Author Archive

Solar Sister and Kiva: Helping Women Entrepreneurs to Bring Solar Light to Rural Uganda

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

Earth at night

Roughly 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. Lack of power is a complex issue that results in countless other problems, and it is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty. Without light, children are unable to do their homework and study. Midwives must perform deliveries in the dark. Children, especially girls, often spend hours a day collecting firewood to be used for light and heat instead of going to school. Mothers are forced to cook with kerosene, which is expensive, toxic to the lungs, and a major cause of fires in the home.

Solar Sister, Kiva’s newest partner in Uganda, is a social enterprise committed to tackling energy poverty as well as creating economic opportunity for women. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister sells solar lamps through local women in remote parts of Uganda. These entrepreneurs are provided with training and marketing support, and use their own networks of friends and family to distribute solar lighting products throughout their villages, providing their communities with clean energy, empowering themselves, and providing their families with additional income.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Solar Sister on a trip to the villages of Central Uganda, where we met two Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and their customers.

Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence is 38 years old. She has four children under her care (two biological children and two whom she adopted after their own mother passed away). She runs a small computer center in the town of Buwama where she teaches computer literacy courses and also provides typing services. Since becoming a Solar Sister Entrepreneur, she has enjoyed brining light to others in her community.

Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

As a small-holder farmer, Agnes grows vegetables and raises cows. She is also community nurse and runs a small health clinic in her home. Her biggest challenge as a nurse has been lack of light. Without electricity, she is unable to work after dark – even though health emergencies do not become any less common after nightfall.

Agnes purchased a simple solar light system from Florence and now has light in a few rooms in her house. Since she installed the lights, she has been able to begin seeing patients at night.

Florence demonstrates the lighting system that was installed in Agnes' home

Florence demonstrates the lighting system that was installed in Agnes’ home

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes understands the dangers of kerosene more than most people. A few years ago, her teenage daughter was studying in bed by the light of a kerosene lantern. Her mosquito net caught fire, causing severe burns to most of her body. She feels very lucky that her daughter survived, and she is glad that her children can now read at night without having to worry about potential accidents.

Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis is 48 years old. She has eight children. She primarily earns the income with which she supports her family through farming. Jane-Francis became a Solar Sister in order to earn extra money that she puts towards school fees for her children.

Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer

Jane is a mother and smallholder farmer. She is also a village nurse. Since purchasing a lamp from Jane-Francis, she has been able to continue seeing patients after dark. She also says that having light at night helps her stay awake for her favorite radio show, which she likes to listen to on her battery-powered radio every evening at 10:00 pm. She is currently saving money to buy another lamp for her home.

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Jane shows us the lamp that she uses when she treats patients at night

Jane shows us the lamp that she uses when she treats patients at night

A lamp is left to charge in the sunshine during the day

A lamp is left to charge in the sunshine during the day

Lend to a Solar Sister Entrepreneur today on Kiva.org, and help her not only to increase her own income, but also to bring light, hope and opportunity to her community.

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Solar Sister and Grameen Foundation AppLab in Kampala, Uganda.

11 December 2012 at 20:40

The Rolex that You Can Eat (…and it tastes oh so good)

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

Uganda offers its visitors a wide variety of foods to sample, but many would agree that the most delicious of these is the rolex. What is a rolex, you ask? I have heard many people describe the Ugandan rolex as something similar to the “breakfast burrito,” a peculiar food item that can be found at a number of American fast food chains. For purposes of basic mental imagery, this description may not be too far off; however, I personally believe that this comparison fails to give the rolex the credit that it deserves. That’s why I have decided to dedicate an entire blog post to this uniquely Ugandan culinary delight.

A rolex costs 1,500 Ugandan Shillings ($0.60) and is available on almost every street corner in Kampala. The name “rolex” has nothing to do with the luxury Swiss watch company, but rather relates to the ingredients of this scrumptious delicacy and the way it is made: roll + eggs = rolex.

The rolex first appeared about a decade ago in the Kampala suburb of Wandegaya near Makerere University, Kampala’s oldest institution of higher education. After appearing in Wandegaya, the late-night student snack took the region by storm and has since become a staple street food throughout all of Central Uganda.

My favorite rolex stand in Kampala

My favorite rolex stand in Kampala

Here I will outline the basic steps in the creation of a rolex.

1. First, the chapati is made. Chapati is a tortilla-like flatbread made from flour, water and salt. Chapati was first brought to Uganda by Indian migrant workers in the early 1900s. The dough is rolled thin, placed on a circular frying pan, and cooked until it has reached a solid yet soft consistency.

Frying the chapati

Making the chapati

2. Next, the omelette is mixed. Two eggs are blended together with pieces of fresh tomato, cabbage, onions, bell peppers and salt.

Mixing the omelette

Mixing the omelette

3. On the same pan where the chapati was cooked, the omelette is fried.

Cooking the omelette

Cooking the omelette

4. The omelette is placed on the chapati and is topped with cold tomato slices and salt. The chapati is then rolled into a burrito-like form.

Putting on the finishing touches

Putting on the finishing touches

And that’s how a Ugandan rolex is made. I can’t think of a more delicious way to spend $0.60. Bon appétit!

