Opening a Savings Account in Uganda

Opening a Savings Account in Uganda
Rehema us tells about how the savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.

Rehema us tells about how the savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.

We sat on very small wooden stools and faced a group of about Ugandan 25 women sitting on woven leaf mats. In between us sat a green metal box with three locks. I listened with growing excitement as Rehema Mutesi told me and the other Small Business Coordinators about the Kasozi Village Savings Group.

If the women kept the profit from their business endeavors in their houses, the money would be quickly spent, with none of it going to savings. So, about two years ago they started talking to the local Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, who helped them form their own micro-savings group. The 30 members meet once a week and commit their savings to the secure green box, in increments as small as the equivalent of 5 cents.

DSC05615Each transaction – how much each person has saved and how much they have borrowed – is recorded in a green ledger book. Then the money is placed in the green box, which is secured with three locks. Three different women have keys, and “the ones with the keys are not neighbors. They are all from a different place,” Rehema told us, assuring us of the safety of the saved funds. Then she added, above the loudly mooing cow, “and the person with the box also is not one with a key.” All these safety measures are important because at the end of last year’s saving cycle the box held over 3.8 million Ugandan Shillings (about $1,800)!

Each member can borrow a portion of their savings for a one-month period. They are charged a small interest rate, which is included back in the savings fund and disbursed to members at the end of the annual cycle. One of the group members took a loan this year to pay for a certification course in hair braiding. Now she is braiding hair in the village and in the nearby town, as well as mentoring and training some girls who have dropped out of school.

Canaan gives advice to the Kasozi savings group and encourages them. "You need to be organized and have strong leadership."

Canaan gives advice to the Kasozi savings group and encourages them. “You need to be organized and have strong leadership.”

I was impressed to see how these women were working together to encourage each other to save for those bigger expenses. Things like re-thatching their homes, paying for school fees, and medical expenses. I saw that the women supported each other emotionally too. They did a skit for us, showing how to care for a child with fever. They clapped for each other and laughed together. One of the members is a district counselor, but within the group she is on equal footing with all the others.

Before we ended our visit, Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator from Malawi who also leads a savings group, stood up to give the women a few words of encouragement. Speaking from his own experience, he assured them,  “This is a journey towards economic empowerment. In five year’s time, you will never be the same.”

*See* Spirit in Action! New video!

*See* Spirit in Action! New video!

SIA Volunteer Extraordinaire, Carmen Hernandez, created this beautiful film for us using footage and photos captured by Boyd Cothran during our visit to Africa (Summer 2014). Her aim was to show what we do, and how we try to have a positive attitude in all our endeavors. Thank you, Carmen!

(For more of Carmen’s non-SIA work, visit her website: http://www.isntitbeautiful.co.uk)

What is an OFSP??

sweet_potatoes_ciford_9-14

Women proud of their sweet potato harvest, at CIFORD Kenya.

OFSP? Orange flesh sweet potato. Or, as I call them, those vegetables that are really tasty baked and topped with butter!

While I’m used to the orange variety of sweet potatoes in North America, in Africa the white or yellow sweet potatoes are much more common. They taste similar but the white and yellow varieties are not nearly as nutritious as the vitamin A/beta-carotene-rich orange ones. It’s only in the last few years that the UN and many others have begun promoting the OFSP as a way to combat malnutrition and disease especially among women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiencies. The food we ate in Africa this summer was high in starch, with a few vegetables depending on what was in season – I could see the need for more vitamin-rich foods.

That is why I am happy to report that SIA is working with two partners who are promoting OFSP growth in their communities.

CIFORD Kenya, in Meru, Kenya, has been holding workshops to train farmers in growing, managing, and preparing OFSP. This work in their rural community is designed to both improve food security (ex. people have enough to eat all year) and reduce the environmental degradation of the soil. The CIFORD trainings are include classroom time and also get-your-hands-dirty practical time with farmers being brought to the CIFORD training garden for demonstrations. The OFSP helps protect the soil because its big leaves cover the soil, which reduces run off and erosion.

