Moving the Mountain

This week I had the opportunity to encourage a group of complete strangers to move mountains. It comes from an African proverb: when sleeping woman wakes, mountains move. How very appropriate considering our backdrop was Mount Elgon, one of the largest peaks on the continent (and absolutely breathtaking).

Visiting an African country has always been a dream of mine. However, I usually imagined it as an animal-viewing safari kind of adventure; never could I have envisioned the powerful and utterly human moments I’ve experienced in the last few days.   And yet here I am in Uganda, with women and children calling me a sister and an auntie — we’ve only just met and I’m already welcomed as a part of their family. It seems like an understatement to say the feeling is mutual.

Ever since joining The Greater Contribution a few years ago, I’ve wanted to meet the women who receive our loans. It’s important to me to share their stories and let others know how great of an impact a small loan can make. From making necklaces out of magazines (which I wear all the time!) to selling beans to opening a salon, the lowest common denominator is having a small amount of capital to realize their vision. Now they can send their children to school consistently, take care of basic medical needs, buy a pig or goat to supplement their income (or their nutrition), and ultimately fight against an unfair lot in life that was handed to them. I think one of the things that gets me the most is how random this all seems – what if I was the one born here? I can’t seem to shake that thought.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced two major events in two very different villages: the repayment day that marks the end of a 6-month loan cycle, and the loan distribution to two brand new groups of natural entrepreneurs. For those who have repaid their loans, they will be eligible for a second loan to continue to grow their business. And for the new groups of loan borrowers, they have been equipped with training and support to set them up for success. Both events signify growth and change, empowerment, and pride. They are celebrations of the human spirit and I couldn’t be more touched by these women who call me their sister.

Move mountains, we said. And they will.

From Mbale, Uganda,

Page Patten

TGC Board Member

 

 

 

Imagine living in a place…

Imagine living in a place where credit is not available, where you cannot get a scholarship to go to school; the only food, clothes or education you can afford is what you have the money for RIGHT NOW. This is the setting for the amazing experience that I had at loan distribution day. Today we handed out loans to 34 eager women in the remote village of Bumasheti. The women greeted us with beautiful song and dance that included loud pitch screams, clapping and love. After introductions, we had the pleasure of handing out their loans. As each women came up, they each responded in their own unique way: some simply smiled and thanked us, while others came up dancing and gave us each humongous hugs. Imagine if every time we used a credit card in the US we broke out in song and dance. What if, when we received a loan for college we gave everyone around us a huge hug. A micro loan is simply access to financial capital. It is nothing new to the world, but it is something new to these women.

With their loan and three days of business training they have received, these women have changed. They are now business women. After spending five days in this amazing country, I have learned many things and continue to be confounded by what I see. They are strong and hard working, but they have no safety nets to fall back on (none at all). All they need is a little help (help that honestly we were granted at birth in the US). I am excited to see what these women can do and I know that their resourcefulness will allow them to make the changes that they wish to see in their own lives.

TGC volunteer,

Jordan Anderson

Unbridled joy!

Today was loan distribution day for two of our new loan groups. These days are always my favorite days in Uganda. We were met, as we often are, by women dancing and singing and screaming with unbridled joy! It was also a delight to see the reactions of the five other travelers with me. They were thrilled at the reception they received and loved giving these women that little hand up that they so desperately need. A loan of $100 to $300 — such a small cost to turn a life around. Giving is as great a joy as receiving!

For further reflections on this day, see the guest blog by Jordan Anderson below.

You Have Shown Us The Way

Back in Uganda with three TGC board members and two young supporters, we’re here to visit some of the loan programs we launched in February and to distribute loans to an additional 87 new borrowers.  As we travel the simply wretched roads and navigate crazy difficulties for getting the simplest of tasks accomplished, I continue to be impressed with the tenacity of Ugandans.

Today, we attended the final repayment day in the village of Lwaboba.  We asked each borrower to describe their experience with our loan program.  We were especially delighted to hear many stories of women who, as a result of the micro loan, were able to send more of their children to school, provide them with books, shoes, required uniforms.   Educating their children is always a priority with these dedicated mothers. Repeatedly they described their delight at being able to provide basic needs for their families, including the simple act of being able to buy soap! We heard numerous accounts of women buying farm animals, goats and pigs, a common way to preserve and multiple equity. Another was able to buy bricks for the foundation of a future, permanent home; helping her ailing Father was a joy for one woman.

But even more impressive were the stories of those who, through no fault of their own, faced significant hardships during the loan period. One woman had to relocate her fledgling business when the government widened the road where her kiosk was located and eliminated it’s foundation. Another’s poultry business was wiped out by a virus. In each case, the borrower picked herself back up and found ways to continue and thrive. It was very touching to hear one woman report “I am better than I was because of this program.”

I was especially complimented when Annette, our Loan Administrator, told us that she has seen many micro loan programs that provide money but that don’t really help the women out of poverty.” She said, “You have shown us the way.” From the beginning of our program, I’ve wanted to be sure that we give our borrowers every possible tool to succeed. Having spent my early career in education, I know that knowledge is power and these women have used all the education we’ve given them.

Look for guest blogs to hear other’s impressions of this trip and the work you’re supporting!

Karon