Villages Connected Blog


The power of witnessing change – Wilson’s success story by de Villiers van Zyl

Mwesige Wilson building a new house


I will never forget the day I met Mwesige Wilson. It was June 25, 2011, the day we wrapped up our three-week training program with the newly established Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op in Uganda. I was just about to enter the classroom to start the last day, when my eye caught this strong, young, African man wearing a Scottish kilt walking towards me from across a field. It was Wilson. Besides the fact that I have never seen an African in a kilt, what struck me most is that never before have I seen such a strong visual representation of the presence of Western heritage in Africa.

Wilson’s kilt has become a reminder to me of why Villages Connected’s work is so important. For centuries, western societies have had the ability to communicate their knowledge, potential, beliefs and stories to a global audience but only now do Africans have the opportunity to showcase their potential & knowledge globally thanks to technological breakthroughs that allow Africans to access the internet via cell networks.

With these advances in technology, Villages Connected Fort Portal is not only able to show the opportunities within their community but also, the change investments within opportunistic Africans and their businesses creates. In fact, for all investments or contributions received, Villages Connected creates a success story showing exactly where money has gone and what impact it has on the lives of the recipients such as Wilson.

Wilson is a grade ten student who owns a livestock farm. He was introduced to us by Camp Uganda, an organization that empowers youth to save endangered chimpanzees. Haida Bolton, founder of Camp Uganda, first met Wilson in 2009 when he attended Camp Uganda with his school’s wildlife club. Haida learned that he was orphaned at the age of four and was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather was able to raise enough funds to send him to school when he was 11 years old. When Haida met Wilson he was 17 and one of the brightest students in his grade seven class. He longed to be a doctor so he could prevent other children from losing their parents to unnecessary diseases. However, Wilson could not afford to go to high school.

Fortunately, a group of Canadian people pooled their funds together to help Wilson attend one of the best and oldest high schools in Fort Portal, Nyakasura Secondary. Nyakasura is a private school, started in the early 1900’s by a Scotsman and the reason for Wilson’s impressive dress code.

To sustain himself and his grandfather, Wilson started a poultry and pig farm but while away at school all the pigs contracted a disease and died. Now burdened with using savings to buy new pigs and to replace an aging farmhouse, Wilson contacted Haida for financial support. Haida jumped on it and raised the funds to invest in a new house for Wilson.

To see the change this investment has created, watch the video and to help create another success story through investment, click here

Wilson wearing his kilt



first micro-loans in Fort-Portal by Caroline Spira

It was back in October of last year that Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op made it’s biggest leap yet.  In fact, the media co-op made six leaps with 6 local business people.

The media co-op started with a small micro-finance seed fund.  The co-op members, under the leadership of the micro-finance committee, worked together to identify small businesses that could benefit from a capital investment and whose owners shared the values of the co-op.  With the businesses identified, the co-op held a special ceremony gathering some 25 people where they celebrated issuing these first loans.

The ceremony was presided by Muzigiti Geoffrey Baluku, president of the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op, and the funds handed over to the recipients by Mugisa Herbert, Chairman LC3 South Division.

Villages Connected Media Co-op member and chair of the micro-finance committee, Kanyunyuzi Moureen , explained the LC3 chairman was asked to take this role in the ceremony to represent the local government and its support of Villages Connected and “in order to acknowledge the work we have started doing for the community of Fort-Portal.”

“The Loan recipients were very happy and highly motivated to pursue their desired dream goals. And they promise to work harder to help themselves and the community as a whole” added Moureen.  “It was a great achievement for me personally and Villages Connected Fort-Portal since it was the first time to issue loans from our seed fund.”

Microfinance Committee Chair Moureen assisting loan recipient Joy in filling out her loan agreement

The loans were issued for a restaurant, an event decorator/planner business, a liquor store/lounge, a dairy and a community garden and agricultural training organization.  The six loans totaled $2,000 CAD.  The terms and interest rates were set by the members and agreed to by the recipients who – more than 4 months in – have achieved a 100% repayment rate.

“This comes at a time when it’s increasingly becoming difficult to access credit especially during these difficult times of high inflation rates in our country Uganda.  Therefore, this is a big opportunity for us […] to invest in our [local] businesses so that as our businesses grow, [so] we will be able to showcase our potential and that of our community.” — Muzigiti Geoffrey Baluku President-VC-Fort Portal

Micro-loan recipient Moreen receiving the funds to make her dairy business grow



an update from Villages Connected by Caroline Spira

The attached is a letter from Villages Connected’s Founder and Director, de Villiers van Zyl,  to VC’s  supporters with an overview of the last few months and the direction for upcoming year.  Enjoy!

