A Year On From the 2016 Big Give Christmas Appeal: Karamoja

I’m writing this whilst sheltering from torrential rain with two of the new team spearheading our programme in Karamoja - Revd Joseph and Sam. We’re in a church which is almost completely bare; earth walls with holes in for windows, dirt floor, some benches and one table. We’ve also just been joined by two goats who have wisely taken shelter too; the rain is really hammering down onto the tin roof!

We’re in Amudat district, Karamoja region, eastern Uganda, visiting the newest Five Talents programme which was launched earlier this year thanks to your generosity in the 2016 Big Give.

The communities you’re helping here really are isolated. Today I’m visiting a new Trust Group in a village 54 km from Amudat town, along an un-tarmacked road. We didn’t pass a single 4-wheel vehicle on the way here – just some motorbikes, women carrying firewood and water on their heads, herds of goats and cows, a hunter with a bow and arrow, and even some camels shepherded by a small child, kept for their milk.

Aside from the challenges of isolation, life is tough here, especially for women and girls; child marriage, FGM and polygamy are still common. In Pokot culture (the main ethnic group in this part of Karamoja) women are not encouraged to speak in mixed groups. In this Trust Group meeting, the men sit on benches or on the small stools they carry whilst the women sit at the back or on the floor.

 
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Yet despite this, the majority of the Group members are women and as the female Treasurer introduces herself it’s clear that things are already beginning to change for the better. The members of this Trust Group have begun to start their own small businesses – one grandma buys a bit of maize, gets it ground in a mill and then sells it by the mugful from a washing up basin by the roadside. Another sells rice similarly in mugs from a bucket, and another has a tiny kiosk-shop.

These businesses are essential for these families. The grandma tells me the small profits she makes help to cover school fees for some of her grandchildren. But she can only afford to buy stock in the harvest season, when she has some money. During the rest of the year when there is no money to spare, the whole family struggles to afford even enough food to put on the table.

The only banks here are in Moroto town and the public transport fare from Amudat costs around 12 days of day-labourer wages. Clearly, access to any formal financial services is out of the question for these rural communities living on the poverty line.

I’ve only been here in Karamoja for 2 days but already I can see why this Five Talents programme will make such a difference. Our programme will mean members can buy stock and earn a little money all year round. Most keep no business records either, so our training will help them to know which stock is most profitable, and make sure no-one is conning them (this is one of the challenges they identified - sadly it happens all over the world). They will be able to start planning for their futures with the knowledge and resources needed to make their aspirations a reality.

I’m looking at the small children napping on the earth floor of the church in their threadbare clothes, whilst their mothers listen to Sam encouraging them to save little by little, week by week. Most of these young mothers never went to secondary school. It’s incredible to think that some of their children could even go to university from this remote village in Karamoja, now that their mothers have voted to start saving today.  

This is exactly what we should be doing and where we should be doing it. Thank you for making it possible.

This post was written by our Programmes Manager Rachel Lindley whilst on a programme visit.

When Savings and Loans Become Tractors and Schools

Five Talents funded the startup of a new branch in a particularly rural area of Uganda’s Mukono region called Kayunga. This blog was written after a visit to the branch in the summer of 2016.

It’s easy to get an impression of the scale of his vision for the Diocese when you’re sitting round the breakfast table with Bishop James Ssebaggala and his wife (affectionately known as Mama Bishop). He talks about the Diocese starting new schools in some of the poorest rural areas and about training farmers in techniques to increase their yields. But with such limited funds, for years these optimistic ideas remained just that.

The SACCO provides rural schools with loans for, amongst other things, building classrooms.. 

The SACCO provides rural schools with loans for, amongst other things, building classrooms.. 

This frustration led Bishop James to start the Mudi SACCO, a type of credit co-operative that Five Talents has been supporting for the past year. His vision was that it would act as it’s own micro-economy, enabling the poorest to deposit their savings and borrow small loans whilst also offering larger loans to the rural schools and projects he so desperately wanted to support. Now that the SACCO is in place, schools can borrow loans to invest in (what is often the most basic) infrastructure and repay with interest from the school fees. Not only that, but the lady selling bananas in her village can borrow small loans from the growing fund. At least that’s the idea.

