January/February 2015            




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In This Update...

Overview of WMI's Annual Field Visit to East Africa

  • The Next Generation
  • WMI's Local Leadership Continues to Excel
  • Continuing Outreach to Communities in Northern Uganda
  • Loan Hub Growth and More Building Construction Plans
  • Expanding Financial Access for Extremely Rural Communities
  • Field Visit Summary

The Next Generation

Having just returned last week from my annual field visit, I am happy to report that each year WMI's East Africa staff of rural women becomes more experienced and skilled at the myriad tasks required to manage a successful, community-based loan and savings program. In a bit of a reversal, the Summary of my visit is at the end of this Update - first I wanted to tell you about an incident that crystallizes the far-reaching impact of WMI's work.


During our annual field visits, we spend a lot of time sharing day-to-day activities with the women and during those hours we learn so much about how the loan program impacts their lives. On a sunny Wednesday morning, I was helping one of our newest accounting staff members, Agnes Wododa, (who joined the loan program five years ago) with some spreadsheet formulas. Her son, Jonathan, came into the office to work on his new lap top, which Agnes had just purchased as he is going to start University in the fall. Her elder son entered University last year and she had also purchased a lap top for him.  Her two other children are still in lower school.  Agnes' husband is paralysed and she is able to care for him at home.  She is the sole support of her family.  In chatting while we worked, Agnes told us none of the improvements in her family's situation would have been possible without WMI.  She explained that not just her family, but many other families with WMI-financed businesses, were now sending their children for higher education.


Jonathan asked if he could show us something on his lap top (which he had just received two days before). We watched as he played a video featuring Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg explaining how anyone, anywhere in the world could achieve greatness through their own ingenuity. He told us they were his inspiration and he thanked us for the WMI loan program making his University career possible. He told us he would also use his lap top to help his mom learn the spreadsheet programs necessary for her new position. That's when we started crying just a bit - happy tears.


Our experience with WMI has taught us that narrative data is often underestimated, but is quite illuminating when operating a local program, embedded in a community so that you can witness changes over a period of years. It is slow, committed development that is measurable in demonstrable attitude changes in important sectors like the number of children attaining computer literacy or pursuing University degrees.  One of the lasting legacies of the WMI loan program will be the advanced educational opportunities that village children are able to pursue because of the income from their moms' businesses.  Your support is making this change possible.


 WMI Local Leadership Continues To Excel

At WMI headquarters in Buyobo, Uganda, spreadsheets are all the rage and budgeting discussions dominate the weekly executive committee meetings. Olive Wolimbwa, WMI's Local Director, has assembled a team of 20+ women who provide leadership and supervision for all of the loan hubs. They are bringing a high level of control and oversight to rural loan program operations.  This year they prepared an end-of-year profit/loss statement and balance sheet for headquarter loan hub operations. This gave the ladies enormous insight into program operating efficiency and provided a valuable planning tool for future growth. It also engendered ongoing discussions of how to improve operations, cut costs, consolidate functions and generally provide the most effective and efficient rural loan program possible.

WMI's East Africa Finance Director, Melissa LaReau, has been instrumental in developing the ability of the team to handle higher level accounting and management functions. She has trained team members in Excel and basic computer literacy, as well as developed checks and balances to ensure financial information is accurately recorded and maintained. She was assisted by WMI Intern Nicole Bolliger during the fall and is now assisted by WMI's Spring Intern, Karen Bustard. They are providing excellent human capacity building for the rural women of Buyobo.


Olive and the headquarters team continue to develop loan program services and outreach. They are extremely talented in training new trainers, troubleshooting problems in other loan hubs, and implementing new ways to improve the benefits WMI provides its loan program members.


Adult Literacy, Girls Group and HIV/AIDS - Cervical Cancer Screening are just a few of the ancillary programs they launched to support rural women and their families - all of them paid for by income generated from loan program operations.  The screening is a particularly poignant program as  HIV/ADIS and cervical cancer are frequently discussed in the popular press and women are very worried that they might have these diseases.  After testing, each woman screened is counseled in a private session with a trained health worker so that she is fully informed about her status.  Women tell us it is such an enormous psychological relief to know their status and the steps they need to take to stay healthy.



