Olivia Wabwire, WMB loan-borrower, shares her story.
I took these pictures when the loan-borrowers from the WMB program paid their biweekly concessional loans from May-July, 2012.
Having met and examined/interviewed these women, I formed a close relationship with them. Eating in their homes and learning about their businesses illuminated my eyes to truly listen to them, their problems, identity and life style. The women were a big influence when I conducted a need-based assessment for the Microfinance program in Bududa.
To the women of the WMB program, through all of you, I truly learned to live up to my name, Elham: Inspiration.
This is the hardest transition from one country to another in my lifetime of international travel. As soon as I landed on LaGuardia airport in New York, miles and miles away from lovely Bududa, Uganda, I was bombarded with skyscrapers and cars. I miss Bududa so much. I felt a connection with the place, the people and the culture that I have never felt before. As soon as I entered my apartment in New York, I tried to prepare myself for my journey with Amnesty International.
What am I doing here? I am in an office-desk job in amnesty, the complete opposit of my work in Bududa.
There’s a part of me that deeply and truly wants to go back to Uganda. I have unfinished business with helping my women of the microfinance program. After the unsuccess of my business plan with grants, I have learnt to problem solve for different ways to help the loan-borrowers capitalize their life improvement.
I think I am suffering from a culture shock. Why now? I have always adaptd well with travel, jetlag and country-country trnsition. I have a special affinity with Uganda.
I am in awe, in shock and in disbelief. On July 14, 2012 remarks the end of an incredible journey in Africa. From experiencing through the eyes of poverty and corruption to seeing the aftermath of the mudslides and learning about the circumcision season, it has been quite the unusual, unpredictable and amazing adventure. I intend to come back though for my women, the Women’s Microfinance Bududa (WMB) loan-borrowers. I owe it to the women who live in a cycle of poverty, who struggle daily to pay for their children’s school fees and who try their best to feed their families three times a day. They are evidence for the female Bududa population that change is possible and inevitable.
I learned a lot from job, my boss and the staff and locals whom I interact on a daily basis. I learned about corruption, the background work of a non-profit organization, race and color, Lugisu, basic village medical care, religion in the Bududa district, marketing and financing and on-field interaction with the locals. These memories deserve a picture. Click.
Dare I say that this experience has been rich? Absolutely.
I remember starting my internship feeling nervous and frustrated for not gaining trust with the head coordinator of the Microfinance program. Once I broke the ice with her during the second week, we were able to explore the pros and cons of the program. For the first time in my academic career, I began to question the effectiveness of Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in rural villages. Visiting the loan-borrowers’ homes and businesses shed light to such doubt. With the success on WMB in the women’s lives from providing medical care and food, I saw a common issue during my visits among the loan-borrowers: low capital in sustaining a successful business and education for their children. I knew I had to take initiative, if any. By redesigning the WMB webpage and its marketing platform, an idea came into place: A collaboration between grants and loans. With help from my boss, Allison Neumeister, I research the economics and metrics behind joining efforts between grants and loans in MFIs and prepared a business plan. I asked myself, WMB could have a sponsorship program for the women in addition to the traditional collateral-free loans without undermining the principles of microfinance. I got started with this work by proving to myself by redesigning the WMB webpage, interviewing WMB women, documenting their stories on paper and on videos and capturing their photos in their daily lives. Click.
Today, more than ever, I feel alive. My work has proven extremely rewarding. By the end of this internship, I will have visited 40 women in their homes and around 15 women in their micro-businesses, completed a business proposal for a sponsorship program, calculated the statistics of the forms that I designed for the visits and connected with the women on a personal basis. Click.
Living here in Bududa comes with the harsh realities of not only poverty and severe illnesses, but also rampant corruption and distrust. Although it is difficult to form true friendships here because many locals assure their comradeships with Muzungus (travelling foreigners) in exchange with commodities or money, I formed two sincere relationships with the WMB head coordinator, Betty Bigala, and the nursery teacher, Somali Nakhayenze. Eating Matooke (bananas), Sukuma (greens) and chapattis in their homes and talking with their families, I was able to get a glimpse of Betty and Somali away from the work environment as beautiful, smart and independent women. As humans, we learn from our past, our present experiences including our relationships with others. Click.
Is it truly the end?
