January 24, 2012
Jinja, Uganda. We arrived in Jinja on January 21 but did not have internet access, thus this blog entry has been delayed!
This was the second of two very intense days of visiting our Wabulenga Village loan program. The drive to Jinja was our introduction to the breadth and depth of poverty in this country. Even though this is not my first visit to Africa, the fact that the poverty is so deep and so pervasive is shocking to us all. The majority of the Ugandan people are living in what can only be called shacks, some out of rough hewn wood and many out of mud and wattle. There are very few sidewalks and many unpaved roads. Children run around without shoes and wearing torn, dirty clothes. It’s a level of poverty that is seldom seen in the U.S. And it’s unrelenting. There are no good parts of town or poor parts of town. It’s all unbelievably poor. Everywhere you drive, you see extreme poverty. Several of my fellow travelers were visibly stunned by the level of poverty.
After driving through this foreign landscape, we arrived at the village yesterday while a training program was in progress with some first time borrowers. As our van pulled up, the women borrowers all stood and as we walked toward the group, erupted in wild, incredible welcoming song and dance. We were all so touch by their excitement and enthusiasm. It was truly a rock star welcome! Repeatedly, they expressed their gratitude for funding their loans and helping them transform their lives.
We watched the rest of the training that was being given to first time borrowers and were very impressed with the intense interest displayed by the borrowers as well as the dedication of the trainers and the sophistication of the training. I know that this training is one of the keys to the success of the program. While many micro finance organizations train borrowers on filling out loan application forms and repaying their loans, few train borrowers on business management, marketing, financial literacy, (including money management, budgeting, and saving). Our goal to help women work their way out of poverty, not just repay a loan, is clearly demonstrated in this training. The women borrowers listening intently, took notes, asked questions and were fully engaged in the training.
It was wonderful to see Robyn Niertert, President of WMI, our field partner in Uganda, Olive Wolimba our Program Director, and several trainers again. While there, we presented one of the local coordinators with a completely refurbished laptop donated by Jerry Lewine of Agoura Hills as well as school supplies for the local school donated by my fellow travelers, Kim Davis, Susan Lawson, Melba Swearingin, and Alison Watase.
Following the training, we walked through the village, visiting borrowers homes and their businesses which they proudly showed off to us. Again, we were stunned by the primitive living conditions of these women and their families. One woman in particular touched us all deeply. Deborah, a 68 year old grandmother, raising her grandchildren on her own since the deaths of her own children was embarking on a business to sell bananas. She was living in a mud walled hut which was near collapse. She had saved enough to build a new home, bought bricks and cement only to have the cement dealer take her money and never deliver the product. So she continues to live in a house with holes in the ceiling, rain coming in during the rainy season, raising 6 grandchildren. But she now has a microloan and the opportunity to work herself out of poverty.
We returned to Wabulenga and watched the two and a half day training come to a conclusion. My fellow travelers and I were delighted to participate by handing each of the women their first loans. As each women came forward we congratulated her and wished her well with her new business. I was also asked to give out prizes for the best savers among the earlier group of borrowers. The top five savers in each loan group of 20 received a very prized lantern (seen below) a good incentive to keep saving and establishing greater financial security.
We left Jinja with heavy hearts having seen so much poverty but so glad that we’re doing our part to try to alleviate it. We’re now taking a break and going on safari for three days before heading to Buyobo, the headquarters of our program and a grand celebration of the graduation of a loan group to commercial banking!