Soon though we’re heading down a long untarmacked road following Daniel, the Loan Officer, who rides a motorbike that Five Talents helped purchase to reach these highly marginalised locations. After about an hour we pull into Destiny Primary School and greeted by over 200 children - quite a change from the usual programme visits we make to small businesses.

The school is very basic. Probably more so than you’re imagining. The earth walls of the three classrooms only reach to hip height with a gap between the mud bricks and the tin roof. The headteacher tells us that the school opened in January in response to the need of the poorest families in the nearby villages who couldn’t afford the transport costs to send their children to the nearest government schools.

But what he really wants to tell us about is the roof. The (fairly unremarkable) roof which was built using a loan borrowed from the SACCO. Without it, the school would never have been able to open. They have already repaid the loan using the school fees and hope to borrow a second loan to finish construction.

The impact of the SACCO for just this one school was quite staggering and a recent independent evaluation noted that access to these kinds of loans had been fundamental in allowing community projects like this to go ahead in the very poorest communities. The SACCO is currently supporting 15 schools and various other projects. It was particularly exciting to see midwifery school and a tractor which local farmers can rent with the help of small loans which are repaid after harvest.

We also often talk about the benefit of working through the local church; the trusted, rural-reaching network it provides. The evaluation of the SACCO also found that, its links with the Church were the primary reason that individual members trusted the organisation. During our visit we also met several women running small businesses - more of what you often hear us talking about. One group of women we met had saved together and borrowed small loans to start a business making mats. As a result, they said one had rebuilt the roof of her deceased son's home and rents the house to earn an income to support her orphaned grandchildren. From another woman, we hear exactly what we hear again and again from our clients: now she is able to send her children to school.

“I used to spend all my excess money but now I run to the SACCO to save it,” says Isabirye Stephen Lowly - a farmer who grows passion fruit and other vegetables

My Visit to South Sudan: Literacy, Blindness, & Hope

A version of this blog was written by Suzanne Schultz Middleton, Five Talents US's Programme Director, and originally appeared on Five Talents USA's website. 


80% of women in South Sudan missed out on education and are not literate, so it was not a surprise that in the community learning circle in Gorom, South Sudan, the three facilitators were all men.

A few years ago, Angelo, Pierensio, and Oliver were tasked with the creation and running of three circles of learners consisting of 32 women and 12 men. Their aim was simple: to improve basic literacy and numeracy. Incredibly, today, all 44 participants have been accredited as literate and numerate.

In 2012, the three literacy circles combined to form a single community Savings and Loan Association. The members voted to call this association "Light". The group has continued to flourish and is fortunate in receiving the support of a local chief, Charles, who has even joined the group himself. 


Left to right: Community facilitators in Gorom, Angelo and Pierensio; Oliver and Charles in the Gorom community meeting; Arrival into Gorom.


Charles' membership demonstrates his support and endorsement. But he’s not just a passive member. In fact, Charles applied for and was granted a loan which he used to open a small shop to supplement his income from charcoal production. In the year following the loan, Charles earned four times the GNI per person for South Sudan. He gave half his profit to his wife to start a peanut paste business and the remainder is used to send each of his nine children to school.

As I was leaving the group, Oliver approached me, thanking us for bringing this training and for not bringing money. He said, "even 1 million SSP (£124,000) would be eaten but this knowledge will stay with us always".

This was powerful testimony to a programme that set out to transform the lives of women, their families, and their communities in South Sudan. We found women and men working together, sharing new knowledge and leadership roles to improve their ability to provide for their families. 

At the end of the meeting I greeted the Pastor and thanked him for letting us meet in the church and for his support for the programme. He also wanted us to know that while he himself was blind, the Gospel was read every Sunday in the church by women from the literacy circles.


At the time of posting, South Sudan is experiencing a shaky ceasefire. Will you support Five Talents' financial inclusion and help move the country towards stability? Donate here.

Programme Update: Big Changes!

 

KENYA & UGANDA WORKSHOP - The Programme Workshop in Kenya went very well - our partners were all very interested in our sessions on in-country fundraising and we also presented a range of new training manuals to begin the process of reviewing all of our business and financial training in East Africa.

