Tag Archive for 'Uganda'Page 2 of 3

“The Big Man”

El mundo es tuyo...So when I entered Uganda at the Entebbe Airport, I naturally handed my passport over.  I got the 20 questions routine that I was expecting.  One of the standard questions is, “Why are you coming to Uganda?” FSD alerted me that the only choices are business or tourism, so a volunteer should choose tourism.

Unfortunately, when I answered “tourism,” the customs lady didn’t quite believe me.  “Ten weeks is quite a long time for tourism, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I guess.  Not really, though.”

So, she used her ball point pen to carve a big “2 MO” across the top of my passport. This means that I am authorized to stay for two months.  Eight weeks.  Not ten.

Now what?

Continue reading ‘“The Big Man”’

Turning Point

Last week was a pretty big turning point for my trip.  This entire time, I have been operating under the assumption that I would be applying for a grant from FSD, and with that grant money, I would issue loans to grandmothers for income-generating activities.  I have developed budgets, interviewed grandmothers, and written a huge grant proposal  all to these ends.

However, when I submitted my proposal, the feedback from the local site team was a little different than I expected.  Since the last grant given to my host organization, OGLM, was also used to deliver a batch of loans, FSD would most likely not fund my project.  Since the first batch of loans has not yet started repayment, FSD has no way of knowing how well the project has been working.  As a result, they will not risk any more money on the project until its success is more tangible.

That left me, with only 18 working days left at OGLM, without a plan of action.  Had I wasted my first five weeks here?  What can I do with only one month left?  How am I supposed to effect any change in this short time period?  I really started envying Shawn, who has both much more time and freedom to do what he wants without the interference that comes with working for an NGO.

I have since come to realize that this change of plans isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  In my remaining 18 days, I had budgeted the following activities:

  • Work with four groups of grandmothers to develop sustainable income-generating activities.
  • Determine what materials each group would need to start these projects.
  • Deliver loan-basics training, bookkeeping training, and business-specific training.
  • Work with an agriculture specialist to train the two agriculture groups in proper farming-as-a-business techniques (this would require five days of training alone).
  • Bring each group to the market and buy the materials they needed to begin their projects.
  • Monitor the grandmothers as they begun business operations.

Once you factor in the fact that the work pace is much slower here and that most of this work depends on my translator being free, that schedule is ridiculous!  It wasn’t that I was being naive, it was just that I didn’t realize how little time I had left before I leave here.

I have since worked with the staff to develop a new plan for the rest of my time here.  I will be developing OGLM’s microfinance program on the organization side.  Kind of like a microfinance consultant.  I will be restructuring the program and training the staff to make sure that the program lasts for a long time.

The bad news is that this work won’t be anywhere near as interesting as the stuff that Shawn does on YouTube.  The good news is that OGLM definitely needs it.  This is something I am confident that I can accomplish and its effects will last long after I hop on that plane 31 days from now.

The Beggar Children of Main Street

The Beggar Children

We ten interns had more or less just landed in Uganda.  It was Day Three, and we were touring Jinja on foot.

Imagine.  A parade of mzungus meandering around downtown, fingers pointing, and heads on swivels.  With stomachs full of matooke and rice, we took our time digesting as we strolled along the broken sidewalk.  Shopkeepers called out, hoping that their wares could draw our attention.  Boda-boda drivers offered us rides on their bicycles or mopeds.  A third group called us too.  Three small children, around five or seven years old, quietly implored, “Sirs, 100?”  They were asking for a meager 100 shillings, and we had just spent 8000 on lunch.  Surely we could spare the equivalent of 6 American cents.

Before we could respond, our program director shooed them away in their native language.  Many of the interns were heartbroken.  I know I was.  Here is a little kid, malnourished and poorly clothed, and all he wanted was a nickel.  That’s not too much to ask.  I could have tossed him the coin and moved on.

But, as our program director explained, it is not about the amount of money.  It is the principle.  You can only effect serious change by striving for sustainability.  What will that boy do when we leave?  Who will care for him then?  Any change that you try to initiate must be able to last without your input.

It was only the third day, and I felt like I was already being taught how to rationalize away the most vulnerable members of society.

Continue reading ‘The Beggar Children of Main Street’

A Trip to Buwaiswa

This past Wednesday, I went out to a rural village in the Kamuli region called Buwaiswa to register grandmothers for my microfinance program.  There were 57 grannies that came to be registered, which was good news.  The bad news is that some of them openly expressed complete disinterest; they said they were just there for the free food.


Since the grannies are more vulnerable than even your typical microfinance recipient, we give loans to groups rather than individuals.  These groups of 4-6 work together to develop an activity that will give them some sort of disposable income.  The groups are placed into “teams,” which help ensure loan repayment.  Only one group per team is allowed to have a loan at any given time, so a group has the incentive to repay the loan so that their friends can get help as well.

We allowed the grannies to group, and then we grouped them into teams.  We took aside the first group from each team and interviewed them about what income-generating activity they wanted to pursue.  Two groups expressed an interest in moving from subsistence farming to farming-for-business.  One group wanted to raise and sell animals.  One group wanted to split time between selling secondhand clothes and operating a pay-phone.

After we have this information, we will determine what they need to get started.  Those startup costs become the loan principle.

After interviewing them, my work for the week was finished.  My host organization, OGLM, runs an orphanage in Buwaiswa and there are about 50 kids there full-time.  I stayed for two nights in the guest room of that orphanage.

