Showing posts with label Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Africa. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Simply Stated

Okay, I realize my last post was a downer. Those experiences were building, and I felt like corruption was an issue that needed to be addressed as something that affected our work and experiences frequently.

So now I am home, resting visiting friends and family, and sleeping... a lot. I want to conclude this blog appropriately, summarize what this summer has meant to me, what I have learned; but how can I do that simply for a summer that has been enlightening, challenging, exciting, tiring, busy, slow, confusing and ... a lot of other things.

Once upon a time... A long long time ago... Far far away... Well you see there was this angry momma baboon...

Nothing quite starts it off right. During this brief time of R&R before I return to IU next week and start ICore, I have needed some serious time for Reflection and Remembering. Albert Einstein said "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." I feel like that was how a lot of my summer program went. I also feel that the uncertainty, could be seen in our work and especially in my grant proposal. After a week of telling stories, I realize there are three highlights I would like to share:

1. By the end of our Pilot Brand Development Project, I feel like the women of Marusacco understood what their current brand reputation is in the community, and sincerely wanted to help improve that image. Also I was pleasantly surprised how using reputation interchangeably with branding, clarified our message and goals. Women of small communities absolutely understand the positive and negative effects a reputation can have on any entity. The challenges of working in a developing country were great. If I were to do it all again, I absolutely would, and I think I would do a lot differently.

2. I loved and will miss rafting on, swimming in, partially drowning in, walking by, and seeing the Nile Victoria River. It was an amazing reminder daily of where I was in the world.
3. The biggest highlight of summer was probably hanging out with this guy! Baby Solomon and I shared many ups and downs, literally, as he learned how to walk as well as had many other adventures typical for a one year old. Having a host family greatly (and positively) affected my experience and their welcome definitely eased my transition to becoming Ugandan - which will always be a part of me.

Thanks for reading. Nice time everyone,

Nabyrre Laura

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Refusing Corruption

Uganda is a lot of things; it holds beautiful scenery, wonderful people, it is cheap, it is dirty, and it is also corrupt. Throughout my experiences in Uganda and with corruption I have come to believe it begins on the top political levels, and has trickled down to all levels of society. Those with power have led by example, and decades of influence have certainly left their impression.

My first experience has been recurring every day: Muzungu Pricing. How can a business charge different prices based on skin color? Because they expect that I have money do they deserve to take more? At first I was amused but no more. While visiting Rwanda (due to visa complications and the need for a mini vacation) we experienced minimal muzungu pricing, and we especially noticed the difference in the organization of the transportation system. The bodas (moto taxis in Rwanda) were required to carry helmets for their passengers, and thus could only carry one person. Yesterday I saw three adults and two children on a boda in Jinja. Also it is so not okay to bribe your way onto a taxi bus. Bribery in general is a big no-no. ... Of course once we were back in Uganda we may or may not have bribed the bus driver to get us from Kampala to Jinja.

A Rwandan described the unorganized transportation chaos as corruption. I was relieved to hear him say this, as I was having trouble accounting these problems as corruption, thinking I was being too critical.

Other experiences that have reached me personally include having the electricity cut, for various reasons, for over a week at both my home and at work. My family did not want to report the man who conned them. They explained two reasons for not reporting; he is the friend of a friend, and revenge is very common. With David going off to school, he fears the man would come after their home to harm the family for costing him his job. They also say he is conning other people so someone else will report him… probably.

The final experience I will share here has been one of poor leadership. A Sacco under ORUDE has been having trouble with the treasurer not turning in the money he collects from members. Another intern with FSD faced similar challenges of a chairperson using the funds they raised to buy goat feed for his farm. I am amazed and confused as to how people can remain in their positions after raising such distrust. And how can they walk around their community, around their friends and colleagues when everyone knows what they have done?

These challenges and more have been frustrating throughout the summer as I acclimated to the business cultures here. I have high hopes for Uganda’s future, that someone will decide to sacrifice and lead by example, refuse the corruption, and bring along the slow and tedious process of raising Uganda’s standards.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mixed Feelings

Have you ever felt like you succeeded and failed at the same time?

Mariah: How was your program?
Me: It went sooooo
Mariah: Oh really? Did a lot of members come?
Me: No, maybe 25% of them.
Mariah: Ok did it go on time?
Me: No it started like two hours late... and ran there hours over..
Mariah: Ok.
Me: And then it rained... Oh I guess it didn't go so well...

