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In This Update...

Report on 2014 Field Visits to Loan Hubs in East Africa

WMI President, Robyn Nietert, spent the better part of January and February visiting WMI's loan hubs in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.   She was able to spend time with local loan hub leaders, WMI's NGO partners, banking partners and government officials who are supporting loan program activities. There was plenty of time to meet with borrowers, tour their businesses, and learn from them how the loan program is continuing to improve household living conditions for poor, rural families across East Africa. Trip highlights included: 

  • Postbank Uganda's new loan product geared to the needs of rural businesswomen
  • Dedication of the new sub-hub meeting pavilion in Buteza, Uganda
  • Graduation celebrations in Buyobo, Konokoya and Bumwalukani, Uganda
  • Participating in cervical cancer/breast cancer/HIV/AIDS screening at loan hubs
  • Marching to the nearly completed WMI building in Atiak, Uganda
  • Accompanying Shikokho and Keveye, Kenya loan hub leaders to bank meetings
  • Shopping in the enlarged weekly market at WMI's loan hub village in Tanzania



Uganda - PostBank Introduces New Loan Product for Rural Businesswomen and Honored Guests Visit Buyobo

It is always a pleasure to step off the plane at Entebbe Airport in January, where it is typically a balmy 80 degrees. And so it was with this trip, but that was not the only reason to smile. Upon arriving in Kampala, I was met by Melissa LaRue, WMI's 2014 Resource Fellow in Buyobo. She accompanied me to our annual meeting with the staff of our Uganda banking partner, PostBank Uganda. The annual review was especially exciting this year as PBU announced to us that they were rolling out a group loan product designed specifically to serve rural business women (men can also qualify). In my meeting with the bank's Managing Director, Stephen Mukweli, he emphasized PBU's commitment to continue to develop services that meet the needs of this growing market.

Inspired by WMI's successful village-level loan program, PBU has developed a new loan instrument that women can graduate into after 24 months of training and support in the WMI loan program. PBU staff will conduct the loan application process right in our loan hub villages, which is a big advantage for our borrowers. Right now WMI guarantees the women's transition loans for one year and that guarantee will no longer be required, which makes the new transition process entirely market driven. This will result in a more sustainable program and better allocation of WMI's limited resources. Additionally, PBU will provide advanced business training for the women transitioning to banks loans.  PBU appointed a new Microfinance Credit Manager, Esther Mututta SSenoga (left). She traveled to Mbale and met with Olive Wolimbwa, WMI's Local Director, and Assistant Local Director, Jacqueline Namonye, as well as other loan hub staff, to discuss program operations. She is extremely knowledgeable about the particular issues faced by rural women with smaller businesses. WMI borrowers appreciated the time and attention she gave to their questions and concerns when she visited Buyobo.

PBU's Managing Director also made a trip to WMI's Buyobo loan hub to see loan program operations in action. He was accompanied by Uganda's Honorable Minister of Microfinance, Caroline Okao Amali. Hundreds of ladies in the loan program, along with spouses, gathered to meet the honored guests. The Minister praised the ladies for their hard work and the WMI loan program for its committed service to develop rural businesswomen. Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper reported that: "The minister said the development of rural microfinance institutions was important to the economy and agriculture. She said Women's Microfinance Initiative was one of the best microfinance institutions in the country."

PBU was very complimentary of the loan program WMI has developed in its six years of working with impoverished women in small villages. Catalyzing a change in the way regulated financial institutions do business with rural women is one of WMI's goals - PBU's newest initiative to reach this underserved segment of the population demonstrates how WMI's small loans can bring about a very big change.

PBU's Esther Mututta and Strpehn Mukweli, Hon. Minister of Microfinance, Caroline Okao Amali, WMI's Robyn Nietert, BWA's Olive Wolimbwa, PBU Governor Grace, BWA's Jackie Namonye and WMI,s Melissa LaRue.



 Uganda - Annual Graduation Celebration in Buyobo

BWA held a graduation ceremony for all of the women who completed their two years of successfully borrowing and repaying loans from WMI.  Graduation was a huge success and borrowers/administrators from various loan hubs, including some in Kenya, were in attendance. Every year I look forward to addressing the WMI borrowers at the event: bringing them greetings from all their supporters in the US: congratulating them; and, encouraging them to continue their successful business operations. As my Lugisu gets better each year, the speech gets longer each year! Local government officials, partner development organizations, the head teacher of Buyobo primary, and many others joined the borrowers for this celebration. There were so many guests that food preparation started two days before graduation and women took turns sleeping at the WMI office to oversee the cooking the night before the ceremony!

