The first partner that I worked with as part of my Kiva Fellowship was a small group called YICE (Youth Initiative for Community Engagement). They are headquartered in the village of Kyakatebe (Pronounced Jak-a-te-be) within the sub-county of Nalutuntu within the district of Mubende, Uganda. This village is located about 2 hours west of the capital, Kampala. YICE is a small partner that provides loans to groups of 5 women who are mutually accountable for repayment. They require no collateral to guarantee the loan and they are flexible with repayments based on farming / market conditions. Many of their borrowers are single mothers who farm maize and beans on plots of land they rent from season to season.
I opted to stay in Kyakatebe while I worked with YICE and it was a completely eye opening experience. On the way into town I purchased an office-cooler sized jug of water and this was both my drinking water and bathing water for the week. The toilets, shared by 6 households, were 3 holes separated into stalls with a covered top. Right away I knew this would be a humbling experience.
After getting settled – I was taken through the village to get accustomed. On the way people would point and say “Mizungu!” (white person) as they waved. The female children would drop to their knees as I passed by; I was told this was a cultural sign of respect. I was the only white person in the entire village (about 300 households) so I certainly had people staring everywhere I went. English was not widely spoken but many people at least knew how to say "how are you?"
The village had no external lighting so everything pretty much shut down around 8:00 PM when it got dark. This is also peak time for mosquitos so I was confined to the bed under the protection of the net from this time until morning. The nights were long but after the first day or two I got used to it. There wasn’t a good seal to the outdoors; so at any given time I shared the room with ants, mosquitos, spiders, ticks, moths, grasshoppers and even a few lizards.
I met with about 20 borrowers on two different occasions and I was blown away by their appreciation and gratitude for my presence. All of them greeted me and kneeled when I arrived and shook my hand and spoke what little English they knew. I interviewed them to find out how the loans had changed their lives and learned about how they were able to buy seeds, pesticides and fertilizers for their gardens with the loans. Then – with the profits from harvest – they paid their children’s school fees or invested in home improvements or other income generating activities (buying piglets to raise and sell or solar panels to rent for electricity, etc.)
It’s one thing to hear about poverty and know that it’s happening in Uganda and other parts of the world but it’s a different experience entirely to be fully immersed in it. Funding loans in these regions of East Africa is essential to getting resources to farmers and small business owners. My experiences in Kyakatebe will not soon be forgotten and hopefully I've been able to provide a window for others to better understand from a distance.