Yet somehow I still feel good about our seminar. We have been working on a brand development program for the Sacco and some select pilot program VSLG groups. We found branding to be applicable in building a tangible legitimized entity for the Sacco in the community, and a means to relate branding to reputation building - which is applicable to the Sacco, and the members in their individual businesses. There has been skepticism that Marusacco is a real thing and a long term cooperative, haunted by a cooperative that previously existed at their location. The reputation building was directed to empower members in their ownership in the co-op and their responsibility to fulfil their roles and responsibilities (like repaying loans on time - which has been atrocious!)

Overall there were program delays and challenges, but lots of discussion of the next steps. I am proud of the management and members who have really embraced this idea of branding and identity, I hope their enthusiasm will spread the support to all 250+ members. A training is being organized just for management about their roles and responsibilities. Also many members (jealous of the pilot shirts) are eager to join the branding program and come to represent Marusacco. It will take time though. We have set requirements to join the brand program, which include improving loan repayment rates over time. Some of the requirements may be strict, but Marusacco has a reputation to uphold now!

Presenting Products at the Marusacco Market last Saturday

Welcoming members and other Secretary Managers to our Seminar

Ojambo Justine, an ORUDE founder now at PEFO speaking to members about their ownership of the cooperative.

Alinyakira group representing!!

Shifting to the big tent as rain poured down!
Esther sharing about Marusacco's new brand and showing off our shirts!!

Alinyakira Brand Manager sharing about his experiences in the program

Mukamamwesigwa Brand Manager sharing about her experiences

Mwino Abenakyo Brand Manager sharing about her experiences

Lunch was crazy
But the kids were so eager to help after we shared lunch with them!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Things I Have Learned In Uganda - Final Blog Post

This is my final post; since I've returned to America, it's back to the real world of work and mentally preparing for I-Core! I wanted to take one last moment to reflect on everything that I've learned in Uganda, both professional and personal.

Things I have learned in Uganda:

  • How to identify a problem and address it holistically in a way that supports an organization's long-term sustainability. I believe that one of the strengths of my project is that it created a program to solve an inherent problem in the SACCO: which is a lack of working capital. This problem is restricting the organization's vision and mission - without working capital, the SACCO is unable to extend loans to the community and therefore can't provide capital to expand businesses, help families out in emergencies, and pay for school fees. Addressing it holistically involved creating a project that benefited both sides of the equation: the SACCO itself and the beneficiaries. By developing savings culture, the problem of low working capital is solved through increased savings deposits. The clients of the SACCO benefit by receiving training in vital financial skills, and they are enabled to save better through the program. Picking up deposits at the client's house eliminates costly transportation to and from the SACCO - which was a major barrier to saving. You can see that the clients and the SACCO are intertwined in a cycle: you can't address a challenge in the SACCO without addressing a challenge in the community of beneficiaries you are serving. Thus, the best solutions are holistic solutions that both grow the organization and develop the community.

  • How to identify and motivate appropriate stake holders in a project. Another strength of the box savings project was that the employees of the SACCO entirely were supportive and participated in the project. And they should - they came up with the idea of distributing lockboxes to their clients. It seems that all they needed was a little push and structure to give support to their idea. And because they had come up with the idea, they were 100% stakeholders in making their idea become reality. The project had received incredible support and drive from every employee in the SACCO - even when I wasn't there, they were talking about the project and promoting it among their friends, neighbors, and other clients.

(Talking with my manager Cathy and chairman George)
  • Experience working in an international business setting. As an international business major at Kelley, one of my career goals is to work overseas and in the international sector of a company. I really value having exposure to working with people from a vastly different culture, and dealing with the ups and downs of living overseas.

  • Appreciation for the natural world. I'm not trying to be a super-hippie here, but some of the best times I had in Africa were when I was exploring the natural environment. The obvious one is going on safari - but from whitewater rafting down grade 5 rapids on the Nile river to going on an amazing hike underneath waterfalls up the side of Mount Elgon, I feel like my eyes have been opened to the amazing natural wonders of the world.

