Posts Tagged ‘loan’

June 30:: Kindness of Strangers!

Angello 1I realized today that I have four weeks left of work and at least four projects I’m trying to complete. The workshop I have planned is going to be on July 16th and I’m hoping that everyone in LUGADA pitches in for a successful workshop. The purpose of the event is to strengthen LUGADA’s revolving fund and teach the loan applicants how to manage a loan and when to take the loan. We’re going to give a repayment schedule and show how to write or describe a business proposal. There are tons of logistical problems, like the transportation stipend (do I give it beforehand, so the attendees can afford to travel to the site, but risk that people will forget to show up? Or do I give it once they arrive, risking that some people won’t have the 1000 shilling for travel?), the cultural obsession with food, and wondering if everyone will show up.

I chose the time of 10-5 for the workshop, trusting that no one will arrive until at least 10:30 and we won’t start until closer to 11:30. This way, we avoid having to give morning tea and can give only lunch. We’ll give a late lunch so we won’t have to give afternoon tea and can have only a water break around 3 o’clock. I’m trying to maneuver the workshop to be cheap because I have only 400,000 shillings to work with for the entire day. A friend rented me her conference hall for only 35,000 shilling and we have an expert coming to speak for 50,000. I have doubts about his expertise, but he comes with high praise from other sorts. Anyway, he knows more than I do.

Of the remaining funds, more than 60,000 shilling will be a transportation stipend so that attendees can travel the 4 kilometers to the workshop site. More than 100,000 shilling will be for lunch and the remaining money will go to purchase notebooks and pens for the attendees, as well as packets of information. I estimate that 30 people will attend and there is really no room to be wrong: I can’t really afford more attendees but I can’t exclude any LUGADA members from attending!

My facilitator in LUGADA gave me a terrific gift yesterday. Most group members have given me welcoming gifts of bananas, jewelry or fruit. Florence and her family adopted me and gave me a new name. I am now introduced as Sarah Angello Namugerwa and I am a member of the monkey clan, one of Uganda’s 53 tribes and the most prominent in Buganda, where I live. (Side Story: my monkey-clan grandmother, Jjoja Francis, rejoiced when I told her my dad in America found a new job. She told me she had been praying for him every day and how is the rest of her American family?)

Every day, LUGADA has more great ideas about how to improve the Nyendo-Ssenyange community. I think we have twenty project ideas for the upcoming months and years and I wish I could watch them all come to fruition. Some of the ideas are enormous (Community Clean-up: Paving the main streets in Nyendo to prevent sicknesses that come from inhaling dust) and some are small and manageable, like computer literacy and empowerment training. I’m teaching computer literacy to anyone who asks. I’m teaching my two brothers typing and I’m teaching others Microsoft Office Tools and basic Internet skills.

I love comparing our skills sets here in Masaka: I can teach computer literacy and lead empowerment training, but I needed my host mom to show me how to peel a jackfruit and my colleague Maria is teaching me about medicinal herbs. My brothers are around my age (Ivan is 17 and Brian is 20), but we have very little knowledge in common. Neither of them has ever read a book, but they both have incredible knowledge of plants and basic science…although Ivan curiously asks for my help every night with his homework.

Tonight is a LUGADA meeting where I will be surprising St. Ignatius Primary School with an enormous bag of donations. The husband of an acquaintance flew into Uganda and brought several bags of school supplies, but didn’t know where to donate them. I met his wife at a café in Masaka and she asked me if I had any use for a bag of school supplies: I didn’t expect these supplies to actually show up at the FSD! I wish I had a name or an address where I could send my thanks and pictures of the kids using the books and supplies.

St. Ignatius Primary School, where I volunteer and work with LUGADA, has absolutely nothing. They lack everything except students. 507 students, 8 teachers. 1 desk for every 9 students. No books. No pencils. No running water.

At least they have some pencils and books now! I can’t wait to distribute the supplies. I just finished writing a grant for St. Ignatius: while donations are used up and disappear, funding for the school will enable them to find their own supplies and develop the building to provide a safe and educational environment for the kids.

July 6:: Sarah V. Nile: A Draw

Angello 2I had the intention of conquering the Nile this weekend, but after 3
days of adventures getting to Jinja, rafting the Nile, making endless puns about the Nile/denial, returning to Masaka and still, after 3 days, coughing up the Nile River, I concede a draw.

The day I went rafting had an inauspicious start. Our bus was so late that we didn’t have adequate time for a full safety briefing. Our guide, Charles the Prince of the Nile (not Prince of Denial. The joke really, really does not translate between English and Luganda), began our session with the following: “Okay, so we have no time for safety briefing. So we will learn as we go, yes? Yes.” Our first rapid was a
Cat3, then a Cat5 and then….well, I speak enough Luganda to recognize certain words. So when Charles stared at our raft and then shouted Luganda gibberish and the word kwabaka, I was incredibly concerned. Tesia, Zach, Jenny and myself shared a Look.

Kwabaka: Luganda for to burst or explode.

Our boat was punctured when we hit the rocks on a Category 3 and Prince bluntly told us the raft would not survive the next Category 5. His bluntness, Ugandan sense of humor, lack of concern for our nerves would cause problems throughout the day but I was definitely somewhat concerned with our imminently capsizing raft. We got out and carried the raft for a bit until we met the replacement. So a sunken raft started the day.

Prince motivated us through fear and used his authority to terrify us all day. Examples? During lunch break, we removed our lifevests and helmets to float in calm water. Suddenly, Prince jumps up. “QUICK EVERYBODY LIFEVESTS ON, GET DOWN GET DOWN GET DOWN WE ARE GOING TO DIE.” We immediately drop everything and cower for our lives. No rapid. Calm water. Example 2: Zach jumps off the raft during a calm stretch to swim. Mid-jump, Prince yells “NO! DON’T! THE CROCIDILES!”

