Posts filed under ‘Uganda’
By: Abhishesh Adhikari
One of the Kiva partner MFIs that I am helping in Uganda is Micro Credit for Development and Transformation (MCDT.) It is based in Kampala and provides financial services primarily to low-income women who come to Kampala from remote areas of Uganda. Even though the average loan size for a borrower at MCDT is only about $200, it is amazing how impactful the loans have been in helping these women become financially independent.
It never ceases to amaze me how you can connect with people who are completely different from you. Maybe you don’t speak the same first language. Maybe you grew up on opposite sides of the world, or you were born in different decades. But somehow, despite all your differences—and perhaps against all odds—you find commonalities. And what’s more, sometimes you realize that below the surface, maybe you’re not actually all that different after all.
Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending. That happens every day through its online lending platform, http://www.kiva.org. But as Kiva Fellows, we have the opportunity to carry out this mission in the field. Sometimes we get to meet with borrowers, but all of us get to connect with the local people where we work and live. We learn about who they are and how they live, and we share a little bit about ourselves as well. And when you find yourself having a good laugh with them, it’s a pretty amazing thing.
So, the three months of my fellowship are drawing to a close. It’s hard not to get sentimental when I think about leaving behind this beautiful country and the warm, generous people who welcomed me into their homes, their families, and their lives. Some took the time to get to know me, others took the time to share their stories, and others still simply made me feel at home, wherever I was. Many went out of their way to make sure I had a fantastic experience here. Pictured in this blog entry are just some of the wonderful Ticos that I met in Costa Rica.
My time here has been full of adventures, sightseeing, and some notable firsts. Among those have been:
First time seeing toucans. They are too cute for words!
First time riding on a moto, or motorbike, ever. (I think I’ve gained some street cred in Uganda).
First time seeing dressage. One weekend, I chanced upon a big street party that was complete with cowboys and horses getting their horse ballet on. I thought that was pretty fortuitous, since I had recently learned what this sport was all about (courtesy of Stephen Colbert).
First time eating rice and beans for 90 days straight. I’m talking about the famous typical Costa Rican dish, gallo pinto, which is pretty much what everyone here eats every day for breakfast—and sometimes lunch and dinner, too. OK, so maybe I didn’t eat it for all 90 days, but I tell you it was pretty darn close. It’s a good thing I like rice and beans!
First time trying sopilote (vulture meat). Ooops, wait! That was chicken and a couple of colleagues trying to trick me.
First time watching the entire Twilight saga. Oh yes I did! (It made for a fun bonding experience, OK?)
But in any new experience, it’s always the people you meet who make all the difference. While I love to travel and see new places, I also love the very different experience of living abroad, because that’s when you really get to know the locals.
People asked me why I wanted to come to Costa Rica for my fellowship. In fact, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I have always been intrigued by this country that constitutionally abolished its army in 1949, thus diverting resources towards health and education for the general population. I was curious about the nation with a long history of ecotourism that today remains one of the world’s leaders in environmental protection. I wanted to meet the people who lived in the country that was ranked #1 in the 2012 Happy Planet Index.
So here are some things I’ve learned:
Ticos are proud of their country and have a strong sense of national identity. The expression Pura Vida (Pure Life) says it all. It’s something of a national motto here, but it’s more than just words; it’s a way of life. It’s used here in greetings, as an expression of gratitude or satisfaction, and also to describe something or someone who’s generally pretty awesome.
Ticos love to toot their horn. I’m not talking about national pride anymore. I’m talking about the constant beep-beep you will hear as you walk along any road or highway. The pitos (horns) are how Tico drivers communicate, and the beeps can mean very different things. Here’s a little guide to help you decipher the various meanings, should you be traveling to Costa Rica anytime soon:
Beep! Hellooooo there, baby.
Beep! Coming through!
Beep beep! You go first!
Beep! Thanks dude!
Beeeeeeeep! I’m stuck in traffic and mildly annoyed.
Beep! I’m bored and tooting my horn is fun!
Beep! Beep! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!……………….
Ticos love their coffee. As they rightly should: Costa Rican coffee is really good! Even for someone who’s more of a tea-aholic, two coffee breaks a day will get you hooked in no time. If you search long and hard, though, you will find some tea aficionados, and you might even chance upon a tea store if you’re lucky.
Ticos are incredibly tolerant of rain. I’ve never seen so much rain in my life! It’s true I’ve been here during the rainy season, but I never thought this kind of rain was possible—where a heavy downpour can last 5 hours, or sometimes even two days. But nobody complains. (The cold is another thing, but it’s totally fair game to complain when it’s 12oC and windy, given that buildings are not insulated here.)
Costa Rica is largely rural. Like the diminutive Tico suggests, things here are small-scale. Even the bigger city centres are more like large towns. Many Ticos live in rural areas or have some connection to rural life. For example, quite a few people who work in the city commute some distance from a more rural area, or their family might own a finca (a property in the countryside).