  • A real view of development. Maybe most importantly, I feel like I've gotten a real view of what development, charity, and aid are doing for Africa. What I say may sound controversial - but I support Africans finding solutions for African problems, and implementing those solutions themselves. I don't think Africa needs to play the damsel in distress. Like I had said above, the employees at my SACCO had a great idea of how to solve their problem with working capital, but they hadn't implemented it until I came along. And I wonder if students like us can teach essential skills on how exactly to solve problems and implement solutions.
That's my final two-cents on how living and working for two months in Uganda changed me and what it taught me. Again, I want to thank the Kelley Institute for Social Impact on offering an incredible opportunity to intern with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (I don't know if readers are aware of this, but KISI paid all our fees to FSD). And I also want to thank the Trockman Microfinance Initiative for providing me with a travel grant that further catered for my expenses toward this trip.

Moreover, I can't wait to get back to Kelley and share what I've learned from my experience!

Sula Bulungi,

My Host Hostel

I feel like my experience with my host family has been different from other interns, because of how young my family is. My parents (David and Mariah) celebrated their first child’s (Solomon’s) first birthday last month. So rather than relatives and family of all ages coming and going I feel like our home has the feel of a hostel. We welcomed in Hanifa, an intern from Kampala to stay for the summer. She shared a room with Betty, who does work around the house. Simon stays in the guest wing, and two young women moved into the garage as they look for a more permanent place to rent. All of us are under the age of thirty five. Some nieces and nephews who are in high school in Jinja also stop by. We come and go frequently at all hours, and it is an environment I thoroughly enjoy.

Although I feel as though I have the independence of living in a hostel, I am incredibly dependent on my family. Betty takes good care of me, from helping me find the right flask with tea, to chasing the dog off so I can get out the gate. After work it is often Betty and I at home, and we trade off playing with Solomon blowing bubbles, and dancing with him. I have wanted to learn from Betty how to make matoke and some of the sauces we have, but the timing has always been off, I am down to four days to master those recipes.

My family has hosted many interns in the past, many through FSD as well. I like to talk with them over tea and throughout the evening about work and the challenges I have faced. Last night I had a great discussion with David about Uganda’s future, specifically the crippling nature of corruption and foreign aid. Spending cuts in the US are taking their affect here as many organizations have started to look for new sources of income since US aid is cut.

Today I get to spend some quality time with my family and I am so excited! The daughter of the man whose house they are renting is getting married to a Kiwi, and we are going to the introduction today and wedding on Thursday! I’m so curious to how the cultural traditions will be combined. What a perfect addition to my last week in Uganda!

Ugandan Friendships

I will miss my Ugandan friends so much. I love the relationships I have developed and the quirks of what our relationships consist of. At any point through the day I would receive a phone call that goes something like this:

Me: Wanji?

Friend: Hello Rolla! How are you today?

Me: I am fine how are you?

Friend: Mm. Bulunji – I am fine. Well done.

Me: Mm. Kale Gyebaleko.

Friend: *laughter* Mm Kale.

Me: Mm. Okay. What are you doing?

Friend: I am resting/in town/studying. What are you doing?

Me: I am at work/taking tea/going on a safari.

Friend: Okay let me wish you a nice time. And say ‘hello’ to Marsholay (Mallory) for me

Me: Okay Nice time t-- *click*

There are some who continue on about hobbies, plans for the weekend, and discussing when we will see each other again, but rarely do my conversations last longer than two minutes. I like this culture of checking in on friends just to see what they are doing at that moment and to tell them what I am doing right then. I hope my friends in the USA are ready, I feel like I will start calling them much more!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Story Within a Story

Throughout my daily routine some people have come to stand out, and here is a little story about them.

My usual Boda boda guy– Apart from being the first boda to stop asking "we go?" and start saying "welcome back" when I pass, this guy has been so understanding about not overcharging me. As I started walking more he would ask why we don't go and we would both laugh when I say it is because I am a poor muzungu and he says there is no such thing.

Further along my walk to work, I pass an old man. When I have seen him he is usually in ragged dirty overalls and carrying a hoe. He would work the field and hang out around the trash pile on the way to work. Hanging around trash is not so uncommon, often people will dig through for some food or other salvageable objects. I was curious about what happened when he wasn't around, but he always comes back, and we exchange greetings in the morning. I found out from Khareme, a colleague I met along the road to work, that he is a World War Two veteran (probably on the German side). He had been arguing with another man that he should clean up the trash, and the younger man replied that it is up to some council to clean it. Turns out the man lives nearby and when I see him about he is always cleaning up the trash to try and make his road nicer. This new insight from the simplest translation has altered my view of this man completely; I am intrigued and wish he spoke more English so we could talk more.

