Monday, December 17, 2012

Merry Christmas You Old Village Savings and Loan

The whole VSLA Group!
Well it will be a much merrier Christmas for 13 Ugandans and their families this holiday season.  As we have posted before Christmas is a huge season to splurge in Uganda, just like America.  Therefore, it has been perfect timing that our VSLA (Village Savings and Loan Association) shared out all their money about a week ago.  For many of them they likely have more money then they have ever had at any one time, so there will be lots of meat on the family table this Christmas.

We started forming the VSLA last October and November.  We just had a random idea to start this association, because we feel that these groups can be such a good thing for Uganda.  They develop a savings culture that, while only in its infancy in Uganda, can lead to so many more doors being opened to ordinary citizens without the help of foreign aid or their government.  Individuals can increase their likelihood to develop new business, send their children to better schools, or just help buy that extra nice pair of shoes.  Now obviously savings is not necessarily something many Americans have mastered either, but at least we have additional avenues to make expensive purchases (Bank loans, credit cards, etc.), which are generally not options in Uganda. 

The VSLA we had the pleasure of forming with the employees and friends of the Bushenyi Honey Co-op was a great success.  When all the books had been figured they mutually saved about 11.5 million shillings (or $4300), and they had interest off of loans totaling about 2.5 million shillings (almost $1000).  The person with the most money saved had 1.65 million shillings (about $620).  They were a stellar group all around, and we loved getting to see them flourish.

They ended their cycle last Sunday with a big share out party.  They used the remainder of their “Emergency Fund” to buy food and drinks for everyone there.  Everyone got to invite one other family member to join in the festivities.  They of course had many speeches, a photographer, a cake cutting, and lots of good food to celebrate the occasion.  Each person came up with their family member to receive their check of their savings plus interest earned on each share.  One of our good Peace Corps friends Marianne served as at the guest of honor (which entailed a lot more then any of us had planned).  Overall the day was a great one, and lots of fun celebrating in true Ugandan fashion!

Marianne handing out the checks.
They started their new cycle yesterday.  So after all that hoopla they are starting again the next week.  This year they are hoping to increase the amount of shares they can buy from 5 (25,000 shillings) to 10 (50,000 shillings).  They are also increasing their group by three people, now up to 16.  Other community members have shown interest but the group decided they would rather help start other groups then have them join theirs (how is that for sustainable)!  We are sad we won’t be there for much of their next cycle, more out of selfish interest in their progress rather then necessity of our presence.  They have done so well and no Mr. Potters have stopped this savings and loan from having a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We're the girls who'll change the world! (Camp GLOW)

Hello from Minnesota!!!

We're home for Christmas with family and friends!  We flew in on Wednesday night and have been loving connecting with so many wonderful people in such a wonderful place!  Right now we're catching up with family, friends, and the places we love in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and we'll be in Sioux Falls starting on Christmas eve.  It's strange and hard to be away from Uganda but so, so fabulous to be home!

But, on to the real reason that I wanted to post - Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World!)  I spent the first week in December at an incredible nation wide girls empowerment camp put on by Peace Corps Volunteers and counterparts and wanted to write about what an awesome week we had.  If you remember last year, Ryan and I counseled at National Camp BUILD (Boys of Uganda in Leadership & Development).  This year, I decided to work with the ladies.  I was so glad that I did.  It was a wonderful week full of fun, laughter, learning, and growing!  I loved it!

With Evelyne, Ronah, Jenipher, and Gloria - the BTPC Counselors!
One of the things I was most excited about camp was the opportunity to bring four of my PTC students from Bushenyi to camp as counselors.  Each group of 10 campers had one Ugandan counselor and one American counselor.  So, I co-counseled with one of my BPTC girls, and 3 other PCVs also got to work with them!  I was so excited to see them get to live out some of the skills and share some of the values I had been working with them on for the last year or so.  It was a great final project to work on with these four special young women.  Every time I looked at them I saw them stepping up as counselors and jumping in with two feet.  They learned a lot this week that I think will help them in their student teaching next term, and in their future in general.  I had a blast co-counseling with them.  The week truly would not have been the same experience without them - and they made me so, so very proud!!!  I have no doubt that others at the college will be hearing all about it in no time! ;)

Evelyne and my group of campers were the crocodiles!  We had 9 girls from all over the country.  In our group, we also had three visually impaired girls, and multiple girls who were orphans.  It was such a joy to get to see the girls open up and come out of their shells during the week.  I have no doubt that skills were learned, and wonderful friendships were made.  They were a blast!  We made a group cheer and song early on, and everyone in the camp could hear us coming and going! :-)  (Once a camp counselor, always a camp counselor, right Daddio?!)

