Ugandan Generosity

We wrapped up the training in Lwaboba yesterday and at the end of the day, Carolyn and I were gifted with a very large bucket of g-nuts (peanuts)!  Whatever the economic level of Ugandans, they are always giving and generous.  I am often embarrassed to receive gifts of food, clothing, baskets, jewelry.  They welcome us into their homes, insist on sharing meals with us and truly treat us as honored guests.  Knowing how much we have and how little they have, we hate to accept what might cause a hardship for them and yet cannot risk hurting feelings by declining.  The generosity of those with such severely limited means is truly touching.

Carolyn and Karon receiving a gift from Fenny and the ladies of Lwaboba.

Carolyn and Karon receiving a gift from Fenny and the ladies of Lwaboba.

Today we were off to Tororo to observe the first day of borrower training there.  Stella, the TGC trained trainer had already demonstrated her skills in practice sessions with our leadership group, but today she was amazing!  She took the techniques and content she’d been given and built on them in a very creative way.  She was animated, continually engaged the audience and created a learning tools and an  environment that would be the envy of any of my trainer friends in the US.  She demonstrated a relentless dedication to making sure every woman understood the lessons being taught.   What an inspiration and what a gift she is to the TGC program.  I am often stunned at the talent and sophistication of the women in these remote, impoverished areas and I want them all to have the opportunity to fulfill all the wonderful potential they display and be all they can be.

Stella commanding the attention  of 40 women.

Stella commanding the attention of 40 women.

Here are some images I hope will convey more of the story of training women in business skills.

A canopy is erected to create a comfortable environment.

A canopy for the outdoor classroom.

A canopy for the outdoor classroom.

The ladies are each given a bag containing a notebook, pen,, calculator (every business person needs one), a passbook in which to record her loan payments and savings and donated tooth brushes and tooth paste.DSC00231 - Copy They use the notebooks and pens right away, taking lots of notes and really being engaged in the training.

Borrowers with new tools.

Borrowers with new tools.

The training  audience is quite diverse.  Today there is a set of five month old twins and four other infants and toddlers as well as numerous feathered friends who frequently added their comments to the discussions!

Future microloan client!

Future microloan client!

An observer.You can see that training here has a little different flavor to it and yet the goals of educating remain the same and are accomplished brilliantly!

Tomorrow will be a joyous day as we distribute the loans!

Embracing Learning

It is really thrilling to watch the local women embrace the learning we’re bringing to them.  Yesterday, the main topic of the session was budgeting, a concept that is foreign to most of the population!  This topic is especially important to the women now as they will receive a micro loan,  a large amount of money for them, and they need the skills to manage it so that it truly helps them create a business that will be sustainable and enable them to work their way out of poverty.    We are committed to changing lives– not just lending money and having it repaid and thus, education is critical in this process.

After talking about budgeting principles, Scovia, the local trainer, trained by TGC,  gave each participant a budget worksheet with a sample budget and a blank and asked each woman to create her own budget.  Using the new calculators that we supplied to them, they went to work.  There was intense concentration on their faces and yet a great enthusiasm filling the room.

Scovia helping ladies learn to budget!

Scovia on the right is helping ladies learn to budget!

As you can see in this photo, Scovia moved throughout the room, helping whoever needed help.  The discussion afterward revealed the great need for the skill and gratitude for it.

As in any training, there is a diversity of ability and experience among the women.  Those who are more advanced are delighted to share examples from their experience which is so helpful to the novices.  That sharing along with a local woman delivering the training makes for a powerful experience for these lovely ladies.

Although we have trained the trainers in the TGC content (written in collaboration with a group that trains African women and culturally specific to them), it is impressive to see our local trainers add their own very relevant examples and techniques to make the training even more meaningful.   In addition,  the women are always cheerful and always smiling and after a break in the training, Annette, the Loan Coordinator for the Lwaboba group, would reconvene the training sessions with some kind of fun exercise to energize the group.  One that Carolyn and I participated in yesterday, was their version of singing and spelling out  YMCA.  We were all lead in writing out the numbers one through five with our bodies.   This primarily involved using arms, shoulders and hips.   There was a lot of misspelling and a lot of laughter!  More evidence of how we are more alike than different — a little exercise and a little laughter are always welcome!