The third person never fails to find me. We met Hassan our first week in Uganda, as we ate at the Source Café. He is maybe 17 and not in school, although he used to be. Now he roams main street and makes lots of muzungu friends. He showed us around town without asking for anything. When we asked him what we wanted he said bread. I see him often and we catch up, I know he was sick this summer, but he is doing better now. He also chases off the drunk kids who come out in the evening to beg for money. Wednesday I saw him again and he surprised me. He showed me his receipts from a savings account he opened! He is saving money from washing cars – muzungu cars of course, they pay the most – and has plans to start a business, build a house, and find a woman. I am so impressed to see that he is saving little by little. He also explained to me all the technicalities of his account, different fees and fines he will try and avoid, and how much interest he will earn. I don’t know how much he told me was honest – but for his sake I hope it was all truth and I wish him the best.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day in the Life of an FSD Intern

Sleep - one of my favorite things as you now know - is often interrupted by an overeager rooster or a dog fight here or there, or an extraordinary amount of birds. Putting that aside I am usually up, mosquito net neatly tucked away and getting breakfast around 8:00 am. Recently it has been tea g-nut spread and bread or fried eggs, or crazy weird and dense but awesome fried pancakes.

Nine weeks has been plenty of time to develop a routine. My workday officially starts at 8:30, but let’s gets real; this is Africa. Twice I have shown up and been the only one until after 9! So around 8:25/8:30 I start to mosey up the road to ORUDE.

Internet access, lots of space, and a free and filling lunch buffet. ORUDE is pretty awesome. I've been spending a lot of that time researching community development, branding strategies and team building activities.

After lunch things get a little exciting. I hop on a matatu to Nakabango Stage right by my Sacco. It is a quaint space with electricity, but no Internet. Adjusting our program to be a training of trainers has simplified work so much. I began traveling the 40 minutes to Marusacco only twice a week and meeting our brand managers there – cutting our transport costs in half! Otherwise I spend my time running errands, making copies, picking supplies and ordering our Marusacco polo shirts (which hopefully will be completed today!!), or attending the occasional FSD workshop.

Matatu home and the day’s work is done! It would not be unusual to see the other interns from Jinja and myself on the patio of Mayfair hotel after work stopping in for something to drink, or at space café using some free wifi, or at a new favorite – Moti Mahal Indian Restaurant! Recently I found a great gym across town, but if I can’t make it out there I usually get enough exercise doing curls with baby Solomon. I don’t know anyone who likes to be upside down as much as that guy!

Tea time around seven starts to close my day and I will sit around with my family and talk about our days, or we enjoy some TV programs – when electricity allows. Dinner is served by ten – ten thirty at the latest. A brief rocking of baby Solomon and I crash – especially since I started walking everywhere, stupid rising petrol prices.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Which Came First the Hen or the Egg?

Inspired and conflicting conversations can be so interesting, yet often leave me at the end of a group discussion feeling like we all still walk away with our own opinions and without any enlightenment or consensus. Saturday FSD hosted a Micro Enterprise Financing in Uganda talk with presentations from GESI interns from Northwestern University and a paper presentation by a Mr. Fred Muwaya, a professor from Busoga University.

The group discussion that followed consisted mostly of remarks, concerns and comments from Busoga University students with a few FSD intern comments here and there with a question, clarification, or observation. My favorite clarification was the GESI intern who claimed that Uganda should not look to America's saving culture as an example, considering how America does not have a culture for saving... To which, our moderator commented, "So they aren't better than us... " I thought it was so hilarious.

Anyways, the conversation topic focused around closing the gap between microfinance institutions and the micro enterprises they offer services too. Enter the circular philosophical question; which comes first savings or financing? The hen or the egg? Several people claimed the financing comes first, in order to receive capital to begin saving regularly.

I disagree. From my experiences, (and according to many banks and MFI policies) members need to achieve a certain level of savings before taking out loans. At Marusacco, members can take loans up to three times that of their savings. In addition for providing the MFI with capital to access loans at a better rate, I think it trains members in long term business planning strategies. They need to learn how to assess risks and set goals for future growth. But I also do not claim that that is the only or right answer.

