Villages Connected Blog

Learning by Doing: An Internship at VC Fort Portal by Caroline Spira

Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

–Benjamin Franklin

One of the fundamental values held by Villages Connected is that through participatory means – that is, by truly working together – we can achieve our goals of demonstrating potential through humanity.  This of course requires concerted effort, quite a bit of vision and a willingness to get involved.

Moureen: Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op member and new intern!

It also takes people like Moureen Kanyunyuzi to accept the challenge of stepping out of her classroom at Mountains of the Moon University and stepping up in her role as microfinance committee chair with Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op by turning this experience into a two-month long field placement.

Beginning at the end of this term, Moureen will embark full-time with Villages Connected as an intern working on enhancing and expanding the microfinance products delivered by the Fort Portal media co-op.  Moureen is a second year student in the BSc. Banking and Development Finance, has already completed another internship with a microfinance institution in Fort Portal, and just last year, was a key onsite-coordinator for Villages Connected during the initial set up of the co-op.

“My career aspirations are to eventually design management systems for financial institutions. Immediately after my graduation, I would like to work in a financial institution dealing with the unbanked population – to find out why some people don’t receive financial services and find a way to reduce that number.”

Moureen explains that Mountains of the Moon University approved the internship with Villages Connected because it work is relevant to her field of study, and, most especially with plans to develop savings products for members, it is a great opportunity for her to expand on her research.

Moureen and other media co-op members working on product development

“For my studies, my goal in this placement is to enhance my knowledge of the relationship between saving product designs and women’s savings behaviour. This will help to design products that suit the women’s savings behaviour in rural areas.”  She adds, “It will help me to translate the theoretical concepts attained in school into the practical.”

With the media co-op’s microfinance loans moving forward and more microentrepreneurs demonstrating interest in working with Villages Connected, Moureen’s work and research is a timely fit.

Congratulations Moureen!  Villages Connected is glad be learning together with you.


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

The crew’s glimpse at village life by Caroline Spira
June 14, 2011, 4:20 pm
Filed under: VC Team | Tags: , , , , ,

Not everything that Villages Connected does will show up in pictures and in film.  But in a week and a bit, we have already experienced so many new things, met so many new people – it will be hard to capture it all in a condensed version we can share.

And while the media co-op members are knee-deep in their film and photography training, we figured we might take some time to experience for ourselves a little of what village life is like.

A few days ago, we were able to visit Kyhnyawara, a village just outside Fort Portal.  This is where 3 of the media co-op members live, and they were quite happy to show us around a little.

a walk through the village

We started with a visit of the Science Centre where we learned about the various wildlife in Kibale National Park which the village borders.

Do the elephants and primates that live in the park ever come into the village, you may ask?

Yes!  And they can create havoc because they interfere with the farmer’s crops.  However, of course, the animals and their habitat needs to be protected.

Do the villagers also use the forest for food and firewood?

Villagers have unfortunately grown dependent on the bush meat and the timber from the forest, and the degradation has caused problems.  Many efforts by the Science Centre, community groups and outside benefactors are ongoing to bring about a reversing of these effects.

Some of the efforts have included promoting the construction and use of “rocket stoves” which have a faster and more efficient cooking time, therefore requiring less firewood.  The women in the village are also experimenting with cooking pellets made of a combination of peanut shells, sawdust and recycled paper.

Media co-op members Bashil and Samuel give a demonstration on how to build a rocket stove

Crew member Caroline learns about the efficiency of alternative fuels

Other ongoing projects include handicrafts, music and dance, sustainable timber production, bee keeping and other animal husbandry.

This of course, is only what we could see and learn in a very short visit.  We look forward to the days ahead when the participants themselves can share, from their perspective, the opportunities within this one small village.

Tag team media training by Greg Spira

Twenty media co-op members. Twenty different skill levels in photography & video. Previous media experience as varied as the stunning scenery around Fort Portal.   Backgrounds, ages and education levels similarly ranging all over the map.

Just how do you “train” a group like this in media skills?  Take a tag team approach.

de Villiers working with participants on creating great compositions

Over the last two days we’ve worked with the members of the new Villages Connected Media co-op in building everyone’s skills in taking pictures and video with purpose.  We’ve split the group of twenty into 4 more manageable groups, working intensively on such basic fare as composition, lighting and capturing motion.

VC’s team was picked because each of us had something to share.  Ernie and de Villiers have a strong mastery of the art of arguing over the best way to capture girls running across the screen.  Meanwhile, Greg masters the art of getting his backside dirty while showing off interesting angles to shoot from.