The finished product

The finished product

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation AppLab as well as two other nontraditional Kiva partners. 

4 December 2012 at 05:45 4 comments

Grameen Foundation and Kiva: Partnering to Bring Life-Changing Agricultural Information to Rural Communities in Uganda

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

CKWs training for their new roles

CKWs in Masaka practice using their new equipment (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Kiva recognizes the unique power of the interest-free capital it provides through its lenders. The zero-interest aspect of Kiva’s loans enables its partners to act boldly and to try new things, to go the extra mile to reach new groups of people, and to fund loans that Kiva characterizes as highly catalytic. Kiva uses the term highly catalytic to describe initiatives that not only help to provide financial independence to the poor, but also produce far-reaching effects that transform the lives of the people in the borrowers’ communities. Such loans may contribute to green energy and solar power endeavors, education initiatives, water sanitation projects or even agro-technology advancements.

Grameen Foundation is an organization that is going above and beyond to bring highly catalytic programs to Uganda. For this reason, Kiva has chosen to make Grameen Foundation AppLab its first nontraditional partner here. Starting this week, participants in Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program will be featured on Kiva.org.

The CKW program is made up of a network of peer-nominated “farmer leaders” across Uganda who use mobile devices to share expert agricultural information with their small-holder farmer neighbors living on less than $2 a day. Community Knowledge Workers use the information provided by applications on their smartphones to help their fellow farmers improve crop yields and to reduce the costs of adopting new agricultural practices.

The CKWs also collect information from the farmers in their communities through phone-based surveys. This information is then used to help other poverty-focused organizations that Grameen Foundation works with, including government organizations and NGOs, improve and expand support services for farmers. The CKWs are paid small monthly salaries based on the number of information searches and surveys they complete. These salaries supplement – and sometimes even double – the amount that the CKWs earn as smallholder farmers themselves.

What a CKW might see on his or her phone

As a Kiva Fellow working at Grameen Foundation, I have had the opportunity to observe the mechanisms of this project first-hand, and to see just how much work goes into the maintenance and expansion of this incredible program. Over the course of the past five weeks, I have accompanied Grameen Foundation field officers on multiple trips to the central Ugandan district of Masaka. During these trips, I was able to see the various steps taken while selecting and preparing a CKW for his or her new role.

1. Community Mobilization

During this critical phase, Grameen Foundation field officers first meet with community leaders in the area and explain the CKW program to them, as well as the positive change that it will bring to the community. After obtaining buy-in from these influential people (which is absolutely imperative to the success of the program), a time and place are then identified for a village meeting, which takes place about one week later. The village meeting can last anywhere from a few hours to the entire day. A Grameen Foundation field officer explains the CKW program to the attendees and ensures that the program will have adequate support from the community. After confirming this, a date and time are set for a recruitment meeting, during which a CKW will be selected to serve his or her village.

Grameen field officer Ian explains the CKW program to a group of villagers

Grameen Foundation field officer Ian Mubiru explains the CKW program during a village meeting

2. Recruitment

The recruitment meeting should be heavily attended. If enough people fail to show up to constitute a fair vote, the meeting must be rescheduled (this is quite common since time and information are managed in a very different manner here than you readers may be used to – I must say, the Grameen Foundation field officers are some of the most patient people I have ever met!). If enough people attend the meeting, then the nominations can begin. The Grameen Foundation field officer lists the prerequisites that an individual must have to effectively serve his or her community as a CKW, and also explains what kinds of additional qualities voters should look for in their candidate (someone who has served the community in the past, someone who is reliable and can be trusted, etc.). The nominees each make a speech touting their qualifications, and then the voting commences. Things can become quite heated at this stage, as people may have starkly different opinions on who should be selected for the position. After voting takes place, a winner is announced. A Grameen Foundation field officer then visits the CKW’s home to discuss the details of the position with his or her family, since the role is time-consuming and family support is essential.

CKW candidates make their speeches

CKW candidates make their speeches during a recruitment meeting

3. Training

After the CKWs have been selected by their communities, a training session is held for each district. I went to the four-day training in Masaka, which was attended by 47 CKWs from the surrounding villages. During training, CKWs are shown how to operate and take care of their materials (the smartphone, solar charging device and weighing scale). Innovative farming techniques are discussed and participants are prepped for their new roles as information agents and community leaders. The Grameen Foundation training team is absolutely extraordinary – they spend weeks at a time on the road, teach sessions late into the evening, and never lose their enthusiasm or patience. Since this is the first group of CKWs who are to be funded by Kiva loans, I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on Kiva and its backing of the CKW program. The response was incredible and the CKWs warmly showed their appreciation for Kiva’s support by giving me a wonderful handwritten letter on the last day of training.

CKW training in Masaka

CKW training in Masaka (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Explaning Kiva to the Masaka CKWs

Explaining Kiva to the Masaka CKWs (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

CKWs practice using their new equipment

CKWs practice using the smartphones (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Some dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training

A few dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training                          (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Masaka CKWs express their thanks for Kiva's support

The Masaka CKWs express their appreciation for Kiva’s support

On the last day of training. Excitement is in the air!

