• Sunflower Therapeutics Grant

  • WMI Office and Community Building in Tanzania Completed!

  • New Loan Hub Launched in Kesese, Uganda

  • Meet The New Loan Hub Managers

  • Village Health Teams Carry Out Polio Vaccinations

  • Uganda Schools Re-open!

  • 100 New Loans Issued in Drought-stricken Northern Kenya

Country Updates:

In very good news, corona virus infection rates have plummeted in East Africa with Uganda and Kenya reporting fewer than 25 new daily infections and Tanzania reporting fewer than 75. Vaccination rates are climbing - Kenya reports over 22% of the population is now vaccinated, while the rates in the other countries are somewhat lower. The economies of all the countries are now fully open and children are back in school full-time.

While the corona virus threat wanes, other challenges jeopardize the region’s stability. Last November, terrorist bombs killed three people and injured dozens more in Kampala – the attacks were attributed to an Islamic State affiliate operating in DR Congo’s restive Kivu and Ituri regions, which are next-door to Uganda. Uganda responded in February with a joint military action with DR Congo that reportedly killed over 1,000 terrorists.

In the last 25 years, over six million people have died in armed conflicts in DR Congo and surrounding countries. The violence is fueled in large part by the struggle to control rare earth minerals and other resources. DR Congo and Uganda share a 550-mile, highly porous, land border in what is known as Africa’s Great Lakes Region - the cycles of conflict in DR Congo destabilize Uganda as well and stress its domestic infrastructure. Uganda houses one of the world’s largest populations of displaced people: 1.5 million refugees mainly fleeing unrest in the DR Congo and Sudan. 

Meanwhile in Kenya a devastating drought continues to engulf the northern part of the country. The much-anticipated November/December rains were meager – the north has received less than 30% of normal rainfall since September. Wildlife, livestock, farmers, and local villagers are all competing for access to the shrinking water reserves, resulting in an increase in violent conflicts, cattle raiding, food shortages, and malnutrition. 

The drought is also affecting Tanzania where food prices increased 6.5 % in January of 2022 over the same month last year and maize (corn) prices are 25 percent higher than 12 months earlier.
WMI Receives Grant from Sunflower Therapeutics
WMI was delighted to be selected as one of four non-profits to receive a year-end grant from Sunflower Therapeutics, located in Cambridge, MA. Sunflower is a unique biotechnology start-up focused on reducing the time and cost to develop and manufacture biologics for patients around the world. It is a Women-Owned Small Business, with a world-class team of scientists, engineers, and manufacturing experts.

In 2021, Sunflower made a pledge to donate 10% of its profit to four non-profit organizations selected by their staff. They chose organizations aligned with their mission, focusing on access to healthcare and empowering local female leaders. To increase awareness of the non-profits’ work, Sunflower highlighted each organization on its social media platforms, starting with WMI. We are extremely grateful to be recognized by the Sunflower staff and for the support they have provided to WMI’s mission of empowering rural women.
WMI Office and Community Building in Tanzania Loan Hub Completed!
After 10 years of running loan program operations and training sessions from schools, churches, and the sitting rooms of staff members, WMI’s loan hub in Karatu, TZ now has a home of its own. Under the eagle eye supervision of WMI Fellow Jane John Masila and loan hub staff, including Chairperson, Imani Albert; Treasurer, Levina Margwe; and, Secretary Martha Huchet, the builder, Jeremiah Construction Company, did an excellent job completing the office compound on schedule.

WMI contributed 75% of the total cost and Ganako Women Community Organization (GWOCO), our local partner, contributed 25%. The project includes a conference hall, two offices and one storeroom. After the project was handed over by the contractor, the women were elated and spent the next three weeks cleaning the buildings, planting landscaping and planning for the launch party, as they had invited many local dignitaries to attend.

The Karatu District Commissioner, Abbas J Kayanda, invited as the guest of honor for the ceremony, cut the ribbon and joined the ladies in some exuberant singing, dancing and celebrating. The festivities continued well into the evening as guests enjoyed the local food and specialties prepared by the loan program members. Impressed with the women’s achievements, the District Commissioner pledged to connect his office of Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism with the loan hub leaders so the women can advertise their traditional handmade products to a larger audience and bigger markets. The ceremony was a tremendous success and was televised live on ITV (IPP MEDIA) television. 
Expansion of Loan Program to Kasese District, Uganda
Kesese District is in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains of western Uganda, an area hit hard by both tribal and political conflicts, which coupled with yearly river flooding, has driven many people to abandon villages and live in camps which have few economic opportunities. The area suffers from high poverty and illiteracy levels, increasing numbers of young mothers, orphans and widows, and high unemployment.
For the past two years, the non-profit organization, Educate A Child International (EACI), has promoted village savings and group lending programs to increase small business opportunities for impoverished families in rural Kasese. EACI also provides families with training on clean cooking alternatives and the use of fuel-efficient stoves.

This past summer, EACI’s team traveled to WMI’s loan hub in Buseesa to train our borrowers there in clean cooking techniques. During the visit, EACI proposed that WMI partner with it to launch a loan program in Kasese. Impressed by EACI’s commitment to rural development, WMI agreed.