Our cheer went like this:
We are the croc-odiles-odiles
We have such lovely smiles
We swim, we slink
We move from creek to creek
When our neighbors aren't aware
We say cross - if you dare
We are the croc-odiles-odiles
The queens of the Nile
Crocodiles Crocodiles
Eat em up!  Eat em up!
Crocodiles Crocodiles
Eat em up!  Eat em up!

We sang our song to the tune of Shakira's Waka Waka:
Glowing so bright
Self esteem is all right
We're the girls who'll change the world
We are the crocodiles

It was super cute.  We might have driven the rest of the camp crazy, but we sure had our group pride down pat! :-)

Each day of the week the camp had a different theme - GLOWing with self esteem, GLOWing with strong bodies, GLOWing with a bright future, etc.  Each morning we met as a camper group to discuss the theme and the motto for the day, then went to different sessions related to the theme.  Counselors and staff took turns leading the sessions - I taught all about family planning on Wednesday with a Ugandan counterpart from Kasese.  Evelyne, one of the Bushenyi girls, taught the whole camp about making RUMPS with another PCV.  The girls also had sessions on nutrition, communication, assertiveness, income generating activities, gender roles, malaria, HIV, and many more!  Additionally, they were able to hear from a number of special guest speakers including the American Ambassador, PC staff, lecturers from Makerere University, and Ugandan female professionals.  In the evenings we played capture the flag, watched movies, had a talent show, and had a dance.  It was a jam packed week of tons of fun activities and many chances for learning and development as well.

One of my favorite surprises from the week was getting to know all of the other Ugandan co-counselors and staff from all around the country.  It inspired me  to see so many incredible twenty-something Ugandan women in one place - my service just didn't put me in contact with that many inspiring Ugandan women who were my age.  These women truly were leaders and I loved the opportunity to get to know them during the week.  I also loved it that my four girls from Bushenyi got to meet them - I truly think that they are role models for these young women, and shining examples of how they too can be strong women and leaders of Uganda.

My week at GLOW was so much fun.  In some ways it was just like any other summer camp - crazy songs (The Hole Song and Boom Chicka Boom made a number of appearances), chatting before bed, homesickness, and energy.  Then, there would be little things that reminded you that this was a camp in UGANDA!  One of these things that was a constant reminder of this was that we held camp at a big primary school in Kisubi and stayed in the dorms.  We slept in bunk beds 3 high!  My dorm was one giant room with 95 campers and counselors in it.  We bathed twice a day - cold bucket baths - and ad only a foot or two of space by our beds to keep our things, not even enough to stand facing the front between beds.  That was an adjustment!  Early on in the week, a girl rolled off the top bunk during the middle of the night in her sleep.  It was awful - She badly hurt her arm and, as if that wasn't enough, had to battle guard dogs on the premises to get to a hospital (where nobody was available to do an X-ray until 9 am).  Definitely not your typical summer camp issue!  We also had cases of malaria and other not-so-typical summer camp sicknesses.  And, in the last night, the before bed chatter was not what you'd typically expect - boys or clothes.  The girls were talking about the tribal circumcision ceremonies in their region!  Uganda for sure!

All in all - it was a wonderful week.  Some of my favorite things all rolled into one - the girls of Uganda and CAMP!!!  Memories made during the week will not be easily forgotten - by me, by my co-counselors, and by the 160 amazing girls that took part in this fabulous week.

Here's the blog that the GLOW media staff put out during the week.  It gives a little more detailed picture of what each day held and lots of great pictures!  Well done Liz!

And, here's the link to some of my pics from the week on facebook.  I was a bit too busy counseling to spend much time on taking pictures, but there are a few ones!

Merry Christmas everyone!  It's great to have already seen some of you, and we can't wait to see others soon!

All our love,