Many parts of the sweet potato can be used:

  • Vines are used as animal feed
  • The leaves can be eaten as the leafy green
  • The potato root can be boiled, roasted or made into chips, French fries, or flour
Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo by Raising the Village)

Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo from Raising the Village)

Also, Raising the Village has just completed a round of trainings in Bucece Village, Uganda with farmers who wanted to plant the OFSP seeds. OFSP can sell for much higher prices in the market because it is still rare to see them and because people know they provide a health benefit to their diets. The hills around Bucece are very steep and so the OFSP will be important for keeping the soil from running down into the lake.

Hopefully, next time I’m in Uganda I’ll get to try the local OFSP, eating it alongside the steamed bananas, rice, and boiled kale, and peanut sauce. Yum!

All together again!

The SBF Coordinators all together! (L to R) Back Row: Godfrey (Uganda), Dennis (Kenya), Boyd (Board member). Front Row: Canaan (Malawi), Ofonime (Nigeria), Tanya (me), Nalu (Uganda), Wambui (Kenya)

The SBF Coordinators all together! (L to R) Back Row: Godfrey (Uganda), Dennis (Kenya), Boyd (Board member). Front Row: Canaan (Malawi), Ofonime (Nigeria), Tanya (me), Nalu (Uganda), Wambui (Kenya)

We’re all home, safe and sound! A little (ok, a lot) jet-lagged and sifting through the 1,200 photos from three weeks in Africa. There’s so much to process – so many moments of joy, pride, learning, gratitude, and exhaustion – and overall I return with a sense that Spirit in Action is indeed a mighty seed that is planting hope and opportunity for a prosperous future for many, many families in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and Nigeria.

The SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) is part of this seed. And it depends on and thrives because of our dedicated, passionate, and skilled local coordinators. Last week, in Kasozi Village, Uganda we brought together our six coordinators for three days of training, improving our program, and visiting SBF groups in the area.

The coordinators each benefited from the time together. Wambui Nguyo (Kenya) is our newest coordinator, joining us just one year ago, and for her the conference was a great opportunity to connect with the other coordinators and see how difference aspects of SBF are implemented in each community.

Listening and making notes as we visit a family who invested in a plow for farming.

Listening and making notes as we visit a family who invested in a plow for farming.

Ofonime Nkoko (Nigeria) was the very first SBF coordinator, beginning over 11 years ago. He really knows the grassroots and empowering nature of SIA and was able to share that with the group. Even for Ofonime the conference was a learning experience. “This training was very helpful to me,” write Ofonime. “It opened a great opportunity for me to learn more and expand my knowledge, especially on mindset preparation, the right time to give out the grants, and the importance of reinvestment for sustainability.”

I also benefited greatly from having all the coordinators together. I appreciated the vibrant experience of having all 6 coordinators (plus me and Boyd) together for the SBF site visits. We met over 25 SBF groups in Kasozi and, rather than me asking all the questions about the group’s progress, the other coordinators chimed in with their own questions and comments. Canaan Gondwe (Malawi) gave pig-rearing advice to groups. Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) asked questions about what other businesses farmers did during the off-seasons. Ofonime offered prayers to the groups that gathered together to meet and share with us.

Nalu, Dennis, and Boyd fill their plates and share a laugh at dinner.

Nalu, Dennis, and Boyd fill their plates and share a laugh at dinner.

Tanya learning about how this groups makes their baskets to sell in the local market.

Tanya learning about how this groups makes their baskets to sell in the local market.

These visits felt filled with the spirit of teamwork and of camaraderie. And there was a good dose of friendly advice for each coordinator to be able improve in their role as mentor. I came away so grateful for their dedication – the time they give to serve others – and for their openness to be continually learning and sharing.

I can’t wait to share many more photos of the business groups we visited and share some of their stories of leaving poverty behind and moving towards a brighter future!

Boyd with our conference mascot, Divine Shalom, Nalu's 2.5 month old baby girl!

Boyd with our conference mascot, Divine Shalom, Nalu’s 2.5 month old baby girl!

New Video: SIA in Uganda

New Video: SIA in Uganda

Things are coming together for my trip to Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda this July! This 4 minute video features just a few of the SIA Small Business leaders that I will meet when I am there. After, if you’re inspired, please see to my online campaign page to contribute to the trip.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of Kisosi Village!

My gratitude to SIA local coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, for recording and sending me the footage. And to Shariff Wasswa of Kampala,Uganda for translating parts of the video into English.

For more videos of SIA’s work, click here.

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