Continuing Outreach to Communities in Northern Uganda

WMI continues to work in Gulu, Uganda - a part of Northern Uganda that still bears the scars of the twenty-year insurgency led by The Lord's Resistance Army. Although GuluTown is saturated with NGOs, most engage in short-term projects and then move on. As a result, many families here still live in deep poverty. Many single women not only head households, but they continue to share their meager resources with the many orphans living in the area.

 Susan Aringo - WMI Local Coordinator - Gulu,Uganda Loan Hub- 2015

Operating in Gulu can be discouraging; but, not for Evelyn Achieng and Susan Aringo who manage the WMI loan program here. They are organized, positive and supportive in their slow and steady expansion of loan program services to women in the area. Susan took a few minutes to record a video telling us about the challenges faced by rural women in Northern Uganda and how the WMI loan program has allowed her to build a successful business that helps sustain her family.

 Aguti Benna, Clinician, Medical Centre - Gulu, Uganda - 2015

In addition, the loan program members work with the Karen Health Centre, located next door to the small shed where they meet. We had a chance to talk with Benna Scovia Aguti, who graduated from Clinical School in Gulu last year and joined the health centre as the clinician in charge.  She serves the health needs of loan program members and had a few minutes to tell us about how the loan program has improved access to medical care for entire families.



We also chatted with WMI loan program member Fatima Chemwolkut (seated at sewing machine in picture at right), who is 39, married and has three boys. She grew up in Gulu and lived there during the decades of fighting. She told us that her family used to sleep in churches or hospitals each night. They would run there for safety as soon as it began to get dark. They slept there because the buildings were bigger and harder for the rebels to burn.  She told us sometimes it was difficult to tell the fighting factions apart and they were attacked by many different armed soldiers. She started tailoring 10 years ago.  As the area has become more secure, her business has grown and now has two employees. She is just getting her first WMI loan and will use it to add material and supplies to her small business, which operates from a 8'X8' lock-up space in the Gulu marketplace.



Loan Hub Growth and More Building Construction Plans

Two years ago, WMI launched the loan hub in Buputo, Uganda with a local women's organization called Matuwa Women's Group. This January the first borrowers there were ready to graduate to independent banking.  The ladies organized a celebration to honor the graduates and the determination of the 150+ hard-working ladies who have launched businesses in the local area. Located about 3 hours from WMI's headquarters in Buyobo, our team of 10 piled into a mini-van and made the journey across dirt roads bobby-trapped with van-eating potholes to share in the festivities.


We were met by a raucous parade of ladies. My favourite parade spectacle was the innovative portable sound system, nailed to a desk, carried on the shoulders of some very strong young men! Graduating women were awarded WMI ponchos and umbrellas - both of which were much appreciated.


 The women of Mutuwa are continuing to expand this loan hub and now need a small building to house their growing program operations. In a characteristic show of their determination, each Mutuwa member contributed $5 to a building campaign and they have so far purchased about 6,000 bricks, 3 loads of sand, hardcore rock for the foundation and 10 bags of cement.


A plot of land has been donated by one of the village elders, Maya Loy, whose daughter and son-in-law, Joyce and John Wanda, are founders of the local clinic and the model school, Arlington Academy of Hope, which partners with WMI on loan hub funding.  The ladies spread out to make a chain around the perimeter of the land dedicated for the new building.  WMI is committed to working with the ladies to support the headquarters construction.  In a ceremonial groundbreaking, Maya Loy and I used a hoe to dig holes for foundation plantings (she was much better with hoe than I was!).  Spending the day with the Mutuwa women gave us a chance to get to know them better. Sarah's story exemplifies how these women are changing their lives through their business operations.