Cultural changes take time, and need to be decided by the people of said cultural community. Similarly, I do not think that asking short term American interns how we can address these challenges is very efficient or sustainable. Someone needs to lead the change - and a sustainable change for Uganda will come from Ugandans who accept responsibility, refuse corruption, and welcome the challenges and costs in pursuit of long term prosperity.

So wait why am I here again? Well, that is a philosophical train of jumbled thoughts for another blog.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reader's Choice!

Every day in Uganda is a lesson learned, and I love sharing those experiences with you all on this blog! With three weeks remaining in my program it is really crunch time at work and I may make less frequent appearances here. I don't want to neglect all of you who have been following Mallory's and my own adventures, so I am wanting to know what you still want to know about Uganda. So much has happened, not everything has been translated into this blog, so if there are any topics or places you would like me to delve into please comment!!

Good News Bad News Time

Which do you want first?

Okay lets go with the bad - we will rip it off quick like a band-aid.

My grant was not funded. Whoops.

On to the good news!

Not receiving my grant has not totally offset my program. Surprised? So was I. That also makes me think that those FSD funds are probably going to be used for a program that needs it more. To be clear I said my program is not totally offset, but we are of course trying to scale back. As we speak (well as I type...) my supervisor is going over my budget to see where we can scale back and if they can contribute any more to our seminar funds.

The bulk of my grant was to fund a half day seminar in August, aiming to educate and empower all 250 plus members in their ownership and responsibilities as a part of Marusacco. This also is an avenue to debut Marusacco's new brand image and showcase our pilot program branded Village Savings and Lending Groups (VSLGs). Adjusting our program through trial and error, our training of trainers approach has saved us a lot in transportation and training materials. Revisiting our initial budget was laughable and we created a new to-do list including all the remaining expenses for the last three weeks of my program.

Remaining is to create advertisements for our market in two weeks, and plan for our empowerment seminar. Hopefully we can mobilize some funds for a tent, food, and transportation costs - but if not, well the show must go on.

Also these marketing and schedule details will need to come together quickly as next week I may be taking a quick trip across a border, which conveniently coincides with my expiring visa... Shout out to the incompetent immigration officer who gave me a shorter visa than I paid for, well done Nyabo.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Patience is a Virtue

Yesterday I was convinced that patience is the quality that most influences my work in Uganda. My first test of patience was not really my own – but our matatu driver. Traveling from the airport so long ago in May I looked out on the Kampala rush hour traffic and was amazed – and sort of frightened. Jonan explained that all it took to drive in the city was patience – which I did not recognize as one van cut in front of another and people weaved their way across the street. One man walking was “was not so patient” and was pushed into our van from the back by a boda boda.

Nearly seven weeks later I have been slapped by a big bowl of patience. Unfortunately for me, that bowl was empty and it has taken much strength this week to gather my patience. Plans made a month ago came back with he said she said’s and no financial support. Without going into detail, I was frustrated. Finally, I grabbed a colleague to sit down with me and a list of challenges that had arisen and the next logistical steps for our program and got down to business. I have not approached my colleagues with every problem, wanting to accomplish work by myself. That was not a good idea. The answer to poor communication is never less communication.

In the afternoon, I made my way to Marusacco for our second brand manager trainings. How they changed my day! We had a wonderful training despite one manager not showing up. These women have been very accepting of their trainings and as becoming a part of Marusaccos brand. (Thank goodness for free professional and academic resources online volunteering credible and valuable training materials!) Also their dedication was seen in their carefully developed slogans:

Alinyikira – Unity is Strength to fight ignorance

Mukamamwesigwa – Women Empowerment to Fight Poverty

Mwino Abenakyo – Patience Leads to Victory

These slogans will be represented on Marusacco polo shirts, each with the new Marusacco logo on the front and divided by group by the colors and slogans on the back. As I post this blog, I am waiting patiently for the program manager to return so we can order these shirts and keep planning for our August seminar! With the invitations being delivered and my renewed attitude –nothing can bring me down today!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Newsworthy Weekend

Saturday, South Sudan seceded and became the 54th country in Africa. That was a time of celebration – the end of a civil war in a nation divided by ethnicity. Many people were happy for peace. I asked many Ugandans what they thought of this event, most agreed it would be better for them to be united, but everyone declared how good it will be for them to have peace. Peace is a quality understood severely by Ugandans, still cleaning up from their own civil war. What if the US civil war had ended with the division of our nation? How much different would our lives be if we considered the challenges between two races reason to separate? Another intern claims they are sliding into feudalism, and some say that is what Africa needs. I don't think I really agree with them; but I am optimistic and hopeful South Sudan's oil riches may lead to peace, greater equality and economic benefits for the undeveloped south.