June 25, 2010: VC-Fort Portal co-op members received their certificates for completion

Dear Supporters:

First and foremost I want to thank you for your generous support on behalf of Villages Connected International and our whole team in Fort Portal, Uganda.  Your support made it possible to set-up and equip a Villages Connected media co-operative in Fort Portal as well as to provide the co-operative with a $2000 micro-finance fund. Thanks to your support this unknown African community is now able to show the world that opportunity is plentiful, that Africa is a great investment and ready to create value-based partnerships globally.

Even though we were not in the limelight the last six months we have been very busy. I want to take the time to give you a quick update of what we have been doing and what you can look forward to see from us in the coming months.

Our Canadian team left Fort Portal in July. While Caroline and Greg went back to Cameroon to finish their contract with CUSO-VSO, Ernie and I returned to Canada. We arrived in Canada with more than a hundred hours of footage, hundreds of pictures and a strong commitment to our first media co-op in Fort Portal.

In Uganda, Villages Connected Fort Portal and its 21 members took the reigns and with our support, worked out the organizational kinks to make this idea we had a reality. See, we took over equipment, did some training and communicated our vision, but at the end of the day VC Fort Portal belongs to its members and only they can make it fit like a glove. And wow, did they make it fit.

Hardworking crew: VC-Fort Portal co-op members at the entrance of their office

They have restructured the leadership and management teams to reflect commitment, talent and interest. Geoffrey Muzigiti, Micro-Finance Lecturer at a local university was elected President. He is supported by directors Margaret Kemigisa (Award winning Social Entrepreneur) Vice-President and Annet Kugonza (Teacher) as secretary. To oversee day-to-day operations in media and micro-finance they have elected a five member Management Committee: Goldino (Chairman), Gilbert (Vice Chair), Mourreen (Micro-finance) Prisca (Secretary) and Lawrence (Media). In need of office space, but with limited resources as a start-up, the team met with Local Member of Parliament, Alex Ruhunda for advice and support. He was so impressed with the group and their mission through Villages Connected, that he offered to provide them with paid office space for six months.

With committed leadership, an office and a paid part time office manager, Villages Connected Fort Portal has achieved the following highlights:

–        Issued its first micro-loans to six businesses in Fort Portal with a 100 percent of monthly installments paid back

–        Grew its membership base to more than 50

–        Has set-up its first media training class with ten new members.

–        Approved and documented 5 new businesses, with footage being edited and to be distributed for funding in the coming weeks.

Our Canadian team and I have been working behind the scenes editing footage, supporting VC Fort Portal and structuring Villages Connected International, now fully registered and incorporated.

Structurally everything in place, both here in Canada and in Uganda, we are exited to declare 2012 the year of Villages Connected. In the next coming weeks we will re-launch our blog and distribute Fort Portal business opportunity videos that will provide you with exciting investment opportunities. Furthermore, in February, we will distribute the world’s first participatory ad created for Tigh-Na-Mara Resort Spa & Conference Centre in partnership with VC Fort Portal.

From every angle: VC-Fort Portal co-op members capturing MP Alex Ruhunda special event

Villages Connected International and Villages Connected Fort Portal will also hit the road in February to start sharing the stories of Africans ready, committed and capable of creating mutually beneficial economic partnerships with you. Please let us know if you belong to a service group, have a group of socially conscious friends or are part of a socially responsible business that wants to discover an Africa full of opportunity.

Thanks very much for being a part of this exciting journey on route to realize our vision of a global village where humanity, prosperity and economic growth are interconnected.

With respect,

de Villiers



getting down to business by Greg Spira

Time flies when business ideas take off.

Or at least that is what has consumed the last few weeks.

Each of the co-op members had been tasked with a video or photo essay assignment as part of their training:  to document a business idea that could be funded by the co-op through its microfinance fund.  The members were to use their new interview skills, learn about the business and use the media they create as a sort of visual loan application.

By the time the group convened, there were 17 businesses proposed for Villages Connected loans, and many more in the works.

co-member Geoffrey proposed helping a retail shop grow using the first round of microfinance loans

 

co-member Prisca proposed her restaurant for the first round of microfinance loans

Like everything we’ve done here, the process of evaluation was developed by our co-op members.  It was simple and flexible, yet structured.

First, each of the media co-op members presented their video or photo essay to the group.  Then the group members, acting as first evaluators of the loan application, asked the presenters some truly tough questions.  They wanted to be sure that the business ideas were viable and, therefore, that their microfinance fund would be well used.