No crocodiles.

“Prince, what happens if we swim right instead of left in this rapid?”
Laughter. “Then we can’t save you, see you in Egypt.”

The worst joke by far was that it was his second day as a guide. He had us all going with this one until he slipped by mentioning he had been a guide for over 5 years. By the end of the day, Prince proposed to me and I accepted, attracted by the title of Princess of the Nile. Prince has offered 50 cows or the cash equivilant to my father. I told him my father would probably prefer the cash (2.5 million shilling!), but he’d have to negotiate the details with my very American father. So this situation is pending.

I do owe Prince an enormous debt of gratitude. When we faced Silverback, the biggest and strongest Cat5, I panicked. Silverback is over 150 meters of double category 5 rapids colliding in deep water, surrounded by jagged rocks. You can only see the white caps of the rapids. Before the first drop, we were all regarding the intensity before and I just started screaming. There were only two sounds: the rush of the rapids and my terrified shrieks. I’m ashamed to admit that I abandoned my post and ducked for cover, gripping the safety rope and quaking with fear instead of paddling like a team player. Prince had no sympathy for me. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? PADDLE! PADDLE NOW, YOU SCARED MZUNGU!” The “scared mzungu” comment snapped me out of terror and I picked up my paddle and managed to stay on the raft and paddle. Of course, when we finished navigating Silverback, we realized we had lost one of our rafters and had some random guy on our boat, but we quickly did an exchange and found her.

Angello 3There were so many awesome and terrifying moments: when we rafted Bujogali Falls, I misinterpreted “DUCK AND COVER, GET DOWN GET DOWN GET DOWN” for “Wow, this is a gorgeous waterfall. Look around! Absorb the moment!” and for that, I got an awesome shiner from smacking my face into an oar. My position at the back of the raft meant I spent a lot of time flying into the air from the impact of waves. At The Bad Place, I sailed right out of the raft, over the top of the raft and somehow landed in front. The Bad Place starts as a Cat6, so we had to carry the raft over that and then relaunch into a Cat5. So I was petrified that I was going to drift back into the Cat6 or over to the falls: I managed to grip the front of the raft and Jenny summoned inhuman strength and hauled me over the front while steering through a Category 5.

But despite a minor sprain and a dozen bumps and bruises, I had an
awesome time and I think I’m going again in two weeks.


Read Full Post »

I learned about the concept of microfinance about a year and a half ago, and the idea instantly captured my attention. Reading about Muhammad Yunus’ experience starting and building the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh gave me visions of leaving for an exotic faraway land where I would trudge through sweltering jungles to meet with loan groups in secluded villages, handing out funds and beaming as each proud entrepreneur in turn stood and ceremoniously handed me the coins she had toiled for that week, repaying her loan a few pennies at a time, and watching with amazement as they were able to achieve a level of stability previously impossible.

Every street is lined with small-scale entrepreneurs – clients and potential clients of Faulu Kenya

Being stationed in Mombasa, a city of upwards of one million people, my experience has, needless to say, differed quite significantly from that fantasy. Nevertheless, upon landing in Mombasa, it was immediately clear why microfinance is so critical in developing countries, and what the enormous gap between ‘developed economy’ and ‘developing economy’ looks like. In the absence of a Western-style job market, the economy here seems to be comprised, in the vast majority, of small-scale entrepreneurs selling all manners of consumer goods: peanuts, fruit, Safaricom cell phone credit, Coca Cola, beaded jewelry, secondhand clothes, each of them making his or her living on sales of less than a dollar. The prospects of those growing those businesses are bleak without the access to small amounts of capital that microfinance institutions like Faulu provide.

I imagined the typical microfinance office to be a couple of bare, dingy rooms with flickering computer screens and a small vault for the operating funds. Instead, I work in what could be easily mistaken to be a small, professional, American bank. Employees wear corporate polos and a row of tellers take deposits from behind a thick pane of glass. Operations are smooth and systematic, though they make do with a fraction of the technological equipment found in a Western bank. Attending meetings with loan groups, it was immediately clear that the system is well-polished. Faulu Kenya has, after all, been at it for more than 15 years. After my first few days, seeing how well everything is put together, I began wondering what I, as a foreigner and a mere student, could contribute to such a well-oiled operation. I couldn’t even understand much of the loan group meetings, only catching the words in my limited Kiswahili vocabulary and those sentences where the speaker would slip, as Kenyans so often do, into English.

Members of each group meet to repay their loans each week

Luckily, that contribution emerged and is now my project for the nine weeks of my internship. My supervisor, the area manager for the coastal offices of Faulu, asked me to look into the possibility of starting a welfare association for clients. Burial expenses are high and often very difficult to come up with, especially on short notice, and informal welfare associations are often frustratingly troublesome and unreliable. After researching similar ‘microinsurance’ programs started by microfinance institutions throughout the developing world, we have begun the mammoth task of surveying as many of the branch’s 15,000 clients as we can to request their input in the creation of such a program. The early signs are extremely positive; nearly 80% of those responding so far have indicated that they would participate when Faulu’s welfare association is launched. Faulu’s tagline is ‘Your Bridge to Success,’ and the new welfare association will help to ensure that those working their way across our bridge are not derailed by a tragedy along the way. Though my time in Mombasa will be done before the program is fully up and running, it is a truly amazing feeling to know my work is laying the foundation for an extension of Faulu’s services that will benefit clients immensely.

Read Full Post »