Sarah Kinisoni - 44 - 8 children - Buputo, Uganda


With her first loan of $150 (which she received two years ago), Sarah bought vegetables from a local farmer and resold them in the village center. Six months later she used her second loan of $200 to open a small roadside stand where she made and served mandazi (doughnut-type snack) chapati (tortilla-type snack) and tea. Six months later she took a third loan of $200 and expanded her vegetable business. With her last WMI loan of $250, she expanded each business and both businesses are now profitable. She saves regularly to pay school fees for her children (eight of them ranging in age from 7 to 36). Because of the loans and the businesses she was able to build, Sara told us she can educate and clothe her children and also support other family members.


We asked Sarah to give us an example of how her business generates a profit: It costs her $3 in supplies to make 60 mandazi (no labor cost - she makes them herself and it takes less than an hour). She charges 10� per mandazi and sells out each day. Her profit margin is 100% and she clears $3/day on mandazi alone. She figured her profit margin on chapati was about the same, and much higher on tea. She usually works six days a week and her children help her when they are not in school. Sarah had all the figures about her business income and expenses at her finger tips. She was proud of her diversified operations and very grateful to WMI for making the loan program available in Buputo. 

Expanding Financial Access for Extremely Rural Communities



WMI continues to work with the committed staff at Postbank Uganda (PBU) to expand access to financial services for rural women. PBU's Head of Credit, Alex Kayaayo, and Head of Microfinance, Esther Mutata, made the seven-hour journey from Kampala to Atiak to visit WMI's bustling loan hub near the South Sudan border.  They graciously addressed new borrowers who were in training for their first loans. WMI very much appreciated this show of support by senior PBU executive leadership.


Given the thriving businesses established by the 300 borrowers in this loan hub, PBU announced that it would begin mobile van service to Atiak. This wonderful news was enthusiastically received by the loan hub members. There are currently no banks located in Atiak. Travel each way by public transport to Gulu - the closest town with bank branches - takes about 4 hours.   Depending on bus schedules, our ladies sometimes have to spend the night in Gulu just to do routine banking. PBU mobile van service will be a huge benefit for the entire community.



Field Visit Summary



Our commitment to building human capacity is paying off - hub leaders are now adept at program operations. They are also becoming more confident in troubleshooting operational issues, identifying areas for improvement, and brainstorming ideas for expanding and enhancing program services. They are excellent trainers and have become leaders  in their communities. They are vested in the program's success. And, significantly, so are the rural communities where we operate. Time and again, local government council members and civic organization representatives turned out to greet us and thank WMI for bringing the loan program to their communities. They convey their good wishes and pledge their cooperation to the WMI board and all WMI donors around the world. Working through women-run community based organizations has allowed WMI to build a solid platform of support across all local sectors.


Borrowers' businesses continue to provide a reliable source of income that directly results in improved nutrition, health options and educational opportunities for the entire family. As greater numbers of women start businesses in contiguous geographic areas, they expand the informal support network for all self-employed, rural women. The ladies talk to each other and learn from each other, adopting successful techniques or strategies that they see their neighbours using. "Tell a woman" is perhaps the most ancient information highway.


The sharing of information is not just related to business skills and strategies - it spreads to other sectors such as government programs, school openings and new transportation options. Running businesses has led the women to become more attuned to the importance of up-to-date information and how it can impact their lives. This may seem obvious, but consider that in most villages there is no daily newspaper or television and radio news can be erratic. You have to be proactive to acquire current information and the women are becoming adept at doing so.


We continue to work with PBU to bring new and improved financial services to women in rural areas.  Expansion of mobile banking services via armored vans is perhaps one of the most beneficial services a bank can provide to remote communities.  When the PBU staff sets up mobile banking services at WMI's headquarters every other week, the lines extend around the corner of the building.  Village women need reliable, basic financial services to meet the needs of their families. WMI is committed to continuing to work to make such access available to rural communities in East Africa. 






This successful field visit was a wonderful way to start 2015! This is the beginning of WMI's eighth year of operation. Each of you reading this newsletter has helped make WMI a real force in the delivery of financial service to remote communities. 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 this year 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        jgkyakobye@yahoo.com
Trix Vandervossen   bvandervossen@imf.org 

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