As is their tradition, the day kicked off with a brass band leading the parade of borrowers, guests, government officials, and villagers through the town. As master of ceremonies, Assistant Local Director, Jacqueline Namonye, (pictured on the masthead) captured the crowd's attention. Local Director, Olive Wolimbwa (also on the masthead), presided over the event like a seasoned Grand Marshall of Mardi Gras.

The day was not just about speeches and marching - it was also full of entertainment: borrowers performed a drama highlighting how the loan program fundamentally changes lives for the rural poor, the primary school girls showed off in a brilliant cultural dance, and the band impressed the audience with its acrobatic stunts!

To show their appreciation to the entire WMI family in the US, the ladies always present me with gifts from their businesses. The live turkey is of course a perennial favorite.

Feeding all the guests is a Herculean task requiring massive numbers of bananas to mash into crowd-pleasing mounds of matoke, plus over 150 kilos of rice!

At the end of the day, the BWA staff posed on the steps of the WMI building, looking very smart in their coordinated business suits (Olive Wolimbwa and Jackie Namonye, center).  These ladies are all veterans of the WMI loan program and help administer the loan program in all of the other hubs throughout East Africa.   They are managers, business skills trainers, local coordinators, secretaries, budget analysts, data entry specialists, and so much more!  Their leadership, advice and counsel has forged the path for WMI's successful operations and expansion.



Uganda - Dedication of the Buteza Sub-Hub Pavilion

As the loan program continues to grow, so does the service area of the original Buyobo loan hub in Eastern Uganda, which is operated by our community-based organization (CBO) partner, the Buyobo Women's Association (BWA). With over 900 rotating customers, this loan hub has extended its coverage to include not just Sironko District, but Mbale, Manafwa and Kapchorwa Districts as well. In order to efficiently manage loan program operations, Olive Wolimbwa has established sub-hub collection stations throughout the service area.

The Buteza sub-hub has been in operation since 2010, with a rotating group of 100 borrowers. Over the years, they have maintained a near perfect repayment record and are extremely dedicated to their businesses. There is a waiting list of ladies in the area hoping to join the loan program. To meet this demand, WMI constructed a sub-hub pavilion to accommodate local loan program activities. Designed by advisory board member Sally Kelly, the beautiful pavilion was dedicated with a raucous celebration held during my trip.

Packed into the back of trucks, three to a motorcycle, balanced on the front of bikes and streaming in by foot, it seemed like every local borrower, spouse and dignitary in the area turned out for the celebration. They were all so proud that the performance of the local WMI-funded businesses and the growing demand for the loan program warranted the building of the small pavilion in their village. Singing, dancing and speeches ensued from noon until the sun started to disappear over the western horizon.



Uganda - Celebrations in Konokoya and Bumwalukani

Buyobo is not the only loan hub graduating borrowers from WMI's village-level loan program. The Maya Agiri CBO in Bumwalukani (Bududa District) and the loan hub outside of Konokoya (also in Bududa District), operated by the Bududa Women's Development Group, are also recycling their loan funds as women complete their two years with WMI. Both held events to honor their graduates. It was an opportunity for me to travel to their hubs, meet with the CBO leaders and get to know the borrowers better.

Both hubs are extremely grateful for the loan program and their local CBO staffs are working hard to manage operations. This is not always an easy task in rural locations where communication is unreliable, resources are limited (it is a long way to go if you run out of computer paper), roads are dilapidated, and transport is expensive and time-consuming. The dedication of the local staff members is a testament to how much they value the loan program and how important it has become to the rural women who rely in its services.

The Maya Agiri CBO partners with Arlington Academy of Hope, a model school in Bumwalukani village which allows the ladies to hold meetings in their building.  One of the best parts of the celebration is calling the best savers up to the stage and recognizing their efforts with gifts provided by the CBO.

Barbara Wybar, the driving force behind the Bududa Vocational Institute, and our partner in the Konokoya loan hub, was on hand to celebrate the ladies' success.   She just completed construction of the beautiful two story addition to the vocational institute and our ladies will be on hand to help dedicate the addition in March. 