Microloans and Education

This was another inspiring day with Ugandan women who are so earnest and so eager to learn and better themselves. Our program has always been more than just loaning out money and getting it repaid. The goal is to help women work their way out of poverty and thus education is a big component of the program. We give the women three days of training in basic but critical business skills so that they have the tools to be successful and create sustainable businesses.  They are good students.  They are very attentive, there lots of ‘ah ha’ moments. While many of the women have run small businesses in the past, many have simply been buying and selling products, not utilizing any purposeful business techniques or practices. They have not created sustainable businesses. There has been some resistance from the borrowers to spending three days in training. The ladies today watched as one of the loan coordinators and a trainer did a role play in which that resistance was loudly vocalized and loudly countered by the fictional loan officer. The women always enjoy role playing and it’s an effective training technique for an audience that has limited literacy skills. The women were eager to participate in the role play and it was meet with cheers and jeers from the audience.

This has also been a trainer-the-trainer session.  I have been training women to train borrowers when I’m gone.  The two women who will be handling training in their respective villages, both have a lot of experience as teachers and so it was time for them to present a sample of our training to demonstrate how they will train the borrowers.   I was just thrilled and somewhat astonished to witness the skill, professionalism, and dedication of these women.  They had clearly worked hard, learned what I’d been teaching and carefully prepared for their presentations.  They demonstrated good mastery of the subject matter,  great ability to work with learners and manage discussion with the other participants.  They have great enthusiasm for this program that will help them all work their way out of poverty.   Perhaps above all, they clearly care about communicating and helping the other women in the program.  Such a great example of women helping women. This training is a reflection of our core belief that women are equipped to help each other in very powerful and important ways.  When I meet people from other nonprofits working in Africa, they are always astonished that we train local women to administer our program on the ground.  There is a belief that these women are not educated enough, that professionals are needed and thus,  many organizations employ layers and layers of beaucracy to run a program.  This, of course, takes financial resources that could otherwise go into micro loans. Equally as important as conserving financial resources is the effectiveness of this approach.   It works! Using the local talent creates a sense of ownership of the program, gives local women management experience which is well within their reach and lets borrowers see that TGC is partnering with their local leaders.

Good night from Africa!

The Challenges of Africa

Oh Boy! How do I say this without whinning! After encouraging everyone I know to follow this blog, the internet has been more unreliable than usual and it’s been impossible to get a connection and to blog until today. My apologies. This is just a taste of life in Africa. In the U.S., we’re used to being able to get an email answered in hours and here it can take days!

And these challenges in Africa are always offset by the joys of working with Ugandan women. I started the first day of leadership training yesterday with the women who will administer the loan program in two new loan hubs we’re opening. I was again so impressed with their intelligence, sophistication, initiative and drive to launch this program. Their joy at having the opportunity to participate in our loan program is heart warming. Suzan, who is our Loan Administrator in Tororo couldn’t stop smiling and saying “this is a dream come true”. For these women, the opportunity to receive a micro loan is like wining the lottery.

We all know that this is the beginning of something that will be transformative for their lives.   We all recognize the magnitude of what we’re beginning.  I’ve always enjoyed the beginnings of things and knowing what a tremendous difference this program will make in their lives is really thrilling.  They have a vision that this will be big for them, and I know it will be bigger than they can even imagine.  I love the power of this little tool called a micro loan, powered by the love and compassion of supporters who believe in giving African women an opportunity to be all they can be.

It is remarkable, that these incredibly poor women are also highly education — with both formal education and life education. These leaders include two teachers, a trained statistician, a clinic administrator and of course, all are businesswomen looking to improve their skills and start small businesses or make their very small businesses truly sustainable. Despite the daunting conditions these women live in, they are remarkable, strong women with a will and a drive that will allow them to make the maximum use of the training we give them.

I am also impressed with the drive of these women to improve the lives of their neighbors and colleagues. There is a lovely sense of unity among these groups. The leaders are committed to training and helping the other borrowers to learn good business skills, create successful businesses and turn their lives around. In addition, they are so grateful for our help, that they won’t think of not working hard and making their loan hub successful.

I have been blessed on this trip to have Volunteer, Carolyn Corwin, accompanying me. Her compassion for these ladies, her wisdom, her commitment to the work of TGC and her friendship have been invaluable. She’s one of those wonderful human beings who says “whatever needs to be done — I’ll do it!” She’s adding great value to our work here and she’s funny!

Thank you all for your support and for making this good work possible.

While here I am training seven leaders and mentoring them through training the women borrowers. We will fund loans to 131 borrowers — 131 women will begin their journeys out of poverty!