As the live feed from Juba faded, stories of Remembering 7/11 flooded the news. Last July, during the world cup games, Uganda was hit by twin bombing terrorist attacks in Kampala. The news has recommended citizens be cautious of another attack. We have made it half way through the day, so far so good. Other Ugandans remark about how the news seemed to forgot until last month about the attacks and added security installed last July and August suddenly reappeared. Sound familiar? They are not per say living in fear of another attack, some are almost indifferent, feeling “that we are all at God’s mercy.” Although I must say – the taxi strike restricting traffic in Kampala today is rather convenient for keeping people in today.

And so, the world keeps turning.

Babies and Fish Heads

Never did I anticipate a microfinance internship to involve so many babies! For starters, there is my 11 month old host brother, Baby Solomon, who I mentioned on this blog some time ago. He is the most precious baby brother EVER! I love spending my evenings after work at home teaching him and my host mom American nursery rhymes and helping him walk. He loves music and is the first baby I know who learned to dance before walking.

(Baby Solomon drumming on my suitcase - and being precious!)

Then babies started showing up at the office. During my first week at ORUDE a woman came in. Still waiting to meet everyone from the office I would greet whoever came in with enthusiasm – trying to pick up subtle cues if I should know who they are. This woman was walking a little strange and when I asked how she was she said she was fine, and she just gave birth. “… Pardon?” “Yes I had a baby; it is out in the truck.” “…”

Turns out by “just gave birth” the office secretary meant 4 days ago – much more reasonable. Our accountant is about ready to give birth to her first child, and my supervisor, Olivia, keeps telling me about how ground up fish healed her son of the measles. Mubiru is the only exception, a rebel of sorts. He knows who he wants to marry, but first he wants to wait about five years and become an accountant. He endures much criticism for his plans because he will be almost thirty.
Even Mubiru though “fears” for me when I laugh and explain that I am not yet engaged and do not want children for several years. Shaking their heads they notice I haven’t eaten much lunch. “Do you fear children and fish?” (This has become the second most common lunch topic) “Only when it stares back at me” “Bet the head is the sweetest part!!!!” Well Olivia, I reply we can agree to disagree on that one.

(My supervisor Olivia, enjoying her fishy lunch)

But I enjoy these conversations so much and the friendships I’ve developed with my coworkers – they are such interesting people, and they always get a kick out of giving me fish heads for whatever reason.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Healthy Dose of Competition

I apologize for my blog absence - but getting through this midterm week of my internship has been insane!

I submitted my grant proposal to FSD earlier this week and we held our first brand managers training. Hopefully in the next week I will hear back about the grant so we can start planning for the expansion of our Pilot Brand Development Program through a seminar in August. I wish I had three more months to spend here to really educate these women on the importance of upholding a professional brand image, even in their small businesses. My strategy in all this is a training of trainers. It is best this way, as it becomes more and more likely that I will be leaving Uganda before the program is complete. Our goal is to shower information on newly elected brand managers and then allow the integration of training into their respective savings groups at a more appropriate pace. Luckily/thankfully/every other emotion of relief, after our training the brand managers responded that they are confident in their abilities to educate fellow members on branding.

We are also working to clarify what levels of the Sacco we are branding. Marusacco’s brand is our main focus – attempting to increase their marketing capacity to new members and communities, while empowering members to repay their loans because we mean business!

ORUDE is also working to empower their seven Saccos to function independently, which is burdened majorly by not following policies and low loan recovery. They decided these Saccos are growing beyond ORUDE, and invited the District Commercial Officer (DCO) to their Quarterly Manager Meeting yesterday. I was pleased to settle into a corner of the room to take minutes behind 28 managers, treasurers, and chairpersons.

The DCO spoke about ownership and responsibility throughout his report on three recent audits of ORUDE Saccos. It was definitely interesting, inspiring, and shocking. He repeatedly called for ORUDE to sack one of the secretary managers throughout the 6 hour event. Later I found out I had been sitting by that manager the entire time. I asked my colleagues about it and they just laughed. I still don’t understand if that was appropriate, embarrassing, or just to inspire competition – but they heartily agreed about the manager’s incompetence.

