Animals become weak and fall ill as they search greater distances for suitable grass and water and family members endure long separations from home guarding their herds. The livestock herds come into conflict with local wildlife and human conflicts arise as well as too many herders compete for shrinking grasslands. Domestic farming relies on fodder the women can grow to feed to their dairy cows and there is always a ready local market for milk.
This fall, WMI is funding start-up loans for 250 additional rural women in this area of Kenya. We are working to continue to provide village women with critical information, training, and resources so that they can diversify their income-producing activities in the face of changing climate conditions that are threatening traditional livelihoods. In the next newsletter, a report on the beekeeping training session for 300 loan program members!
Enthusiastic Attendance at Continuing Education Workshop for WMI Headquarters Staff

This past year, lock downs and school closures presented many challenges to our local staff at WMI Headquarters in Buyobo, Uganda. With gatherings of up to 200 people now permitted in private spaces, WMI’s local director, director, Olive Wolimbwa, organized a workshop event for our local coordinators to review loan program operating parameters and address new challenges presented to rural businesswomen by the pandemic.

Workshops always have a well-thought out agenda posted at the front of the room. It helps keep everyone on track throughout the long day.

Our senior executive team members lead the workshop: Olive Wolimbwa, Local Director; Jackie Namonye, Assistant Local Director, and Irene Phoebe Wetaka, Deputy Assistant Local Director. These ladies have been directing the loan program since its inception.

Olive listening for workshop attendees to provide the right answer to a question. The workshops are very interactive - everyone will be called on to answer questions, role play, participate in skits, and sing songs that emphasize responsible management of personal finances.

Our local coordinators pay close attention and take notes during the workshop. Oral presentations are the primary method for providing continuing education and information to our staff.

Many ladies travel long distances to attend the workshops so they last all day.
In order to keep energy levels high, a hearty lunch is always served mid-day. The ladies greatly appreciate WMI's efforts to continue their training and education in a positive environment.
Olive taking her lunch break - the wall behind her features pictures of the many loan groups managed by our Headquarters staff in the districts surrounding Mbale.
Jackie is never without a smile or a song or a word of encouragement for the local coordinators.

WMI is extremely grateful to our donors - you make WMI's work possible. Thank you for your thoughtfulness in supporting WMI's program to empower rural women and families in East Africa. The pandemic has created new challenges for rural businesswomen and WMI has been able to continues to provide loans, training and resources during this global crisis. Your support is truly making a difference in reducing global poverty and improving outcomes for thousands of rural households in East Africa.


The WMI Board of Directors 

 Robyn Nietert   Betsy Gordon  Deborah Smith  Jane Erickson 
   Terry Ciccotelli   Trix Vandervossen  June Kyakobye