Villages Connected Blog

Villages Connected Fort Portal Response to Kony 2012 by Caroline Spira

It’s impossible to think of anyone not having a reaction to the Kony 2012 campaign. Indeed, we have written about it after many discussions between our board, staff and media co-op members.

One of our goals is to create media that matters – media that is at once positive, compelling and authentic; media that shares our values as interconnected humans. The missing piece in the story of powerful media has been the voices of people who must now live with the representation decided upon by others. It is time to let those voices tell the story.

Last week, members of the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op in Uganda came together to watch the Kony 2012 video and then turned the cameras on themselves to capture their discussion to share this with the world.

No frills, no hype, no hidden agenda. What you get is their reactions and personal opinions – their voices finally heard as the world turns their eyes upon their country. There is a clear message about the current situation in the country, the present focus and the desire for a more prosperous future.

This is media that matters.


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”.


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!

Next 5 media co-op member introductions by Caroline Spira

We are continuing with the personal introduction of the Fort Portal media co-op members, using mixed media of video and photographs.  This time we are pleased to introduce you to Annet, 32, Best, 19, Lawrence, 25, Peter, 30 and Prisca, 19.

The next 10 introductions are to follow in the days ahead.


I am by the name of Best.  I am 19 years old and a student at St. Maria Goretti Senior Secondary School.  I would like to be a journalist, actress and a musician in the future.

Participating in Villages Connected media project is important to me because I can make skits that are educative –  for instance about fighting against poverty, fighting against HIV-AIDS, among others.  I can help the youth like me and can learn how to use cameras.  As the whole world could be watching me, I could be playing a skit, for instance about immorality – which is around the world – and people could learn from it.  I would be the most happiest in that they are watching me this way around the world.


My name is Prisca.  I am munyoro by tribe, living in Hoima district and pursuing a bachelors degree in banking and development finance at Mountains of the Moon University.  I am an orphan of both parents, and the second of four girls.  I want to improve on the standards of my community whereby I can stand out in a crowd to represent the many that may lack various skills or air out problems affecting my community that have not been heard by our leaders and also provide solutions for them.

I want people to know that HIV-AIDS is real and it has no cure so we should take all possible measures to guard themselves.  I want to caution people to work hard for a living and start with the small they have for a better living.  I caution parents to take their children to schools and provide them with their needs.  I also want to inform orphans out there to lets work hard.  God will be on our side and we shall succeed in our endeavours.

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.

First 5 media co-op member introductions by Caroline Spira
June 13, 2011, 11:50 am
Filed under: Media Co-op Members | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here are the first 5 self-introductions of the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op members.  They are an amazing group of dynamic and strong community advocates.  Only a week or so into the training, the co-op members are still learning the ropes of photography and shooting video – including getting over camera shyness!

Watch Joyce, 19, Stella, 19, and Sister Angella, 26 in this short 2-minute video, then read about Gilbert, 23 and Geoffrey, 29.


I am Gilbert of the mutooro tribe and a resident of Fort Portal Municipality.  I completed my high school education in 2010 and am now out of school.  As a youth myself, I mobilized my fellow youth and started a small entrepreneurial decorating business with the little capital we had.  We are now 10 in number struggling to ensure our project grows big to employ more youth outside.

About my community – Fort Portal, the pearl of Africa – it is a community of humble people who are economically poor but resilient.  Being part of Villages Connected will help us to acquire knowledge about media, business marketing and innovative opportunities among others.  These will help us develop ourselves and our community.  Lastly, I hope to meet many people and share experiences and in the process, I hope to get more friends with whom I think we shall unite together and work for the best of our community.


I am a highly motivated humble young man holding a Bachelor and Masters in Business Administration (Finance), currently a lecturer and the coordinator of Mountains of the Moon University banking and microfinance program.  I have a strong passion for community service and this is the reason why I have developed a strong desire over time to contribute to community development by improving financial literacy and accessibility.

Uganda is a lovely country endowed with natural resources; we welcome partners in development to fight our common enemy “Mr Poverty”.  As a microfinance teacher and researcher, blending media and marketing into microfinance is a very good new innovation that is currently missing in microfinance, and yet it is one tool that can enhance microfinance performance in rural communities in Uganda.  Come join hands to create a better world to live in.

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