Greg helps participants think through other angles for taking impactful shots

So what do we do?

Let the co-op members build their skills by figuring out what they like about photos and videos.  We went around asking participants what we should photograph, took the pictures they suggested from different angles and perspectives, and talked about the results.

We would have had them take the “practice shots”, but one thing got in the way…

Most of the co-op members’ camera batteries had run out of juice!

When we arrived in Fort Portal we had charged all the batteries before starting.  But we hadn’t counted on low voltage running through Fort Portal’s grid. This sneak-attack meant what we thought were fully charged batteries capable of 200+ pictures turned out to be poorly charged light-weights with barely 30 minutes of battery.

Now that our eyes are open, the problem has been fixed.

Co-op member Sr Angella poses for the extreme close up demonstration

Despite this temporary speed bump, we took out our fancier cameras and worked as a group to support each other in building participants’ photo and video skills..

So, after Greg worked with the members on composing still pictures, de Villiers and Ernie jumped in to ask how shooting video was different.

Ultimately, the group decided what they liked in each medium and made suggestions for improving the shots we took.The participatory training will continue over the weeks to come – hopefully with everyone holding fully charged cameras!

Co-op member Moureen putting the Nikons to the test

This tag team approach to photography and video training has already paid off! Today we received the members’ cameras back for the first time and the results are amazing!

Stay tuned, we’ll be sharing their work very soon!

Villages Connected has landed… sort of! by Greg Spira
June 5, 2011, 4:58 am
Filed under: Project Updates, VC Team | Tags: , , , ,
  • Welcome to Africa! Morning in Nairobi, Kenya

42 hours of travel.  42 hours of anticipation.  42 hours of waiting to hit the ground running!

    Ernie - ready to hit the ground!

    The Villages Connected team – after traveling from both Cameroon and Canada – landed in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.  We were met at the airport by Isaac, Villages Connected’s newest team member – our smiling logistician and driver – who met us with smiles and great patience.

    Isaac and de Villiers

    Greg and Caroline

    We all needed patience. Amazingly the passengers and luggage from Cameroon arrived tired but triumphant. They and their bags had made it… alas, their Canadian colleagues somehow managed to jump slightly ahead of their bags at London’s Heathrow airport.

    So wait we had to – wait for bags to meander their way across continents.   After only a day’s delay they made it.

    We spent the days wandering Kampala’s commercial centre in search of key bits and pieces of training material and equipment.  It was a fun and vibrant atmosphere made even more eye-and-ear catching by Ugandans revving up for an epic confrontation between their national football squad and that of Guinea Bissau.

    So, amidst the honking of vuvuzellas (the horns made famous during last years’ World Cup in South Africa) we shopped for bottled water, a printer and printer ink, surge protectors, lens filter, flip chart paper, markers, tape, and a variety of bits and pieces.

    The last minute little bits that make projects happen on the ground.

    Kampala - a shopping paradise

    We continued as long as we could, but jet lagged dropped some of us sooner than others!

    So today we will move one step closer to the launch of Villages Connected’s first media co-op.  Today Isaac will drive us to Fort Portal!

    A word from VC team member Caroline by Caroline Spira
    May 23, 2011, 3:33 pm
    Filed under: VC Team | Tags: , , , , ,

    I’m so glad to be taking my turn in introducing myself. The last few days I have been reviewing the participant’s applications and scanning through all the business ideas they have submitted. The business ideas are very varied in terms of scope and size, but all are quite impressive in terms of how entrepreneurship is one of the answers to individuals lifting themselves out of poverty. And I am so glad that the media coop participants will have a role in selecting the first microloan recipients because it won’t be an easy task!

    Help turn business ideas into economic opportunities through the Villages Connected microloan fund by donating to the campaign to unlock potential and re-brand poverty.

    Glad to have you along!


    VC team member Greg’s message by Greg Spira
    May 22, 2011, 6:25 pm
    Filed under: VC Team | Tags: , , , ,

    We’ve come a long way de Villiers and I used to spend hours pouring over the ideas for Villages connected, and the efforts to gather support to make it come to life. Now with the community of Fort Portal and the rest of the team, we are only days away from a true beginning. More than ever, I am honoured to be supporting efforts to put the media back into the hands of the people. Participants’ applications speak about wanting to be connected to the rest of the world, telling their stories and sharing what makes their community special. That’s what it’s all about – empowering people to have a voice and sharing their passion for their own development.

    Bring about locally developed solutions and magnify the voices by contributing to the campaign to unlock potential and re-brand poverty.

    Thank you for joining us.


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