I was proud that Marusacco (my Sacco in Mafubira!) was constantly referenced as an example of good banking practices. Most of all though I think it was eye opening to see how to inspire healthy competition. I have wanted to avoid offending members, but that was exactly the purpose of the Quarterly Meeting. They were publicly compared in a way that removed their individual advantages of claiming that ORUDE was hiding something, or that they are being treated differently.

Inspired, we have taken a more aggressive approach to mobilize members. I am so curious to see how the women of Mafubira respond to their now public group loan repayment rates. Maybe that will inspire the group returning only 8% to pay up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Struggle Boat

Sunday Mallory, and I knocked a big one off our bucket list - white water rafting the grade five rapids of the Nile River! That was not the easiest feat if I say so myself. A glaring sunburn, a few bruises, and one chipped tooth later we came up out of the water alive!

Along the way we definitely encouraged each other as our raft continued flipping over (nearly)every rapid, but really we had a great time with some other interns, our guide, and that peace core volunteer who kept jumping ship...

(no you can't see me in this one - I was in the back, thus I was at that point under the boat)

(Some Muzungu Birds)

(The Dream Team)

That struggle boat we were in was one of many struggles I have faced throughout this summer.

It's time to get real on this blog and let you in on those struggles.

I'll begin with that brief mention of a chipped tooth - yes that was me of course. It is now expertly filled by a Jinja dentist who does not believe it necessarily to use anesthetics before digging right in.

On a less physically painful note, my project keeps slipping behind in its schedule. It is incredibly unfortunate - but what can we do when the road is washed out from construction right before the heavy rain, or when a community member passed away and the savings group is making burial preparations. My supervisor in the field is very supportive of trying to find solutions and we are finding ways to skip some steps or revisit them later as time allows.

Also as we visit groups I hate reaching that point of our presentation where we need to clarify that some groups will not be included in the pilot program - they smile, eyeing me and say "I think you will pick us..." I may have learned how to give a bad news message (shout out of thanks to Jeanette Heidewald and the Kelley School) but it is still not something to look forward to.

Through careful communication we will keep moving forward, and I am proud to say we have organized our brand goals, developed respectable logos, and chosen three savings groups for our pilot branding program! Ever the optimist, I laugh off the setbacks with my colleagues who face the same challenges every day - rather than for a short eleven weeks - and get back to work!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Organized Chaos

I love when I learn about some reason or meaning for typical parts of life in Uganda, especially concerning their language. For example: A Rolex (no not the watch) is Chapatti rolled up with a fried egg omelet and costs around 1000/= Ugandan Shillings (Again not the watch for $.50 USD, that would be too cool). Anyways, it was named a Rolex because you take the food, and roll it up. Plain and simple, and delicious.

Also I have learned so much about Boda Bodas this week!

First interesting fact is that their name was shortened from border-to-border. Motorcycle taxis provided cheap transportation across the border in the East to Kenya and became known for taking people from one border to another. Convenient name? I think so!
The second thing I learned is that they are incredibly organized! While visiting Mallory and another intern, Nick, in Bugembe on Wednesday I arrived rather early with no idea which way to go. A colleague was dropping me from work (hence the early arrival) and instructed me to sit with the bodas and wait. Among the ten bodas at this boda stage, I met the Bugembe boda Chairman! They have a chairman! So does Jinja apparently, and everywhere.

After being introduced to each by their name and religion, I asked about how they got stationed at this particular coaster stop. It is a prime location, and I am not sure how some end up working that corner, and another guy sits all day at the end of my street waiting for someone to come by. No clear answer emerged from the conversation. All I know though, is it may be more competitive than I first thought!

I'm so curious about this taxiing industry, I have many follow up questions for my new friends next time I visit Bugembe, but perhaps I will save that for a sunny day!

(View of Lake Victoria from some hilltop in Bugembe)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Up the Nile without a Paddle

Hopefully I will not actually lose my paddle as Mallory, myself, and four other FSD interns take on some 25 kilometers of Grade Five rapids on Sunday!
I heard from a very persistent tour guide that it takes approximately three months for water to travel the entire 6000 miles to the Mediterranean Sea. That made me think about how far I've come on my journey here, which will be just shy of three months. I suppose at three weeks in I must be somewhere in Southern Sudan on my metaphorical journey downstream.