The last day of training. There was so much excitement in the air!

The CKW initiative is a program that is truly in line with the broader mission of Grameen Foundation: to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty. Information is power, and by creating access among rural farmers to information, Grameen Foundation empowers them to create better economic conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities. You can be part of these efforts, too – lend to a CKW today on Kiva.org!

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation in Kampala, Uganda.

12 November 2012 at 10:14 2 comments

Boda-Bodas: Kampala’s Most Efficient Form of Transportation, for Better or for Worse

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

If you’ve never been to East Africa, you may not have heard the term “boda-boda” before.  A boda-boda, or “boda,” as it is more commonly referred to, is a type of motorcycle taxi driven in East Africa, and more increasingly, throughout other parts of the continent as well. To say that there are a lot of boda-bodas in Kampala would be an understatement. Boda-bodas are everywhere in this city.

Bodas in downtown Kampala

The history of the boda-boda is an interesting one. Following the end of British rule in East Africa, the amount of paperwork required for motor vehicles crossing through the area between the borders of the newly independent nations of Kenya and Uganda dramatically increased. Passing through this area, also known as “no-man’s-land,” required a cumbersome stack of paperwork to be filled out (once before entering this ill-defined area, and once again promptly after leaving it). Eventually, out of this bureaucracy, a business idea was born: people soon began offering bicycle rides across no-man’s-land, allowing passengers to avoid the paperwork that was necessary for motor vehicles. It began in the southern border town of Busia, where there is over half a mile between the border posts, and it soon spread to the northern border town of Malaba. Vying for the attention of potential customers looking for a quick ride through, bicycle drivers would shout out “boda-boda!” (meaning “border-to-border”). Of course, in Kampala, there are no borders being crossed, and the bicycles have been replaced by loud, polluting motorcycles. Nevertheless, the name “boda-boda” remains.

Like many things in life, riding a boda has its pros and cons. I’ll start with the pros:

  • Speed: Kampala is notorious for its traffic jams, known locally simply as “jams.” As an Atlanta-native, I had arrogantly thought myself to be a traffic expert. Oh, how wrong I was! Kamala gives a whole new meaning to the word “traffic.” (BBC recently named Kampala one of the top-ten cities for traffic jams in the world.) A boda rider, however, enjoys a certain immunity to traffic. The boda simply zips around, weaving around cars and potholes as idle automobile drivers enviously watch it speed by. If there is a “jam” and you need to be somewhere by a certain time, a boda really is your only option.
  •  Price: Bodas are very cost-efficient. A ride across town goes for about 5,000 Ugandan Shillings (approximately $2.00). In a hired car, that same ride would cost about four or five times as much.
  • Street cred: It must be said: sitting on the back of a boda can and will make the rider feel like a badass. With the wind in his face, he nonchalantly gazes into the horizon ahead. Locals stare in awe, impressed with the foreigner’s bravery and ability to master this new culture with ease.

And now, the cons:

  • Your life may occasionally flash before your eyes while on the back of a boda-boda. But every dark cloud has a silver lining, right? The silver lining here is that the rider gets off of the boda with a newfound appreciation for life. (I am told that people in South Korea pay good money for that born-again feeling).

If you are considering trying your hand at boda-riding while in Kampala, I suggest that you adhere to the following practices:

  • Buy a helmet. I have always been a fan of Japanese engineering and when it came to choosing what I’d be placing on my head before each boda ride, I found that my enthusiasm for products of superior quality only increased. It took a while to find what I was looking for (a large portion of the products imported into Uganda are Chinese-made), and it cost about three times as much as a more cheaply-made helmet would have cost, but it was well worth it.
  • Ladies, ride like a man. Ugandan women tend to ride bodas sidesaddle. This may appear more graceful, but it makes it harder to stay on the bike. If you know you will be riding a boda, leave the skirt at home.
  • Be ready to negotiate. If you let them, many boda drivers will take your wallet for a ride, too. After all, the word “mzungu” (the ubiquitous term locals use to refer to foreigners, especially Westerners), literally translates to something along the lines of “confused person wandering around.” Confused people wandering around make for quite the business opportunity for the cunning boda driver. Try your best to appear as informed and in-control as possible, and demand a fair price.
  • Always get on and off of the left side of the bike. The (very hot) exhaust pipe is on the right side. Ouch.
  • If possible, find yourself a regular driver whose driving skills and judgment you have vetted, and stick with him. Store his number in your phone and call him whenever you need a ride somewhere rather than trying your luck with someone new every time.

Now that you have been educated on the art of boda riding, I think you are ready to try it out yourself. Hop on, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride…

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, serving in Kampala, Uganda with three new nontraditional Kiva partners. Stay tuned for the official launch of these partnerships to find out about the exciting things Kiva has been working on in Uganda!

18 October 2012 at 08:50 7 comments


Get Involved!

Learn more about this blog and about Kiva Fellows

Visit Kiva.org

Apply to be a Kiva Fellow

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,348 other followers

Archives

Drawing from the Field

Kiva Blog Policy