field trips

Living on the Edge: First Impressions of Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo.

This blog post was written by our CEO, Rachel Lindley upon her return from visiting our new programme starting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Crossing the land border from Uganda into DRC was underwhelming. The border was a piece of rope held by two young men, and as we waited for the inevitable paperwork, the landscape was surprisingly dull. There was none of the usual cross-border trade, bustle and bargaining. Not a single overladen truck, motorbike or even bicycle, no kiosk selling mobile phone top-ups, Coke and sun-bleached biscuits, nothing.

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Passports eventually stamped, we drove off into DRC. The contrast with the Ugandan town we'd just left behind was stark. Behind us, a thriving metropolis, with tarmac roads, men, women and children heading to work and school with all the hustle and bustle of every day life in a busy town. Just a mile away in DRC, life could not be more different. I noticed the silence first. No dust - no traffic apart from bicycles. The tarmac main road from the border was built by one of the gold mining firms, but otherwise the roads are all unmade. There is no electricity except from generators or solar panels, no advertising, no mobile money or airtime kiosks and very few roadside businesses, even the most informal.

People in Aru live on the edge in more ways than one. They are on the edge of DRC, just a few miles from Uganda, and many have fled there when conflict and violence have erupted. Decades of civil war in the region mean communities have experienced hideous atrocities as well as famine and sickness that come from fleeing your land and home. As we write, thousands have fled their homes just 100 miles south of Aru, to escape violent machete attacks, raping and looting. Thousands more risk starvation.

I received a warm welcome in a village in Aru, DRC

Thankfully, Aru itself is currently peaceful, and the communities we met could not have been more welcoming - nor more desperate for our programme to begin. Most NGOs are working in the conflict zones, where the need for disaster relief is urgent. But in Aru, people urgently need a way to boost the local economy, increase the number of small businesses, build some savings in case of emergencies and support their children to go to school.

Our programme will integrate literacy training because so many adults missed out on schooling during the years of civil war, and trauma counselling to help adults and children come to terms with the attrocities they have seen and experienced. Despite the horrors in the past, Aru is a place of hope - living on the edge of opportunity with powerful resources of community solidarity, fertile land and a belief in creating a better future for their children. We're privileged to be part of this journey with them.

Running through the hills of rural Kenya: the Kericho Impact Marathon 2017

This post was written by a combination of Five Talents staff and marathon runners.

Months of anticipation, long weekend runs and carb loading had brought us here - the start line of the inaugural Five Talents Impact Marathon! Against the beautiful backdrop of the worryingly steep tea plantations, the time had finally come! Running through Kericho with the locals cheering us on (or joining in) and monkeys raiding our water/banana stations was an incredible experience! One of our runners, Mahoo, wrote to us afterwards: 

‘As a novice runner, the Kenya Impact Marathon provided a challenging, but undoubtedly memorable experience. The camaraderie, the laughs, the nerve-racking bus journeys, the never-ending spinach supply, the breath-taking sights over the Rift Valley – all helped to make the week one that I will never forget.

We were so warmly welcomed by the team in Kericho. Seeing the projects and hearing from Trust Group members really cemented my desire to cross the finish line, and support some really great work. I am very proud to say that I ran in the inaugural Five Talents Impact Marathon.’

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But the running was just one part of this adventure. We were delighted to take everyone to visit our savings groups in rural Kericho and see for themselves how Five Talents’ work transforms local communities.  Several of the team had never experienced anything like this and were genuinely inspired;  Jamie reflected:

I found the event so tough - keeping going for 6 hours was in itself a gruelling endurance effort, let alone the totally new terrain and environment. Kenya just takes you in - a week passed so quickly, with a whole lot of standout experiences. Meeting a new savings group and hearing about their plans, and running alongside elite Kenyan athletes rank amongst the best of my time out there.’

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Similarly, Margaret summed it up: ‘I felt privileged and humbled to be given such an amazing welcome... It was an unforgettable life changing experience. I’m still waking every morning in Kenya.’

It was unforgettable for us too. Spending the week in Kenya with so many of our amazing supporters, visiting our fledgling Kericho programme and running the race of a lifetime was definitely a highlight in our year. We brought back some incredible memories and photos, made new friends and raised over £40,000 - so next year we plan to do it all again!

If you or anyone you know would like to join the adventure of a lifetime, register your interest here.

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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.

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.

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

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.

My visit to the “Three Wise Women”

“Thank you, please keep supporting this work…” Angelina

These are not my words but those of Angelina, Halima and Christina in Iringa, Tanzania.  On 25th November, 2014, I was stood with them some 6,771 miles away from where I am now sitting in my home office typing this note to you.  They are saying these words to YOU, our faithful supporters.  Thanks to YOU, they have been able to develop their talents, reach for their dreams and encourage their children with better education and a clear understanding of what enterprise looks like.

My humbling trip to Kenya

I've just returned from an incredible five days spent with some of Five Talents' partners in Kenya, and wanted to share my feelings and thoughts. I came into the trip a novice in the world of microfinance, and have departed with a sense of optimism about the Five Talents model that is being delivered with significant success across the country. Even more so, I came away with a huge amount of admiration for the people involved - the Anglican Church leaders who are supporting and promoting the programme; the passionate, dedicated and talented staff who are coordinating everything through development trusts in three separate areas; and also the individuals and groups who are embracing the opportunities the programme is giving them.

Read Telkisia's inspiring story from Tanzania

A team of Five Talents' trustees and supporters has just returned from an inspirational week visiting our partner in Tanzania, the Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF). Last Tuesday, they travelled to the village of Kaning'ombe, well over an hour from Iringa where MBF's office is based. MBF began a Centre in Kaning'ombe when it realised that some of the villagers had been walking 20km to join the nearest other MBF microfinance centre. That 20km walk reflects the demand we encountered everywhere for MBF's services, as well as the incredible hard work and spirit of our members who are so determined to access MBF's small loans, savings and business training so that they can secure a better future for their children.