Progress was also made on new M&E measures and this week PPI and PPI+ (two systems of measuring our impact, an international standard and a custom one we've developed) went compulsory for all new member registrations at MBF. For the first time ever we'll get a full spectrum of baseline data rather than the samples we've had hitherto. It was also good to meet the representatives from Karamoja, Uganda and Kericho, Kenya where we hope to work in the near future.

 


MBF, Tanzania - On Monday, MBF opened a new branch! It's in Ifupila, near Mafinga. This now makes four MBF branches: Iringa, Mafinga, Morogoro and now Ifupila.

Ifupila is a tea-growing region and most of the clients will be tea-pluckers. There is a strong need in this area as the pluckers do not save year-round. This means they live well in tea season but not the rest of the year. MBF plans to teach them savings and business skills so they can save for off-season and also start side businesses to give year-round income. 
 


Ifupila is only 25km from Mafinga but the community because Ifupila communities were spending large sums on transport to and from Mafinga and really wanted services closer to home - the need was so acute that local leaders donated the building for an MBF office. 

Two staff have been posted there - one is a former IT officer from Iringa who is freed up now that the cloud-based Musoni system is bedded in, and the other is a female intern who has previously been volunteering her time, but who has now been offered a job. The MBF Programme Leader, Japhet Makau, predicts this branch will break even within three months thanks to commission on MKOPA's solar loans and CRDB agency banking, and because the operating costs are very low. 

Japhet is also planning to start a new branch in Dodoma region which will serve 4 dioceses. So, we currently have four branches in three Tanzanian dioceses and could add another four dioceses through the Dodoma branch if that gets going. Mama Bahati Foundation is very definitely spreading her wings. 


To hear more about the specifics of these changes, please feel free to contact the programme team. As always, we ask you to consider signing up to give small amounts on a regular basis. As little as £10 a month can have huge cumulative impacts. 

Trip Notes: Coming Back To Iringa

This was my third visit to Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF) the Five Talents project based in Iringa Tanzania. My last visit was in September 2014 so it was interesting to see how the project has developed over the last 18 months. The intervening period has been a tough one for MBF. As the programme has expanded, we have not been able to fund the project to the extent that they would like.

Children waiting outside a Trust Group meeting. 

Children waiting outside a Trust Group meeting. 

The trip was the usual round of meeting clients and hearing their stories; as well as hearing from the leadership about the plans and budgets for the future. In addition, two of our team were also looking at the possibility of raising funds via some non-traditional channels.

I was interested that some of the centres which had been closed for a period and then reopened were now operating with renewed vigour. Several of the clients mentioned that although there were other MFIs working in the area, once MBF was able to restart they preferred to come back to them. We heard from a client who told us that although she had come across MBF at her local church, it was the word on the street that had persuaded her to come along and take a loan. I found both these aspects very encouraging as they show the high regard that clients have for MBF and the loan officers.

At one of the meetings I attended it was a great privilege to hear one of the loan officers giving business advice about increasing your client base and how to market your business. I’m sure that it was far more effective to be given by the loan officer rather than one of the visitors via a translation. Another highlight of the centre visits was seeing loans being issued through M-Pesa and hearing mobiles buzzing and ringing at the end of the meeting.

A member of the MBF staff with a Musoni tablets

A member of the MBF staff with a Musoni tablets

It was great to hear about the plans that MBF has for expansion with another branch office to be opened in Morogoro. There was also talk of expanding the work in other dioceses of Tanzania - with the caveat that it would only be possible with additional funds, the right people to operate the new offices, and robust systems to ensure that the new operation can function in a sound manner. There were also exciting plans for additional services to be provided such as the solar loans.

Currently MBF is very fortunate to have Japhet Makau as the Chief Executive along with Donald Mtetemela; who as the founder and now chair of the trustees have guided MBF to its current position. However, MBF needs to be able to retain the quality of loan officers that they currently have and to be able to train up members of staff to fill the new positions that are emerging as the work expands. It was interesting to note that at the time of our visit there was only one female loan officer and Japhet acknowledges that they want to recruit additional women so as to improve the balance in this area.

