Hope all is well with you! Happy Thanksgiving! We are sad to be away from home on one of our favorite holidays, but hope that everyone has a wonderful time being together and celebrating the holiday! We are having some PCV neighbors over Thursday and plan to make mashed potatoes, vegetarian gravy, soy chunks (taste better than they sound!), bread, green beans, and pumpkin cake! So, it should be a good time, even though we can’t be home and celebrating with family there!
Things at the college are winding up for the year! First year students begin their exams in just a couple of days, and two weeks from now the year will be finished! We will be helping “invigilate” the exams for the first year students (3 days of exams, 6 hours of testing each day!), then our work at the college for the year will really come to a close! Outside testers are coming for invigilating the second year exams, and all marking of the exams is done outside of the college at a national marking center. Hard to believe we’ve basically finished our second of a total of 6 terms here at the college!
Even as things are winding up for the year on our primary projects, we’ve started another really exciting secondary project! We are working with thirteen local businesspeople and community members to set up a VSLA (village savings and loan association), and we are so excited about it!
In Uganda, a very small percentage of people use banks. They have high fees and are inaccessible for much of the population. As a result, microfinance is big. There are microfinance institutions in every town we’ve visited and many people use them to take out loans. However, even microfinance doesn’t work for most lower class businesspeople and community members, as many people don’t have much credit or “reliability” from a traditional banking standpoint, and again interest rates and fees are high.
The VSLA is a response to all of this. It’s an opportunity for community members to come together to save with one another each week, and grant out loans to one another each month. It’s wonderful because all of the money comes from the people in the group and stays within the people in the group. Interest is charged on the loans, but is payed back into the group so that at the end of the saving cycle (about a year) whatever interest has accumulated on the loans is paid back to the members based on the percentage of the total that they have saved. It’s a really exciting model that encourages sustainability and community togetherness, and doesn’t rely on outside grants or mzungu money! :-) So, we’re in the midst of the beginnings of our first group. So far the group has gotten organized, elected leaders, written an constitution, and collected all of the necessary supplies. The plan is that the group will begin saving with one another in the next week or two.
The VSLA model was started by an NGO in Uganda and has now expanded into other countries as a banking option for poor communities. So far it seems to be exactly what Uganda needs and we really hope that it can fill the need for savings and accessible loans in many of our community member’s lives. There is a great manual that’s walking us through as facilitators and tons of details about the VSLA project that I won’t bore everyone with here! But, if you’re interested you should google VSLA or check out vsla.net. It’s a really exciting opportunity and we think it has great potential for communities like ours in Uganda and other countries in similar savings/loans positions.
So, that’s something we’ve been excited about in the last few weeks and will definitely keep you posted about in the weeks and months to come!
Love and miss you all!