From there, the group voted for their 3 choices for the first round – the businesses they thought would be good candidates for the microloans. This brought the number down to 13 applications.

A core group of members attended an additional training session to learn more about how to do business assessments and how to make preliminary financial analysis of the businesses.  Armed with an extensive questionnaire, members worked in pairs, visiting the business owners, and took charge of the assessment process. In the end, they were able to figure out that some of the application, while very interesting, were not good candidates for the first round of lending. Others, they decided, would make excellent clients.

co-op member Lawrence interviews one of the applicants for a microfinance loan

 

The biggest difficulty?  The size of the microloan fund.

The original plan, and what we at Villages Connected had aimed for, was to provide loans to 10 businesses as a starting point.  The 10 would demonstrate just how powerful combining media and microfinance could be.  However, our fundraising efforts fell short of what was needed.  So only 4 businesses will be able to gain access to the microfinance fund in round 1.

The group will decide which four start things rolling.

Once they do, these four businesses will not only have passionate Villages Connected media co-operative members running them.  They will also have the support of their equally dynamic fellow media co-op members.  Together they will help the businesses take flight and monitor its progress using the cameras in their hands.



Building the co-op through dialogue by Caroline Spira

One might think that building a media co-op would be all fun and games – an exercise in creativity and visual experiments. All of the photography and video taking of community assets, curiosities and getting that “awesome shot”.

Not.

There is a whole other side to the inception of the Fort Portal media co-op and it’s not creative in the least! In order to have a successful media co-op, not only will there need to be breathtaking media, but there will also need to be a sound foundation to work from. And that’s where the co-op members, and additional assistance from a select few members (which we lovingly call “the microfinance core group”), have come in.

co-op members Prisca, Margaret and Best working on ways to make the co-op sustainable

Since the very first week, together we have been working towards developing the co-op’s constitution and bylaws, as well as the terms and conditions of the microfinance fund. There is a lot of cross-over between the two, and much, much discussion on the best ways to move forward.

In general, the discussions have focused on structure and future growth. It took no time at all – days, really – for the co-op members to not only “buy-in” to the Villages Connected vision, but also to begin to define ways to make it a reality.

But whether or not the co-op members would make sure their organization would function lay in the details.

The “proof” lay in the “pudding” they mixed up during a marathon set of discussion groups talking about such intriguing subjects as co-op structure, criteria for loan recipients, interest rates and repayment terms, and sustainability of the co-op.

The going wasn’t always easy. Most of the co-op’s members had never taken out a loan or even visited a microfinance institution. Fewer even had established an association or co-op – never mind the two at once!

co-op member Jamiah

But the members of the microfinance core group kept things rolling and made sure everyone contributed to the way things would work. The members were lucky enough that among their numbers they had a president of a women’s community lending circle, a community mobilizer, a lecturer and a student in microfinance, and a single mother with a keen eye for business potential.

So the group of 21 founding co-op members rotated from station to station, discussing exactly how their co-op would work. The Villages Connected team offered advice when it was asked for, but ultimately the end product was theirs.

co-op members in deep discussion on interest rates and loan conditions with some clarifications from crew member Caroline

They answered the question not only of how they would give loans, but also how they would keep their momentum going for the long run.

Of course, while answers abounded, we all know that many more questions come up any time you have twenty people working together on a dynamic subject.

So that’s what the core microfinance group is working on now – going forward with the essential task of figuring out the minute details that their colleagues asked about. These, of course, need to be nailed down before they approve any microfinance loans!

Microfinance Core Group participant Margaret leading more discussions with fellow co-op members George William and Joyce

This part of the work may not be fun and games. But it is essential!

Their work is almost ready and the business of supporting business well underway!



a thousand words in pictures by Greg Spira

A picture can start a thousand words.  Here are a few of the week’s highlights from the media co-op members.

 

© Aliya / Villages Connected

 

© Aliya / Villages Connected

 

© Bashil / Villages Connected - a rocket stove

 

© Bashil / Villages Connected

 

© Bashil / Villages Connected

 

© George William / Villages Connected

 

© George William / Villages Connected

 

© Gilbert / Villages Connected

 

© Gilbert / Villages Connected

 

© Joyce & Sister Angela / Villages Connected

 

© Prisca / Villages Connected

 

© Samuel / Villages Connected



community focused: media co-op member photographs by Greg Spira

The melodic voices of dozens of girls accompanied the morning start of the first Saturday workshop facilitated by the Villages Connected team.  The hymns sung in the background by the girls of St Maria Goretti Senior Secondary School welcomed the 20 media co-op members, their voices caressing and urging each person to feel at ease and to share.