Two months ago, it seemed as if my whole world was coming to an inevitable change of character. As a Bahraini and Filipina scholar, I embarked on my new journey from my comfortable college in a suburban setting in California to a rural village in Bududa, Uganda, where Wikipedia barely has any information about this District. Bududa is unlike any other place I have ever encountered; the place gave me an instant spirit of optimism and enterprise that I could not find anywhere else. From the teachers in the newly architected building of the Bududa Vocational Academy to the orphaned students in the Children of Bududa Program, a masterpiece invoking belief in the needy, I can feel a positive energy flowing through the people here. A sense that nothing is impossible, that whatever I want to achieve, I will, and that the future is simply mine has filled me. Bududa locals embrace the present and future with open arms, endless possibilities, and with great wit and intellect. It is the start of something amazing, and I am part of it. Click.
I thank my boss Allison, whom without her personal guidance and business experience during my internship, I would not have grown as an individual, aspiring entrepreneur and woman. To Barbara Wybar, who believes in the Bududa locals and offered them an opportunity to grow with various programs, thank you. To the BVA staff who made our tedious lunches of eating posho, rice, avocadoes, beans and sukuma a lot more interesting with debates about the ethics of suicide to the supernatural in Sudan, thank you. To the CoB children who walk with the interns and me on Saturday mornings and afternoons, illuminating the names of the crops we pass by, thank you. To the interns, Val and Shiva and the Peace Corps worker, Sabia Rigby, who made my transition from California to our guesthouse in Bududa smooth and fun, thank you. To the WMB women who forced me to exercise every muscle in my brain and body in attempt to visit them and offer solutions to their daily struggles, thank you. To the locals in Township, Buloli, Soweto and all the subcounties, who gave me free boda-boda and matatu rides when I walk alone after my home and work visits, practice with me their English and my Lugisu and offer me Mandaze on the way to school, thank you. To all the guests who come to our guesthouse temporarily and share their lives and experiences with me, thank you. Final Click.
Taking a medical stand in my journey of social and economic development in rural Bududa, Uganda. More to come this week!
I cannot believe it is almost the end. My dream of starting this sponsorship program is coming to a reality. I am still visiting and assessing the loan borrowers’ home and business sites in the mountains next to the heavens and down here near to earth. Visiting the loan-borrowers’ homes and business sites in rural areas in the Bududa District are quite hard, physically and emotionally. Physically, because I have to walk and hike up the mountains, in the muddy dirt and through the fields of beans, cassavah and maze. Emotionally, because I have to interview and assess these women for the new sponsorship program I am starting here in Bududa. These interviews consist of analyzing their homes, seeing some of many women’s sad living conditions who live on the floor with their ten children and eating the same nutrition everyday, causing many to suffer from Ulcers. My biggest concern when I visit these poor home conditions is the lack of mosquito nets for the children.These nets are important investment against Malaria. In addition, the lack of shoes for the family are also a source of my concern. In rural areas, it is extremely easy to get jiggers from dusty unsanitary areas on one’s bare feet. Furthermore, it is quite difficult for me to see the priorities of many of the families I visit prioritizing one’s house improvement over their children’s education. Despite the challenges I face in my work environment from cultural and linguistic barriers to the rampant corruption in Bududa, I learn to overcome them by time, support and patience. To live in Bududa, one must carry the hope of curiosity and understanding for the locals traditions. I am learning a lot from my co-workers and the environment around me. I can’t wait to see the fruits of my labor with the Microfinance and sponsorship project.
Although I am leaving Uganda in nine days, I will abreast of my initiated program. After all, it is my baby. In addition, I will keep intouch with all the great staff and the environment closely. I plan to come back again for follow-up.
More stories about adventures in Bududa and the great conversations with my friends and co-workers in Bududa. Here’s a picture with the Head Coordinator of WMB, Betty Bigala on the right and one of the Bududa Vocational Academy Nursery teachers, Somali. I will miss them so much.
In an email I sent to my loved ones about the recent mudslides as follows:
On Monday June 25, 2012, a specific region in the Bududa district was affected by one of the worst mudslides in the history of Uganda. Multiple sources including Uganda Red Cross, the Ugandan government and ministry and international news have recorded a number of deaths, losses and missing persons. I cannot deny nor confirm the actual number of the casualties. Some of you have read the news, which put Bududa, Uganda in the forefront of the world in terms of its current mudslide disaster. This email is not intended to be published for the public eye nor confirm any facts or data. Its objective is to alleviate some of the fears that people have emailed me regarding my safety in my region, Bududa.
