Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wednesday Feb. 2nd

This morning we woke to a beautiful sunny day…the rain has stopped and everything smells fresh and green.   That is the one thing about Uganda…it is very lush and productive.  The land is fertile and produces good crops as well as adequate feed for the cattle, goats, and other livestock.
Today was our final day with the Kagamba SACCO.   The road conditions had improved substantially with only a few soft spots remaining.  That is the beauty of clay…it dries and hardens quite quickly!!
Our meeting with the SACCO went well and our report was well received by everyone.  The board graciously considered our recommendations and asked some excellent questions to clarify how they could accomplish some of the recommendations.  It was rewarding to know that our hard work was appreciated.  
One of the board members, Sarah, was so appreciative of our willingness to come to their village and provide assistance to her SACCO that she brought a gift to present to Eric and myself.  It was a large box and was neatly wrapped in bright shiny wrapping paper!!  We were both overwhelmed by her generosity.  Remember, we are working deep in the African jungle in a remote village without power or modern conveniences and with people who are extremely poor and she has not only given us a gift, but she has wrapped it in modern wrapping paper.  Inside the box she had packed it full of the tiny sweet bananas that are so tasty her in Africa.  They tasted so fresh and tasty.  It really took me back to know how much she appreciated our work.  It reminded me of the story of the women in the Bible who gave her last to coins to the church and how her contribution was much more than any of the other donations made by the wealthy men of that day.  I am sure that this memory will stay with me for a very long time!!
We, along with the other teams, have decided to make our way back to Kampala today with the hope of being able to visit a place called Jinga tomorrow…which is the source of the Nile river.  Jinga is located on Lake Victoria and is a must see attraction in Uganda.    
Friday will be our last day in Africa and a very busy day as well.  We have a meeting scheduled in the Morning with the Canadian Consulate here in Kampala and then we will spend the afternoon in de-brief meetings with the UCA.  From there we will head for the airport and catch the red-eye to London for the CCA de-brief.  And then HOME!!!  As much as we have enjoyed our time in Uganda and the wonderful people we have met, now that our official work is nearly completed, we are looking forward to being with our families again.
Thanks for continuing to follow my blog and for those of you who have emailed or left comments, I have appreciated hearing from all of you.  Have a great day!

Tuesday in Kagamba...rain!!

Last night , (Monday night) we were awoken at about 3:30 to a major thunderstorm….thunder, lightning and lots of rain.  It was almost peaceful to hear such a powerful storm here in Africa….they sound exactly the same as at home!!!  The rain also helped cool things down as it has been very hot here since we arrived…roughly 28-30 degrees each day.   It was still raining when we woke up in the morning.  It continued to rain until roughly suppertime…not sure how much rain we got, but it was a large amount.  The road into Kagamba is approximately 25 KM’s and the entire road is it was a greasy, slimy trip into the SACCO.  We definitely made good use of the 4X4!!! 
Our plan for today was to work in the SACCO  in the morning with the staff and management and then visit some of the local farmers in the area, however with the significant amount of rain and the conditions of the roads, we were unable to make our visits as scheduled.  This was disappointing for me as a farmer, as I was really looking forward to seeing how farmers operate in Africa. 
We did make good use of our extra time at the SACCO and learned much more about how the SACCO operates as well as some of the major struggles they have as a relatively new organization with limited access to training and external resources.  One really has to reflect on the advancement of the modern day financial system.  Kagamba is operating at the most primitive level of the financial world.  This isn’t a meant as a derogatory statement against the SACCO at all, but rather is just a simple statement of the reality that new SACCO’s face in Africa.  This just reaffirms the need and value of having the CCA and UCA send coaches into these villages to help. 
Tonight we will prepare a report on our observations and on Wednesday we have a meeting scheduled with the Manager and Board to share these findings.  The report will also be filed with the UCA in Kampala and the CCA in Ottawa with the goal providing an in depth analysis of what is working well, and what areas may require follow up in the future.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Kagamba SACCO

Kagamba SACCO
It is Monday morning here in Uganda and today we visited the Kagamba SACCO.  They are located in the very most southern part of Uganda, almost bordering on Tanzania.  To get there it was about a 45 minute drive on pavement (or tarmack) as the locals call it, and another 40 minutes down a narrow single lane dirt road which took us deep into the heart of the Uganda.
When we arrived we were greeted by Martha, the Branch Manager, and a large contingent of the Board.  The existing branch building is extremely small and very cramped.  The SACCO has recently purchased  some land further up the road, so we head over there to have our meeting with the board.  We are the first coaching team the UCA/CCA has sent to Kagamba and everyone was so gracious for our interest in the little SACCO.  The meeting last for about 2 hours and we discussed some of the high level challenges that Kagamba is facing.  These include membership growth, loan delinquency, board succession planning, new loan growth, new building costs, and lack of electricity….you see Kagamba has no power at all in the village…only small generators and solar panels.
After our board meeting, we headed back down the branch to meet with the staff and learn how they operate their SACCO.  With no electricity and no computers, everything is entered the long way…using GL’s and loan binders.  This is very time consuming and requires a significant amount of man-power each day.  A simple software program and reliable electricity would make their lives so much easier.  We really noticed how far back in time we had stepped and essentially experienced how all Credit Unions in Canada, including Servus Credit Union, would have initially started their operations.  It was really interesting to experience.
Tomorrow we will go back and learn more about their business model as well as visit a couple of local farmers and maybe even a coffee plantation.
More to follow tomorrow!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday in Uganda

Today was a travel day for all teams.  We left the Mweye Safari Lodge late this morning and all three teams ventured out into a new direction for the coming week.