Their video and still cameras had come back a couple days earlier and now they eagerly awaited their chance to talk about the results of the first media assignment they had been given.  Half the group had taken photos or videos that demonstrated a particular community issue or solution that they found important. The other half had captured on camera something they felt truly represented the strength of the communities in and around Fort Portal.

Co-op members started the day by writing descriptions for some of their pictures and videos. These would serve as roadmaps for what they intended when filming, ensuring their meaning would be attached to any photograph shared with audiences outside the room.

However, as we all know, many audiences simply cannot sit through slideshows and film screenings lasting hours and hours. Therefore, each person was tasked with selecting just one shot or video clip that captured the issue they felt the group and community needed to hear about.  They had to choose from hundreds of photos and videos they had shot.

Not an easy task.

This challenging editing endeavour meant that when co-op members gathered in a tight semi-circle in our classroom venue they were itching to share what they had produced!

You’ve met ten of the media co-op members here in Fort Portal.

You’ve heard ten of their stories.

Now see some of the photographs they took and read their explanations of why they took them.

Photo and Description by Stella

© Stella / Villages Connected

I took this photo from my village. Here I was trying to ask about the challenges faced by that village. I hear that the village is not developing. I asked why. You see here the woman is sitting with her children. I asked the problem. The people in the village do not want to work. That’s why you see her here it is morning time but a woman is siting she can’t go to the garden for work and the problem you can see is she does not have enough food for her children.

I tried to tell her the solution – she must work hard to get enough food for her children. As you can see in the other picture, she can try to dig as you see with this other woman.  She’s digging, weeding the onions so that she can produce enough products to sustain her family.

© Stella / Villages Connected

This issue and solution is very important in the media co-op and even in the community because they can learn to work hard to have enough food and even to cater their children by giving them their needs. As people can learn how to generate their income. People can also avoid idleness by learning from them

Photo and Description by Lawrence

I took these pictures from different places but within my community.

© Lawrence / Villages Connected (Photo 64)

I took picture 64 to show the problem of banana diseases faced by the people in my community so as to devise means of assisting them collectively.

© Lawrence / Villages Connected (Photo 69)

I took picture 69 to show some of the solutions to the problem of banana diseases, ie., cutting the affected bananas down and after cutting them you can dispose of that land for other use. Planting trees, planting food crops, rearing animals and other stuff. This picture shows a variety of land use – this portion you put beans, there you put banana, in the same way you put avocado. Then at the end of it you find you have different foodstuffs for selling and for feeding well.

© Lawrence / Villages Connected (Photo 75)

I took picture 75 to show some of the supporting or supportive NGOs that have advocated for the solutions towards community problems and challenges like giving hope through planting alternative crops other than banana and putting the land to alternative use.

© Lawrence / Villages Connected (Photo 233)

I took picture 233 to bring out some of the improved banana plantations in the community and how people can benefit from such initiatives if they are established in their communities. Here there is this modern banana plantation – this one is a model plantation. You can cut all of them, clear the land and plant new ones and stretch them so that they do not spread [disease] to each other.

It is important to show that back there in the community there are challenges that the people there can’t solve by themselves.  They need some technical personnel and some people who have some knowledge. There are some initiatives taken by non-governmental organizations to show them what they can do.

The solution & strength in the pictures are important for others to know – what has been done by other people and agencies towards solving community issues and challenges. They should also know how land can be used for different uses and the other media co-op members should find means of helping the affected communities while adding to those measures already taken.

Photo and Description by Best

© Best / Villages Connected

In this picture I can see students sitting in a classroom reading their books. I took this picture in Senior 5 Arts class in St Maria Gorretti Girls School. I took this picture because I love reading books and being friends with my classmates. This picture is important for the media co-op to know because they can be attracted to this picture and tell people to bring their children at St Maria Gorreti Girls Secondary School.

Photo and Description by Annet

© Annet / Villages Connected

This picture shows an old lady with a piggery project and I took this picture from west-division in Fort Portal (Rwengomel). I took this picture because I was too much impressed by the old lady, aged 78 years of age, who still has strength to do some projects but on a small scale. And this is so important for the media co-operative to know about because people outside can understand that very many old ladies are capable of doing everything but the problem is that they don’t have enough capital and others lack information on the good methods of rearing these animals.  And more to that, the old lady told me the reason why she selected this project was that one pig can produce many young ones at a time and this has market value.




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