During June 21-26, I was on a safari, thus I was fortunate to not have experienced the mudslides that occurred on Monday. On June 27, seven volunteer from our organization went to help dig the mudslides in hopes to recover survivors and any missing persons since bulldozers and graders were not at the sight and provide support for the locals at that time. I accompanied the volunteers as their leader to supervise their safety, work and pay for their boda-boda (motorcycle-taxi) transportation during our disaster relief mission. We arrived around 11:30AM surrounded by thousands of people including school children who were given the day off to see the slides. I delegated the work with our limited supplies of hoes and shuffles to five boys and three girls. While I was interviewing the locals and taking photos of the region with my two volunteers, there was a sudden crack and a loud noise coming from uphill. Suddenly I found myself running with hundred of people towards the woods on broken tree barks and towards the river. The reason for the crack was another mini mudslide was about to occur. The broken trees were uprooting the soil on the higher mounds putting pressure on the soil to fall downhill towards the onlooking locals resulting in the loud noise. As soon as I heard the crack, I ran as quickly as possible. Suddenly many of us stopped near the river, which I took the opportunity to gather my volunteers and ordered them to leave the region by providing them transportation. I called my boss letting her know of the situation however my phone was somewhat broken because of falling down in the woods. I was slightly injured with a bloody knee and cuts on my feets. Lots of us were covered in mud and lost our things.
I was extremely scared about the safety of my volunteers. While I was running from the potential second slide, I strategized in my head to gather all my staff and leave the region before the pouring rain came. My fear was the rain could offset the muddy hills causing another disastrous mudslide. I made a commitment to accompany the volunteers to and from the mudslides and I honored such responsibility. I knew the risk I was taking by going back to get them from their work site and I knew the strategy I had put in mind to get them out of this situation. I am fine at the moment, a bit traumatized by the experience, sad about the people who were weeping in the site and thankful that my team is alive.
I apologize in advanced if I fail to give the full report on the situation and that I have offered vague information in this email. In a nutshell, I wanted to let you know that I am well. Please take no offense if I do not reply to your emails, I am currently in a tight position with Internet availability.
Thank you all for your support and concern. I am extremely grateful.
The head coordinator of WMB and a stationary shop owner, Betty Bigala shares her impeccable journey with WMB. Despite the death of her father and brother to the dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s, the loss of her husband to alcoholism and the adoption of an orphan to her home, Betty is evident to be a pioneer of her future and not a prisoner of her past.
Having raised seven children with five who graduated from university, Betty remains strong after a long struggle with finances. “In 2006, it was very difficult for me to pay school fees and to support myself. There were so many challenges,” says Betty prior to joining WMB in 2010 as a loan borrower in group Blue.
When asked about her transition to WMB with her business, she recounts, “I wasn’t doing well financially. I joined microfinance and that’s when things started changing.” Many women in the Bududa district like Betty struggle with two main challenges: School fees and house rent. Betty has been in a rented house since 1985 and believes that Microfinance is gradually changing the dynamics of her economic situation.
“My life has changed after joining microfinance. Although it is not enough, Microfinance is helping me,” says Betty.
Betty is extremely grateful for the support of her family such as her sons lending their technical expertise to operating Betty’s computers and daughter’s business experience at supervising Betty’s shop at her absence. Grinning widely, Betty confidently exclaims that her life wouldn’t have improved without her family.
Although Betty strongly believes that WMB is great because it has improved the lot of many women, she advocates for an increase in the loans. “That is where I am now. I got money and started my business,” share Betty of her current situation with her enterprise. She thinks that with the increase of the loans, women entrepreneurs will be able to wide their business and earn bigger profits. Such a move can help women pay for expenses beyond basic necessities such as higher education in university and buying a permanent house.
I am currently developing a sponsorship program for the loan borrowers in BLC’s microfinance program. The women’s microfinance work is helping them to the extent of providing them food, medical care and shelter. However, microfinance is keeping the women in a cycle of providing basic necessities and not truly allowing them to expand to certain important necessities such as building a house, paying for higher school fees and expanding their business. Therefore, I have suggested for BLC to initiate a sponsors’ program which the WMB will assess a loan borrower’s personal and business situation and finally decide a certain amount of grant that will aid her. The assessment cycle will be twice a year with a six-month gap. A grant is extremely helpful for many of these disadvantaged women because they are collateral-free, not loans and are able to achieve certain necessities that the women need. The following grant process explains the macro-idea: Grant Process 1. Grants to Women’s Microfinance Bududa from sponsors ↓ 2. Volunteer field coordinator visits potential recipient ↓ 3. Mini business plan written and submitted ↓ 4. Materials provided with first grant payment, training provided ↓ 5. Business report submitted after six months, second payment received ↓ 6. Periodic assessment through formal and informal surveys Figure 1. WMB grant process Keep in tuned for this idea in the next couple of days!