One area, which I think, still needs to addressed is how does MBF continue to look out for the rural poor who have no other access to financial services or credit. At the time of my initial visit in 2009, it was envisaged that after a certain number of successful loan cycles clients would be able to graduate to an MFI which was prepared to loan to established businesses.

However it appears that clients are reluctant to move on and other MFI lenders or banks are unwilling to take on the clients. This puts an increasing stress on the funds that MBF has available and makes it increasingly difficult to continue to focus on the core clientele, the rural poor. Although this is a structural problem within the Tanzanian MFI/banking sector, it is to the credit of both Japhet and his loan officers that they are aware of this problem and are seeking ways to maintain the focus on the rural poor while also seeking to meet the needs of larger existing clients.

All in all it was a very enjoyable trip and was well organised by both Five Talents and MBF in Tanzania. I would thoroughly recommend any supporter who has the time to make one of these visits to do so. You will learn so much about the practicalities faced by the clients and come away with a better understanding of what both Five Talents and the project you visit are seeking to achieve. However when travelling in Africa you do have to be prepared for the unexpected despite how well you prepare for the trip beforehand.


Martin Williamson is a long-term supporter and advocate who has visited our programmes on a number of occasions. Inspired? Click here to read about our upcoming trips or follow this link to read about our advocates network

Life Outside the Forest: The Journey of Petronie & the Batwa of Burundi

During 2015, Burundi witnessed boycotted presidential elections, violent protests, and an attempted military coup.After the announcement by Pierre Nkurunziza that he would run for a controversial third term, gunfire and grenade attacks by armed groups continued to occur frequently. 

Throughout this period, while embassies were withdrawing personnel and the tourism industry was plummeting, Five Talents USA stood with the local community. During 2015, we added 150 new savings groups, and reached over 25,000 members and 100,000 beneficiaries with a savings safety net.


Changing Times For A Nomadic Tribe

The Batwa are an ancient people who inhabited the forests around the great lakes of equatorial Africa. A semi-nomadic pygmy tribe, in many ways they are the guardians of the forests, known for their great skill in hunting and dancing. For over four thousand years they lived in trees and caves, gathering honey, leaves, and fruits of the forest and hunting with poison tipped arrows.
 


Over just the past fifty years, the Batwa have been evicted from the forests of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. They've been displaced in mass in order to support the creation of national parks and the establishment of tea plantations and other farms. As an ethnic minority, life outside the forest has been hard. Batwa were discriminated against by other tribes and denied access to education and basic government services. During the Rwandan genocide, up to 30% of the Batwa were killed by the Interhamwe.

Batwa families lacked economic or agricultural skills and many succumbed to starvation or disease. Most became destitute. Many died. Others became beggars or hired themselves out as day laborers. In some areas, women began to sell traditional clay cooking pots to survive. As a result, pottery became a key symbol of modern Batwa identity.

Working with local church partners, Five Talents US has made an intentional effort to reach Batwa families and to help them integrate into the local church and community. Financial inclusion and peace-building are especially important for Five Talents US programs in Burundi.


Petronie's story

Petronie (pictured) is a mother of six children and a member of the Batwa in Burundi.

"Since I am from a marginalised ethnic group", she says, "I was isolated and discriminated in the community... My life was very bad because it was very difficult to be with other persons, either Hutu or Tutsi. We were obliged to remain only with Batwa."

Petronie says she was especially discriminated against because her family had "no means to wear clean clothes or buy sufficient food." Like many Batwa, they were forced to rely on begging. Alongside her husband, Petronie began to gather clay from a local marsh and make cooking pots. They hoped that the pottery business would provide a sufficient income to support their family. Petronie had few clients, however, and their income was never enough. Most people "no longer use traditional cooking pots made out of clay", she explains.

One day, Petronie received an unexpected invitation to join other low-income entrepreneurs from her community in a Five Talents US savings group. With some apprehension she accepted and began meeting on a weekly basis at a local church with women and men from other tribes who welcomed her. They shared their stories and learned business skills. Group members pooled their meager resources to create a savings and loan fund for business development. Today Petronie counts her savings group members as close friends.