In January, two local women leaders from Kasese spent 10 days in Buseesa learning how to manage and operate a WMI loan program. In February, staff from our local partner, Buseesa Community Development Center (BCDC), traveled to Kasese to train the first 60 borrowers in recordkeeping and business skills. Most of the women in the new loan groups are over 45 and are caring for extended families. They had extremely limited business experience and thus we devised a longer loan repayment schedule to meet their needs.
Because there was no formal access to credit for village women in the area, they had worked with EACI to implement an informal group lending scheme called Merry-Go-Round, which is a very common among village women in East Africa. Women in the group save $1-$2 per week. Then the savings is lent to the women on a rotating basis, in amounts of $5-$75, at a monthly interest rate of 5-10% per month. The extremely high interest rate is meant to increase the pot of money available for lending and to encourage women to repay the funds quickly so they can be re-lent to the next woman in the rotation. 

The Merry-Go-Round lending scheme has many drawbacks, including long waits to get a loan, enormously high interest, very limited loan funds, and a short repayment window – but it is frequently the only alternative available to village women to acquire a small stake to start a business and generate income for their families. With a repayment term of 12 months, a very favorable interest rate of 10% flat for the entire year, and sufficient funds to lend each of 60 women approximately $100 all at once ($6,000 total), the WMI loan program was enthusiastically welcomed by the women of Kasese and we believe it will enable these hard-working ladies to launch profitable businesses. 
Meet The Newest WMI Loan Program Managers
Hellen Biira and Jennifer Muhindo underwent 10 days of rigorous training to learn how to manage the new WMI loan program in Kasese. Taking them under their wing, the BCDC staff in Buseesa made sure the ladies understood the fundamentals of WMI loan program operations, how to manage loan disbursement and collection, and how to manage their bank account.  

Hellen is single, with one child, and is currently pursuing a diploma in social work and administration. She is very well organized and wants to help other single women become independent businesswomen.

Jennifer is 41, married, and has six children. She is very active in the local community. She finished her Senior 3 level of schooling and was not able to proceed further due to a lack of school fees. Now she wants to help other women launch businesses so that they can provide for their families and give their children greater opportunities.

Uganda Schools Re-open!

After almost two years at home, Uganda students were finally able to return to school at the beginning of January. Uganda had the longest school shutdown in the world, which started in March 2020 (like much of the rest of the world). A prior attempt to open schools last May 2021 ended in immediately shutting down again because of an increase in corona virus cases. 

The shutdown was extremely hard on rural families. Online or alternative learning was not effective or accessible to most students. Learning essentially came to a standstill – but students’ lives did not. Most students were left idle during the day, as their parents worked, and many are now repeating grades, especially those who had to take major exams to advance from primary to secondary school or secondary school to university. Teen pregnancies increased dramatically during the lockdown, which has greatly reduced the number of girls returning to school and increased the demands on families to help care for new babies. Additionally, many older students took on jobs to help their families and as a result are not returning to school. But as you can see from the pictures, the students who are returning to Buyobo Primary, located behind WMI Headquarters in Buyobo, UG, are jubilant!

Village Health Teams Administer Polio Vaccines to 2,500 Children

Polio is still a threat in many regions in Africa. While the African Region was certified free of wild poliovirus last year (four years without a case) outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) continue to spread. cVDPV spreads in villages where not enough children have been vaccinated against it. Vaccination programs were interrupted last year due to the corona virus surge. 

Africa is the epicenter of cVDPV cases - more than half of all global cases since 2018 have been reported there. Impressively, almost 100 million African children have been vaccinated against polio since July 2020. The African Union is focused on how to accelerate the transition of polio infrastructure into countries’ health systems and how to assist in the administration of vaccines.

In Buyobo, Uganda where WMI is headquartered, we support the local Village Health Teams (VHTs) who work tirelessly to bring public health benefits to rural families. Women in the loan program access health information and services through the VHTs and many also volunteer as a part of this outreach network. In January, the VHTs administered polio vaccines to nearly 2,500 local children. Traveling down backroads and dirt pathways, the volunteers reached deep into the bush to make sure that all youngsters had access to this life-saving inoculation. WMI’s support is funded by the interest generated by the loans. The VHT program is just one of the community services projects rural women can now help fund because of the success of the loan program they manage so carefully! 

New Loans Issued in Lewa Loan Hub

This winter, nearly 100 new loans were issued to new borrowers in 6 groups in the Western and Northern cluster of villages surrounding the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. Covid 19 brought many local businesses to a standstill as the government severely restricted operations. We are very encouraged that the businesses in the area are recovering, and that the economic situation is generally more favorable to the launch of the businesses being started by the new borrowers.

For the last six months, this region received erratic rains and that has hugely affected the agribusiness and pastoral businesses operated by local women. Livestock loss and crop failures have increased. With the help of the training staff at Lewa, WMI farmers are being taught to practice drip irrigation farming, which uses less water, saves time, and increases yields. Some of the women’s groups formed savings clubs to buy the drip lines. By the third quarter of this year, we estimate 60% of the women practicing agribusiness will have installed a drip irrigation system.

Meet Sarah, a continuing loan group member. She practices orchard farming. She has set up a fruit tree nursery where she germinates the seeds and sells the seedlings to local communities. She intends to increase production to target three contiguous counties and then hopes to expand nationally. Her business is profitable since there are few players in this business and little competition. The main challenge of her business is a reliable water supply; she is currently saving for a storage tank that will enable continuous access to sufficient water for all her seedlings and trees.

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