Life as an Intern
Trip Start Jan 18, 2009
4Trip End Aug 05, 2009
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A little sad because I finally fly out tonight after my 5 month stay in East Africa..I cant believe its actually over. But its all good because I am so excited to be able to catch up with you all when I get home in a month and a half
" Its 7 am on Saturday morning and Tobin and I are awoken by Lilian, a single mother and our village housekeeper in her late twenties, lightly knocking on the wooden door to our small guest house. Lilian is not there to give us a wake up call though however, as the crows of the roosters and the regular morning squeals of the guinea fowls take care of that job much earlier on. She has come to prepare our morning tea and to heat up our bathing water on the small charcoal stove in the next room.
After finishing the last drops of our very tasty "milky tea" on the front sitting area to our brick and tin roofed home, we make our way to the newly created Women's Microfinance Initiative (WMI) building that is shared with another NGO that also works with the nearby villages. The building stands among a string of rusty, tin roofed mud houses in the lush, green, foothills of Mount Elgon. Outside the front entrance are about a hundred muddy shoes, with the majority being gumboots used for early morning work in the field. A walk inside the open doors leads us to a multitude of colorful women wrapped head to toe in a mixture of African prints and second hand clothes. Music blasts Ugandan top 40s from a borrowed sound system of an affluent villager and the excited women, aged 19-65, bump and bustle around, letting out the occasional “Ayiyiyiyiyi!”
Many passersby on the main dirt road slow down to the sounds of the music and even more curious children peer their wide eyes through the windows to see what all the commotion is about. It appears to be a party going on, but the big event is actually just the bi-monthly WMI loan collection.
Every second Saturday morning in Bulambuli Village in Eastern Uganda, the 10 color coded groups of 20 women, meet to pay back a portion of their microfinance loan, which they used to either start up or expand their small scale enterprises. The initiative has been flourishing since it was first started in January 2008 by a group of American women from Washington DC.
One large reason for the success is due, in great part, to the support groups. In a regrettable event where a woman had to run away from the abuse of her husband and as a result left her unpaid loan behind, the collective strength of her group members managed to work together to generate enough money to cover the poor women’s loan payments. After a year and a half of 100% repayment by the WMI borrowers, loan collection days have grow to be brilliant social events, well worth celebrating
In a short walk around the hall, one can see hundreds of busy hands carefully organizing and counting the Ugandan shillings brought in by the borrowers. Each group of women is keeping record of payments as well as savings in their group notebook. Some groups are able to save more then others, as saving money is a very new phenomenon to many of these women, nevertheless highly encouraged by WMI.
Those that save more tend to come from a group of women from the Widows Association that make up the first group of WMI borrowers, the Blue group, for they have had the longest experience learning different saving tactics. These 20 women are all Aids widows that took the gamble in January 2008 to be the first women to borrow from WMI, all with the hope of improving their family’s lifestyles so that they could eventually move beyond the threshold of poverty they were experiencing. At that time, many of these women were not eating adequate amounts of food, let alone nutritious food, nor able to pay basic fees for family life, such as those for school or clothing.
The 20 women from Blue struggled together in their support group to make sure that every loan payment was repaid on time and to assure that their businesses were a success
Tobin and I had the pleasure of meeting the variety of women during our 3 week stay in the village. We had an assortment of odd jobs to do with WMI, including computerizing loan data, training the local director in computer skills, developing borrower testimonies as well as conducting afternoon tutoring sessions with the multitude of village children.
Within the first hours of our arrival, the village took us in with arms wide open and did not stop caring for our every need until the hour we left. Rarely could we take the short walk down the red dirt road without being invited in for tea or offered produce from any one villager’s gardens. Often we would return from our day visits with arm full of papaya, mangos, tomatoes, cassava, eggs, beans, milk, you name it. It didn’t matter how much we insisted that their generosity was too much because they believed that a visitor with a full stomach brings the village many blessings, and thus gave in plenty.
I made the simple mistake of telling a borrower that I loved the local coffee after tasting a cup made from the beans produced in her garden and from that day on we were given more coffee then we knew what to do with
Some of the women’s small enterprises that we grew to know during our stay were truly entertaining to see. One woman, Alice, became very popular with the local men when she decided to invest her money into making the local brew make out of millet. Anyone strolling by Alice’s home early in the evening could find dozens of chattering men, sharing a large clay pot of millet beer through their two meter long straws created from hallow vines found locally. When the pot of brew started to near its end, Alice would be sure to rush over with her jerry can and top it back up. The gleeful men would amiably watch while they relaxed after a hard days work.
Just down the road, Betty Wataka has combined two businesses that additionally cater to the local demands. Upon entering her shop, one can find Betty making the finishing touches on the weaves of a variety of well-groomed women in her charming little hair salon. Following Betty’s performance of hair expertise, she leads her customers into the back of the shop, which happens to be a popular hangout bar for villagers. There Betty will be quick to serve a White Nile or soda from behind her bar. Betty’s hair salon/bar fusion has given the people of Bulambuli a whole new meaning to getting ready before going out.
Our short stay in Bulambuli village was one that bred many friendships as well as the exchange of a diverse variety of skills and ideas. Perhaps, what resides the most in me are my encounters with such persevering and joyful women. Anyone is the village can tell you that the women of Bulambuli are gaining a status that is freeing themselves from complete dependency on their husbands. With a little bit of start up capital, these women have managed to channel their hardworking strength to alleviate themselves from the bonds of poverty and have transformed the standard of living for their village. The best part of all is that the WMI women have no plan in slowing down and each lady thrives with their own dream of what the next step will be for their business future."