The celebration included original dramas, dances and songs emphasizing how the loan program has given rural women a chance to come out of poverty. This was the Konokoya loan hub's first annual celebration and the women were extremely enthusiastic in their performances! 


Uganda - Trip to Gulu and Atiak

Ten hours from Buyobo and a mere ten miles from the South Sudan border you will find the WMI loan hub in Atiak. It is a hot, dry, water-starved area that still bears the wounds of the Lord's Resistance Army insurgency. Now it sees refugees from the conflict across the border and an interruption in trade with its neighbor to the north. South Sudan is Uganda's largest trading partner and by some estimates, trade is off by 80% due to the fighting there. The steady stream of huge 18-wheelers loaded with shipping containers that typically rumble along the main dirt road through Atiak has decreased to a trickle. Yet, the businesses run by the ladies in the Atiak loan hub are still going on well.  The women in the loan hub are very well organized and their acute sense of solidarity has helped support them in the tough economic environment in which they do business.

The loan hub has expanded steadily and will start graduating its first borrowers this year. There is demand for loans and training from ladies throughout the area and as a result WMI has undertaken the construction of a meeting hall in the village. A local school donated the land and villagers are helping out with donations of the last bags of cement to complete the project. The building should be ready by the summer, much to the delight of the ladies who are looking forward to occupying a business operations home of their own.

Gulu town, two hours (but only about 50 kilometers) south of Atiak, is still also suffering post-conflict economic hardships. The ladies here have a high rate of illiteracy (plus, a large percentage lost family members to the insurgency), but a strong sense of determination. Our operating partner, Hope Okeny, is the founder of a local clinic, which provides office space and support services to the loan program. The clinic is a key institution serving the local population. The clinic has also developed a simple health service plan for the ladies in the loan hub.Our meeting with the CBO staff was very encouraging, as they reported borrowers are slowly improving business operations and savings rates. 


Uganda - Cancer Screening, HIV/AIDS Testing and Support for Village Health Teams



 As various loan hubs become self-sustaining and start generating more income, they are able to provide outreach services to their communities. We see this as strengthening the managing CBO's role as a resource for the local community and serving WMI's mission as a social enterprise focused on developing human capacity in rural economies. BWA is now providing support to the Village Health Teams - a group of 90 dedicated volunteers who visit each household in Buyobo every quarter to provide health information, vaccinations and emergency assistance.


To date, WMI has facilitated screening for over 800 women, in multiple loan hubs, for cervical cancer, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS. It has also arranged for counseling and education on these topics. The screening I participated in during my visit was efficiently and professionally run by medical personnel provided by our partner in Mbale, RAIN Uganda, and the one-on-one guidance meetings and education provided by their counselors was excellent. Our loan hub staff organized the ladies and provided logistical support.

Only as the years go by does the impact of various parts of our program become evident. We started cervical cancer/breast cancer/HIV screening, counseling and education last year and the results were shocking and inspiring. Most women had never been screened and they endure enormous anxiety in their daily lives as they wondered about their status. As a social enterprise we believe WMI can evolve to provide more of these holistic type services that support the ability of rural women to succeed as business entrepreneurs.



Tanzania - Visits with women in the Aleilalei and Tloma Loan Hubs



Stepping off the plane at Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport, I met up with Judy Lane, founder of the Alailelai Maasai Sustainability Organization (AMSO) and organizer of the Tloma Community Association, WMI's operating partners in the Tanzania loan hubs. The hubs are located about three hours apart.  Alailelai village is inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) and about one hour from the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unbroken volcanic caldera in the world. In an area of just 100 square miles, the Crater hosts the densest concentration of wildlife on the planet - up to 30,000 wild animals. The surrounding NCA covers over 8,000 square miles and is at an altitude of 7,000 feet, so the nights are quite cold.


The Alailelai loan hub serves women in the Maasai tribe and we were able to meet with the ladies on market day. I am happy to report that the market has doubled in size since the loan program began. There are more goods, produce and livestock for sale. It was a very busy place on Sunday afternoon!