The savings group became "an opportunity to welcome everyone in our families. We work together, save money and if one falls sick, we assist one another by providing food, working in her gardens and contribute to the medical bills... Today we know each other and we are united in Jesus name and we work together", Petronie says.

Before joining the program her main aim was to provide food and clothes for her children. Now Petronie has learned to save and plan for the future. With the help of small loans from her group, Petronie and her husband developed a business raising pigs and goats. They buy and sell livestock and use the profits to take their children to school and provide for their household needs. In the future, Petronie has plans to buy land and begin using modern farming techniques to increase production. She also intends to buy dairy cows and is saving to build a permanent home for her family.

Petronie says that members of the Batwa community were "very surprised" when she joined a group with Hutu and Tutsi. Now Petronie has become a respected leader in her community and has helped other Batwa join mixed savings groups.

"Since I joined the program, we do income generating activities together with other community members from different ethnic groups."

Petronie has grown spiritually and is often in the church. She enjoys her freedom and can now "live together peacefully with Bahutu and Batutsi. The [program] has helped me to become leader in the community. . .Yes, a great transformation took place in my life."


“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)

Marathon running is not always the most dignified of sports (I’ll spare you the details of anti-chafing cream or the dreaded runners’ trots) so it’s ironic that it’s that word, dignity, which got me thinking about some parallels between the marathon and the work of Five Talents. I’ve just got back from running the Boston Marathon, and when you’re running that far there’s plenty of time for random musings, so humour me with this chain of thought.

First, dignity in the face of disability. There were 43 wheelchair users, 45 mobility impaired and 39 visually impaired runners on the start-line in Boston. I saw several blind runners with guides on the course as well as Rick Hoyt of “Team Hoyt.” Rick Hoyt was born in 1962 and diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. In 1977, his father pushed him in a wheelchair over a 5-mile sponsored run. Rick loved it, telling his dad (he can move his head to select letters from the alphabet to communicate) that he didn’t feel disabled when they were running. Since 1977, “Team Hoyt” has competed in 1,116 races including 255 triathlons and 72 marathons. Equally moving was seeing Patrick Downes and Adrianne Haslet, single and double amputees respectively who had lost limbs in the 2013 Boston bombings and returned this year determined to run with prostheses.

They reminded me of the slogan I’ve often seen in Kenya: ‘Disability is not inability.’ It certainly is not, as all of these runners proved. Their dignity and perseverance also reminded me of some of the Five Talents members we’ve seen facing their challenges with equal grit; some of you have met Sebastian, the widowed cobbler in Embu who, thanks to our programme, makes and sells shoes in the market in Embu. He suffered polio as a child and can’t walk but that hasn’t stopped him setting up a small business to support his 4 children. When we last met him, he was saving to buy a wheelchair. Whether the result of disease, accident or terrorism, the strength, spirit and dignity that every Rick, Patrick, Adrianne or Sebastian brings is genuinely humbling.
 

Secondly, the role of women. The 2016 Boston Marathon was a historic anniversary for women. The Boston Marathon was first run in 1897. In 1915, the first women applied to take part and were refused. In 1966, Bobbi Gibb (pictured) applied and was told women are physiologically incapable of running 26.2m. As she regularly ran further in training, she showed up in her brother's shorts and a big hoodie and ran the course anyway. The men around her, when they realised she was a she, told her she had as much right as them to run and cheered her on and she finished the course ahead of two-thirds of them, but she was denied an official finish time or place and only got her medal 30 years later. She broke the ground, though, and in 1972 women were officially accepted into the race. This year, 50 years after Bobbi's 'illegal' run, almost half of the runners were women. Of course, there is still a lot worse discrimination against women; I think of the young women in our savings groups who have been through FGM and early forced marriage, the women globally who aren’t allowed to vote, go to school, own property or open a bank account. A lot has changed over the last 50 years but we need to keep campaigning for much more change over the next 50.

Thirdly, generosity and welcome to strangers. Supporters lining the streets were giving out water, ice, slices of orange and jelly babies, but even more welcome was their incredible cheering. I often find marathons moving. Partly it’s the sight of people pushing to their limits after months of training to raise funds for causes close to their hearts that gets me - I’m sure you’ve seen runners in T-shirts saying ‘Running to raise funds for cancer research, in memory of mum’ and similar. But it’s also the way complete strangers call your name and urge you on and tell you how well you’re doing and that you can keep going - the Bostonian phrase I heard again and again was ‘You’ve got this’ and the people shouting it really meant it (though I liked the placards some were waving saying ‘If Trump can run, so can you’ and ‘Run like Ted Cruz is behind you’ nearly as much!).