It was about eleven o’clock on my first night when there came a pounding on my door.  I opened it up, and about 15 of the orphans were standing there.  The oldest beckoned and said, “We would like to sing for you,” so I followed him over to where they had set up drums.  I sat down, they brought me bread and boiled water (it doesn’t get any better than that when you are worried about food-borne disease), and they played and sang and danced for me.  It was the first time I’ve really sat back and said, “Holy crap, I’m in Africa.”

Drummers and Dancers

The next day, we went to ten different schools in the area to check up on the AIDS orphans that OGLM is sponsoring.  There are about 20 kids per school that have their school fees, scholastic materials and uniforms paid for by OGLM.  So, every once in a while we drop by unannounced to make sure that they are still attending class.

When I got back on Friday, I rested up a bit and then got to writing reports.  In order to get more funding from FSD, my parent NGO, I have to write a ten-page report and developing an accompanying project budget to show that the money will be used responsibly.  The absolute final deadline for the proposal is this Friday, and I find out if I am approved by Monday, so wish me luck.

Introduction to Microfinance

Dr. Muhammad Yunus I think since I am mentioning microfinance so much in my posts that I should expand on it a little for those who have not encountered it before.  Microfinance was pioneered by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor from Bangladesh.  What Dr. Yunus did was to take traditional banking and transform some of the assumptions so that it helped the poor rather than excluded them.

There are a few problems with traditional banking that Dr. Yunus overcame in his quest to become “Banker to the Poor” and win the Nobel Prize doing it.  For instance, the typical loan process at a bank involves the giving of collateral. Banks do not wish their borrowers to fail repaying loans, so banks demand that borrowers present proof of repayment ability.  Usually, we see borrowers put up houses as collateral in America.  However, this process has the side effect of excluding the poor, since they have very little collateral to put up.  Also, banks are traditionally interested only in giving loans either with large principle amounts or large interest rates.  It is not profitable to earn small interest on a loan that is only $100 in size, given the operating costs that go with granting a loan.

But Dr. Yunus found ways to avoid these problems and make credit accessible to the poor.  Instead of collateral, he demanded something different: community backing.  If someone wants to get a loan, they must first create a credit group — a group of people that all agree to back up the loan.  These people are there for support during the loan process, and they are unable to receive a loan until the first has been repaid.  Thus, the incentives to repay come not from the giving of collateral, but from community ties.  Dr. Yunus also found ways to give small loans at small interest rates.  By standardizing the loan process and minimizing the screening costs, he was actually able to give extremely small loans at rates barely above the inflation rate, and still even turn a profit!

Granted, Dr. Yunus’ will be the first to tell you that his bank, the Grameen Bank, is not a profit-maximizing entity.  It is what he calls a “social business.”  If it makes a profit, that is all well and good; however, its measure of success comes not from the bottom line, but from the number of people that it helps escape poverty.  And by that measure, it has performed quite well.  Today, there are over seven million poor people in Bangladesh who have loans from Grameen Bank.  To date, it has loaned the equivalent of $6 billion (U.S.), and the repayment rate is an astonishing 98.6 percent.  Bangladesh is currently the only country in the world on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals, and that is in no small part due to the Grameen Bank and Dr. Yunus’ many other social businesses.

That brief explanation should be enough to understand anything that I address in future posts.  If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Yunus and his development of the microfinance model, read his autobiography Banker to the Poor. If you are interested in microfinance and social business as it stands today, I recommend his second book, Creating a World without Poverty, which looks more towards the future.

Where The Hell is Matt?

Okay, so it’s not the Matt from this blog. We know where that Matt is – Uganda. 🙂 This video is about Matt Harding and I just love it. This is actually the latest version of this video – he’s traveled around the world doing this twice before.

It’s such a simple, heart-warming, and touching video. It says so much without saying a word. It’s actually Matt’s videos that were a source of inspiration for my first YouTube episode. What does dancing around the world have to do with ending global poverty? Well, as Dr. Sachs said (and I quoted in my first video), we share a common human bond. You can overcome the barriers of race, religion, and language with simple generosity.

But, as Matt’s videos shows, dancing works too.

Getting my Bearings

Well, it has been a week with my host organization, the Organization for the Good Life of the Marginalized, two weeks since I set foot in Uganda, and I finally have a grasp on what my work is going to be for the next seven.

This past Monday was my first day, and I spent it mostly learning names and positions of everyone at my organization. My organization is very multifaceted. They have everything from a microfinance program to AIDS information sessions. The staff is very knowledgeable, and the founder, who is also the boss, is quite serious about his work.

To be honest, my workplace is a nice change of pace from the African work ethic that many of my friends will have to deal with. It is not that the work ethic here is deficient; it is just slightly different. Whereas in America we focus on individual effort and efficiency, Africans focus on working together and prioritize quality over quantity. OGLM seems to blend the two approaches together to an optimal mix.

Ironically, Tuesday was a public holiday, Martyr’s Day, which meant no work! Wednesday, we went to a rural village called Buwaiswa, which is where most of the people with which I will be working live. There is a boarding school there that OGLM runs among other things.

I met some of the people I will be helping. My project is focused on victims of AIDS. More precisely, the grandmothers of children orphaned by AIDS. These “grannies” are the backbone of the lives of these children. Many are only subsistence farmers, left at the mercy of the weather, so I will be developing a microfinance program aimed at bringing them business training and capital to start small income-generating activities.

Thursday and Friday were slow days at the office where I just sat in front of the computer and typed up some reports on the current needs of the organization. Slow, but necessary. Soon enough, I will be on the front-line very often, and work will move much faster.

[Matt’s article continues after the jump – including some really stunning photos. – Shawn]

Continue reading ‘Getting my Bearings’