For Eric and I that meant travelling back to our home base in Masaka.  This was about a 4.5 hour non-stop trip through the South Western part of the Country.  We arrived at our hotel without incident and tomorrow we will begin our final week of Management Coaching.

We will be visiting the Kagamba SACCO in the very Southern tip of Uganda for the next three days before returning to Kampala for de-brief meetings on Friday.  It is about a 75 minute trip each way...about half on pavement and the rest on single lane dirt roads.  According to our driver the road will take us either very close to the Tanzanian border, or possibly cross over a various times as the road winds through the country side.

The Kagamba SACCO has 6 staff and one teller wicket.  The currently serve 794 members  of which 190 are female, 504 are men and 100 are group memberships.  Their total assets under management are 55,813,439 Shillings or roughly $25,000 US.  So not a real large SACCO.  According to the FS that we recieved, loan deliquency has been a significant concern in the past.  Hopefully we are able to provide some assistance in lowering their delinquency and improving their overall growth as a SACCO.

Thank-you for continuing to follow along with my blog....your comments are always appreciated.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mweye National Park

Myweya Safari Lodge
WOW!!! Words cannot describe the Safari Lodge…it is opulent to say the least.  To get here we drove a couple of hours South West from Mbarara through the Savannah and done a long dusty gravel road to the Channel between Lake George and Lake Edward.  The place is literally an oasis in the middle of the desert.!! 
This morning we took an early morning safari into the jungle to hopefully see wildlife.  This is not a game sanctuary, or fenced in park…just the natural African jungle.  We saw Water Buffalo, African Deer, Antelope, Elephants and even a pack of lions!!!  Words cannot describe how beautiful it was to see the animals in their natural habitat.  There was wildlife everywhere…a once in a life time experience.
This afternoon we took a 2 hour boat cruise around Lake Edward to again see more wildlife in their natural habitat.  We again saw elephants, water buffalo, hippos, musk ox, antelope, deer, birds and even a crocodile!!  The highlight was definitely the elephants and crocodile….second best was the baby hippos and baby elephants!!!  We also past a small native fishing village that is permitted to live here as they had their village before the lake was made into a National Park.  Their fishing boats were lined up all along the shore…it was very cool to see.
Again, neither words of pictures can do justice to what we saw today!!  I hope that if you every have an opportunity to travel to this part of the country that you take every opportunity.  It is amazing.
Tomorrow is Sunday and head back to our respective towns and SACCO’s to work with on Monday.  We are approximately half way through our time in Uganda…it has been a wonderful experience and it will also be good to be back with our family…I miss them.



Friday, January 28th,
Today my partner Eric and I were split up to join with the two other  teams currently working out of Mbarara as Eric and I had no SACCO to visit due to our late literary change.  Eric joined with Mike and Janice and I went with Robin and Rene to visit the EBO SACCO.
It was a short drive, (30mins or so) to the SACCO and the first thing that I noticed was how modern the SACCO was compared to others that we had visited.  They had a modern looking storefront with a nice sign, glass windows and modern offices and computer system.
We met with the Manager Mugume Joseph and quickly learned that EBO was one of the more advanced and progressive SACCO’s in Mbarara.  This SACCO was visited by a Coaching team last year, so our visit was simply to follow up and see how they were making out.  Everything appeared to be on track as recommended in the report which was excellent.
The Manager wanted to take us up to one of their outlying branches to meet the staff there as well.  This is a much smaller branch with a small number of staff and about 500 members.  They have only been open for a year or so, so the progress is still quite good. 
For lunch we stopped along the side of the road and had a tasty dinner of chicken and rice.  It was good, even though we were all nervous about eating at a local diner!
This afternoon we will make our way to the Queen Elizabeth National Park for a stay at the Myweya Safari Lodge.  It is supposed to be an amazing retreat lodge.  Looking forward to getting there!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday in Mbarara

Today is a National Holiday in Uganda which celebrates the overthrowing of the Edi Amin regime 25 years ago.  This would be very similar in nature to our July 1st celebrations or even the 4th of July in the US.  None of the major businesses are open in honour of the significance of the day.
We decided that we would travel an hour or so North to the Lake Mburo National Park as it was recommended as a must see place by our friends from the Gates Foundation that we met in Masaka.
We arrived at the Park just before lunch and paid our fee to enter…a bit spendy, but when you consider it is a once in a life time opportunity to see Zebras, well you just pay the price.  $30 US per white person.
All I can say is that was money well spent!!!!!  We saw zebras, antelope, African deer, baboons, monkeys, Warthogs and other animals!!  See zebras up close and personal was amazing…literally they were standing 20 feet away from us and they look exactly like a striped horse…it was the coolest thing. 
The amount of wildlife we saw was unimaginable….all over the place and in their natural habitat.  So close to our vehicle we could hear them.  I was able to get some great pictures!!
For lunch we stopped at a little outdoor cafĂ© on the edge of Lake Mburo…it was so quaint and peaceful.  I ordered fresh Tilapia right out of the lake….it was very tasty.  As we were waiting for our food to arrive, (I think they had to send someone out fishing first!) we saw a couple of large Baboons in the parking lot.  They had found some food left in the garage and we enjoying it immensely.  Not long after that 4 or 5 monkeys arrived and they too scavenged for some food….they ended up climbing all over our vehicles as we ate.  I decided to try a get a close up picture of one of them and was able to get within 4 or 5 feet!!!  They had no fear of me at all….I am sure he would have eaten out of my hand if I had brought food with me!!!  I was able to get some great shots!!
The National Park visit was definitely a great way to see African wildlife.  I enjoyed it very much.
Tomorrow we do a one day follow up visit with one of the credit unions that were visited by the coaches last year.  It is close to Masaka, so we have a long drive ahead of us in the morning.  I am looking forward to meeting them as well.