After I’d crossed the finishing line and left the runners’ enclosure, I collapsed on the nearest bit of pavement to recover for a few minutes. I soon began shivering (not uncommon after a hard race) but the half mile walk back to our hotel, a shower, and some dry clothes seemed too far to manage straight away. A lady standing nearby waiting for her runner to emerge came over and wrapped her enormous scarf round me and told me to keep it.

These are people you’ve never met and won’t ever meet again, people who might cut you up at a traffic light or people you’d push past on the tube/subway on an ordinary day - and yet on marathon day everyone seems to be in a good mood, united behind one goal and ready to urge and support everyone else. There aren’t many occasions in our fast-paced lives when we take time to encourage others, welcome strangers wholeheartedly, do simple acts of kindness or bond over a shared human experience. I’m not going to romanticise our savings groups - of course, our members are as busy (if not busier) and as human as the rest of us - but they perhaps do have more of the ‘marathon spirit’ in their everyday lives than us. The good humour, community solidarity and generosity of heart and deed I felt in Boston did remind me of several Trust Groups meetings and members I’ve visited, as did the warm welcome and hospitality to strangers. It’s not something I witness very often in London.

Escaping Poverty, War, and Disease

Kondok has experienced much suffering and hardship in her life.

Growing up on the border of Unity State in South Sudan she witnessed frequent cattle raids and attacks on her local village. Amidst poverty and harsh conditions, Kondok became the third wife to a polygamous elder. She lost her first four children due to lack of medical treatment.

"I just lost them because whenever they became sick, I could not have any money to take them to towns where the hospitals are for treatment", she said wiping tears from her eyes.

In 2012, Kondok fled her home with her only surviving daughter, escaping an attack that killed many of her neighbors. Leaving everything behind, Kondok and her daughter ran for their lives and eventually came to a settlement camp in Kuajok, the capital of Warrap State. Like other internally displaced persons they were given plastic sheets, blankets, and a small food ration.

It was there that she met an extension worker named Ajak Simon who encouraged her and other women to form a small fellowship and savings group. The Dong Baai Wei Savings group began in March 2013.

Contributing to the group savings was a great challenge as Kondok could barely make $1 a day to buy local bread for her and her little daughter. However with a lot of encouragement, Kondek became convinced that she could save 50 cents a week. She also began to fetch fire wood to sell in town and was able to save 650 South Sudanese pounds ($36 USD) by the end of Oct. 2014.The officer then advised her and other members of the group to register with the newly opened South Sudan Community Bank.

After three months, Kondok applied for her first loan in the amount of 500 South Sudanese pound ($30) and was trained with her other group members on choosing a good business. Kondok decided to farm and sell vegetables. She rented a small garden and planted various types of vegetable seeds that were donated to her group. After three months Kondok's first vegetables reached Kuajok market. She happily sold them to people in the town and neighboring villages, using new business skills she learned in her savings group.

"My vegetables are always the first to be sold and finished as I have to clean them well and I am a good friend to most of the ladies coming to town here to buy vegetables everyday".

When asked whether joining the South Sudan Community Bank program has helped transform her life, Kondok said.

"I am now very happy. I am able to feed my family from my business, which I started through this program. I feed myself and my little daughter, Arek. I pay for my house rent from my business; I pay for school fees for my daughter, I always borrow money from our community bank to do my business and from my profit I buy clothes for myself and my daughter. Last month she was sick with malaria and I took her to hospital. I would not have managed to take her to hospital, maybe I could have lost her like the other four of my children that I lost before if I had not joined this program."

Kondok continues to watch her daughter grow and is working to build a brighter future for their family.  As her business expands, Kondok intends to buy a piece of land in Kuajok town in the near future.

Help more women escape poverty, war, and disease in counties like South Sudan. Learn how you can make a gift to Five Talents today.