Increased commerce is especially important for this area because the government forbids the cultivation of any crops inside the NCA. Although grazing of other cattle and livestock is permitted, all produce and grains of any kind must be trucked in from the town of Karatu (a two hour drive) or villages outside the NCA. This policy was devised to protect the area from non-native species, but it creates enormous hardships for the native Maasai, who have lived in the area for centuries. While luxury hotels dot the Crater floor, indigenous peoples eke out a meager existence around the rim. The WMI loan program is helping to change this dynamic by providing Massai women with the necessary capital and business training to start small enterprises. Judging by the crowded market, where women were selling and negotiating from dawn until dusk, the loan program is succeeding.

The Head of the Maasai tribe for the area attended our borrower meeting and congratulated WMI for bringing the loan program to this remote area and the ladies for being so responsible in running their businesses and repaying their loans. Ladies were very talkative in the meeting and asked insightful questions about loan program operations

Our guide throughout the day was Marie Johane Oloulu. She is the assistant head administrator for the Alailelai loan hub and doing an excellent job organizing the bookkeeping.

I also visited the second loan hub in Tanzania - located in the village of Tloma, outside Karatu. The ladies met us in the local schoolroom where they regularly congregate and were very eager to talk about their businesses.  They are going whole hog expanding their businesses and adding new borrowers to the loan program. The area is heavily populated and many have started butcher shops, raising baby pigs and then slaughtering them for meat on a staggered schedule. They employ local women to distribute 5 to 10 kilos of meat each in surrounding areas so that the immediate market does not get saturated.   The Tloma ladies met us in the local schoolroom where they regularly congregate and were very eager to talk about their businesses.



Kenya - Loan Hubs Begin Bank Negotiations



In Kenya, we visited the two loan hubs in the East - Shikokho and Keveye. They both are progressing rapidly. The Chanuka Women's Group in Shikokho will start graduating the first borrowers to bank loans in July. We were so pleased to accompany them on meetings to interview the branch managers of several banks in order to gather information to decide on the best transition partner. The ladies were very astute in asking questions about the different loan products that are available. The leadership from the Jelnarmah CBO in Keveye accompanied the Shikokho ladies on the bank visits, even though the Keveye loan hub just started last year. The Jelnarmah ladies look up to the Chanuka leadership as paving the way for rural women in Kenya to obtain financial services.

We had a chance to meet a number of the Chanuka borrowers and they shared their stories of how the loan program is changing their lives and improving their household living standards. One very enthusiastic borrower was Beverly Endesia. She is 35 years old and married with 6 children.

Beverly operates a hair salon. With her first loan she bought supplies, a hair dryer, and hair chemicals and was serving women "just around."   With her second loan she moved to the market and rented a stall. She is getting many customers now - being in a fixed location helps. Her marketing is word of mouth. She also opened a small side business to sell tomatoes and vegetables to school children (we see this all the time - ladies know to diversify their products). Her husband cuts hair very short (a different business then a salon) and sells SIM cards. She said it is not difficult for her to repay her loan. She said there is enough of a market to support businesses in Shikokho, "Those who were idle here - even if they start a small business with a loan they can make money." Beverly said the loan group support at the village level is critical for the women, and so is the training, especially when they are first starting out. She said because of the loan program: "Our brain is working here and there - we are not just idle."

Traveling throughout the WMI loan hubs in East Africa we hear the same sentiment repeated over and over again: the loan program has given women the opportunity to use their skills and in telligence to start businesses, where before they were just idle and felt helpless. One of the oldest women in the Keveye loan hub told us that before the loan program they were just cooped up like chickens. If that is the case, then WMI is proud to be the catalyst that is helping these chickens learn how to fly the coop!





Each of you reading this Newsletter has helped make WMI a success. On behalf of all the rural women of East Africa that WMI serves: THANK YOU! With your continued support, we look forward to bringing the benefits of the WMI loan program to even greater numbers of impoverished women in 2013 so that they can create a better life for themselves and their families. 





The WMI Board of Directors


Robyn Nietert          rgnietert@aol.com  

Betsy Gordon          betsygord@mac.com
Deborah Smith        deborahwsmith@yahoo.com

June Kyakobye        junekyaks@yahoo.com

Trix Vandervossen   bvandervossen@imf.org 

Jane Erickson          ericksonjn@verizon.net
Terry Ciccotelli        terryciccotelli@gmail.com