Upon arrival I thought eleven weeks was somewhere beyond the horizon - past some matoke, villages and monkeys - but I was wrong. My work plan timeline is flying by, and weekends are filling with adventure! I am grateful for this blog for a chance to record everything that's happening, and I really hope I can get down to business with my branding project, rather than letting time continue to float by.

No Cake for You!

Ugandans sure know how to throw a party! And really they do, it is not the work of a wedding/party planner, they like to keep it in the family! I'm surprised that wedding planning is not a viable profession in Uganda, where traditional festivities can last up to a week, or more! If the culture were to change in the future to be open to a wedding planning industry, well lets just say I see quite a lucrative potential market!

I missed the engagement party on Thursday. I was very disappointed, as it was four hours away in a rural village, and I missed out on wearing the traditional Gomasi. A Gomasi is like a sari, but with pointed shoulders, you can maybe see a few in my pictures and video. I did not wear one to the wedding on Saturday, it was a traditional Catholic wedding held in a church in Jinja. A nice dress, and some fancy sandals helped me to fit right in, well as much as I could.

On June 18, 2011 Ignatius and Daisy were married, and my host dad David was the best man. You can see him just behind the bride, bridegroom and flower girl, as they dance down the aisle.

Yes that's right, they danced - never walked - and it was awesome! My host sister Haniffa described how great the procession is when you get a couple who really loves to get down, I can only imagine. Neither Haniffa or myself met the couple before the wedding, so we stuck together and she let me pick her brain on all things wedding related!

Cool things I learned:
  • Always account for twice as many guests as you plan for (my host parents invited 200 and 400 came)
  • Invitation is generally by word of mouth - because you expect your friends to come, they do not need an invitation. (The workplace and far away relatives generally receive invitations.)
  • The wedding party dances anytime the travel somewhere
  • We had a lunch break between the wedding and reception
  • The bride and bridegroom were constantly surrounded by photographers. Turns out they didn't hire all of them, some just heard and showed up. At the reception they came with multiple copies of their prints to sell right then and there to the guests!
  • It is super convenient to be married in Jinja, because then you get to have your reception on the Nile!
  • Cake is reserved for important people - I was not one of those - It is a way to show recognition to family members and employers and good friends who attend your wedding, and then it gets passed backwards from their to the other excess guests.
My video of their dancing and cake giving isn't loading, so here are a couple quick pics from the reception!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

People, Pleasantries, and a Little Trash Talk

“How do you find this place?” “It’s good. Bulunji.”My friend Lillian, a University student from Central Uganda, has been the only one to follow up with, "Why do you only have positive things to say?" Lillian, Mallory and I met at the source of the Nile, she is in Jinja completing her student teaching for her education degree. It is a very reasonable question, and Jinja is not exactly paradise, but her question made me laugh all the same. The experiences of being in a new place seem to have had more positives than negatives, we will see if this changes with the more time I spend here.

(Mallory, Lillian, and I in the middle of the Nile River)

A positive experience has been how nice people are. Ugandans rave that they are the nicest in Eastern Africa, and my colleagues assure me that they, the Busoga who live in this Jinja district, are the kindest tribe, the others are stubborn. And generally, people have always been very pleasant and friendly to me. It may have something to do with the customary greeting of "You are most welcome." That just makes a person feel good!

To be fair to Lillian’s question - I dislike the trash removal system here. Of the Ugandans I have interacted with, I have realized that I generate more trash than they do. Our family trash can is a small bucket emptied just a couple times a week. Much of what is thrown out is paper product or compost waste and so burning seems to be the removal method of choice. Dumpsters are found with smoke pouring out and trash spilling over. Once or twice I have seen a man with a shovel gather the trash back into the dumpster, but never have I seen it emptied. Through some curiosity and investigation, I learned that there is a city garbage removal, which takes the dumpsters away, empties them and then returns them. Those near the marketplace are emptied maybe every other day. You can see in the image to the right some mid day trash burning outside my office in Mafubira.

Now I don't want to leave you on such a negative note, so getting back to the discussion of the Busoga and tribes, those cultural ties are very strong. Heading to Mafubira I always pass the hill the tribe king is building a house on. One of my favorite questions to be asked is, do different tribes in America speak different languages? It reminds me of the differences between ourselves, where people do not always know their heritage, and this youthful country which became independent in the 60s. Could you imagine if each US state spoke at least one local language?