And many Ticos and tourists alike are averse to San José, whose metropolitan area has some 2.3 million people. While it may not be the world’s most attractive city, the Ticos’ dislike for it stems more from the fact that it is a city. I am going to make a bold statement: I like San José. That may be attributed to the great people I met while I was living here, though.
Ticos are quite devout. Costa Rica is fairly homogenous and its population is made up of 70% Catholics and 14% Evangelical Christians. It was interesting trying to explain that my family’s roots are Buddhist, since Buddhism, like many other religions, has had limited exposure in Costa Rica.
It was also interesting being introduced as Canadian to new Ticos. Their eyes always said the same thing: You can’t fool me. A further explanation of my parents’ Japanese origins brought a sort of relief to their faces and often facilitated the conversation that ensued. I was, without a doubt, something of an anomaly to them, although that humoured me more than anything.
The word china means many things in Costa Rica, as it does in other Spanish speaking countries. Hmm… seems like not a lot of thought has gone into the nuances of its meanings. For example:
- China = the country
- china = the language
- china = a Chinese person
- china = any other Asian-looking person
In addition, there is a type of flower called china and porcelain plates are also called china. To add some variety, I tried to make up my own word, chinesa, to describe the language, but I was corrected. Por favor. It’s china.
That being said, China (the country) has become Costa Rica’s most important ally after the US, as evidenced by the generous gift they sent last year. (A symbol of its former relationship with Taiwan can also be found firmly planted in northern Costa Rica.) So maybe it’s good that, as long as they’re going to use one generic word to capture all these meanings, that the word be china.
Ticos work hard to get ahead, but that’s not always easy. They could use a break. That’s why lending through Kiva’s partners like EDESA and FUNDECOCA can go a long way. (Stay tuned for FUNDECOCA on www.kiva.org—they’re a new partner so their partner page is forthcoming!)
These MFIs are doing a great job of providing opportunities to people in rural areas, where the poverty is often striking, but urban poverty is rampant as well, and sometimes microfinance can overlook this. One of my colleagues pointed out that a person is probably better off being poor in a rural area of Costa Rica, because at least then they can still produce their own food. In the city, on the other hand, if you don’t have money you can’t survive.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know a lady here in a similar situation. While she had a job in the city that gave her enough income to support her family, she was in a position where she could not access credit from the regular banks. As such, her daughters would never have the chance to pursue a better education so that they might someday be able to get ahead. As we chatted, I realized that rarely had I met someone so wise and open-minded. She had a lively curiosity, and she had come to grips with her situation in life with laughter and a positive attitude. She left me with a feeling of admiration mixed with heartache.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the fortune to live and work in 7 different countries, and travel to countless others. Throughout those experiences, I’ve met friends who come from over 70 countries, and I’ve come to understand so much about the world thanks to them. Ticos, I’ve learned, are totally pura vida. And hopefully, they’ve learned something about me, too, so that the next time they meet someone really different from them, the differences won’t be as striking as the similarities are.
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
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 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
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.
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 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.
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 | 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.
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.
2. Next, the omelette is mixed. Two eggs are blended together with pieces of fresh tomato, cabbage, onions, bell peppers and salt.
3. On the same pan where the chapati was cooked, the omelette is fried.
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.
And that’s how a Ugandan rolex is made. I can’t think of a more delicious way to spend $0.60. Bon appétit!
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.
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.
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!
Julie Kriegshaber | KF 18 | Uganda
On my seemingly endless journey from NYC to Kampala, Uganda, I barely slept at all.
Free movies on the plane, my recently updated Spotify playlists, even SkyMall – none of it appealed to me. Why? I was so engrossed in my book, Freedom From Want, that tells the story of BRAC and how it evolved from a small, temporary solution to a devastating cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 to today being the largest development organization in the world by many counts.
We all are familiar with Bangladesh’s other major development export, the Grameen Bank, but what shocked me is how relatively unknown BRAC is outside of development circles in the west.
This year marks BRAC’s 40th anniversary -after growing for 30 years in Bangladesh, BRAC in the past 10 years has expanded to 10 other countries, including Uganda, where it is (no surprise here!) the largest NGO in the country. With operations reaching 2.8 million Ugandans, BRAC Uganda is a true all-in-one development organization with specialized programs from education to health to empowering young women to improving small businesses through microloans.
From what I have seen as a Fellow at BRAC Uganda, I think there are 3 distinct features in many of their programs that make BRAC as an organization so successful. In light of Kiva’s monthly theme “A Global Feast”, I am going to highlight these features in regard to BRAC Uganda’s agricultural development programme. (This is also convenient for me since I am preparing to roll out BRAC Uganda’s agricultural loans on Kiva!)