Thursday, March 27, 2014

Training Ends

The March Officer Training Session concluded today.   Representatives from 29 SACCOS attended the sessions.  On the first day John Kiteve from the Regional Cooperative office addressed our group.  Yesterday we had Neiman Chavalla, General Secretary of the Iringa Diocese, talk to us.  Chavalla told us that the greatest problem in Tanzania is poverty.  He told us “All of our problems are the result of our poverty.  If we can solve our poverty we will solve our education, health, and water problems.  Iringa Hope is lifting our people out of poverty.”  Chavalla is a good speaker.  Once he got started he got everyone laughing and listening.

Today’s class was conducted by the Iringa Rural Cooperative officer and was followed by a discussion session, led by Peter.  He started by asking the SACCOS that had been selling fertilizer to tell about how they went about it and how well it was received.  Everyone from the rural areas sited the need for access to fertilizer, seed, and spray.  The SACCOS that were selling fertilizer were doing so only for their members, but, they reported, they were swamped with requests from others who wanted to buy.  One SACCOS agreed to sell to anyone who was sponsored by three SACCOS members – but these non-members were told that this was a one-time opportunity.  To buy from the SACCOS a second time they must be members.

When the officers were asked if their SACCOS would like to start selling these items, the unanimous response was “Ndio” (YES)!  We explained that they would need to form AMCOS (Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies) to do this.  We told them that we would look into it, but that we would need funding to train, organize, and register AMCOS so we can’t guarantee that we will be able to do so. (We estimate it will cost about $3,000/each).  Some of the SACCOS wanted to start collecting money anyway.

Twenty one of this year’s attendees have completed three consecutive years of officer training and at the close of the session these leaders were presented with certificates acknowledging their participation.    

It has been a busy year for the Microfinance Institute.  We have enjoyed having the opportunity to work with Itiweni, Peter and Request and to meet with so many of our SACCOS members.

Thank-you for your interest in what microfinance is accomplishing in the lives of so many here in the southern highlands of Tanzania.   

Sandy stopped to play with the children.  Their mothers were at the training seminar.

There were about 70 leaders here at one time-about one third of them female.  Some had to come late and some left early.  There were about 80 or so overall. 

Chavalla, the General Secretary of the Diocese, told us “All of our problems are the result of our poverty.  If we can solve our poverty we will solve our education, health, and water problems.  Iringa Hope is lifting our people out of poverty.”

Chavalla is a good speaker.  Once he got started he got everyone laughing and listening.

We took pictures of all of the leaders.  Here is the group from Ihemi.  (Being one of the early SACCOS they have all men leaders.  We now require at least one woman.)

Sandy and Itiweni made certificates for those who have come to all of our training sessions.

This is the group that received certificates.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Training begins at Kihesa

Today we began our spring training sessions.  We are expecting to have 80 or so leaders at the sessions.  We started today with Itiweni reviewing the Iringa Hope Joint SACCOS report.  This is the first full year for the Joint SACCOS so everyone was very interested in what happened.  We also handed out a Swahili copy of the report on our visits from last week.  There were many questions and a lot of interest in what we had found.

The biggest thing today is the address to the SACCOS by John Kiteve, the Regional Registrar for all Coops.  John is a very amusing speaker – he kept everyone laughing.  He spoke for about an hour to the group.  He told them about the many SACCOS that have failed here – the government SACCOS, the private SACCOS, the Postal bank, and other NGOs.  “Only Iringa Hope is succeeding.” he told them.  “Iringa Hope is the only salvation for the economic well being of the region.”  (A little strong perhaps, but nice to hear.)

He went on to tell the officers, “If you kill Iringa Hope you will kill thousands of families (he was speaking figuratively, of course) – so be faithful and trustworthy.”  At one point he told the leaders that “Iringa Hope sends more children to school than any other program in the region. –We were pleased to hear such strong commendations from a government official.

The training session seems to be off to a good start.  Peter and Itiweni will be very busy these next few days, and we will finally have a chance to relax a little.  

We hold our training sessions at the Kihesa Life Skills facility.

We had between 65 and 70 at the opening session.  We are expecting over 80 to attend.

Itiweni went through the Iringa Hope Joint SACCOS report and Tom's summary of our findings.

John Kiteve, the Regional Registrar for all Coops gave the opening address.  

He told us about all of the other failures.  “Only Iringa Hope is succeeding.” He went on to say,  “Iringa Hope is the only salvation for the economic well being of the region.” He also told us, “Iringa Hope sends more children to school than any other program in our region.”

He kept everyone smiling.

John is a very senior official in the regional government.  Everyone was attentive to his talk.

“Adventure is a wonderful thing” – Owl

For those of you who are not fans of Winnie the Pooh you may not recognize this quote nor know who Owl is.  Owl is of course the wise old owl who assures Pooh and his friends that the adventures that they have while searching for Christopher Robin will be, in short, “wonderful.”
After our update at the University on Friday we headed out to Ruaha National Park.  For those who have never been there, Ruaha is the largest park in Africa.  It boasts all of the animals found elsewhere except for the rhino.

It is a three hour drive over rough roads to the park from Iringa.  We had an uneventful drive out and a pleasant stay at the park.  We tried to count all of the different kinds of animals we saw, but lost count around the mid thirties and gave up.  This morning, Sunday, we headed back to Iringa to get ready for the training sessions which start tomorrow. 

After breakfast we discovered that our car wouldn't start!  Unlike “the beast” that we have driven in  prior years, we are driving a pretty respectable vehicle this year (only 225,000 miles recorded on the odometer).  It had been running very well until last Wednesday when the battery died and it refused to start with a jump.  This turned out to be a wiring problem and was resolved – we thought. 

After discovering that we need a jump, Tom climbed back up to the restaurant (it is a two and a half story climb to the restaurant from our “banda,” or cabin) and requested help.  Twenty minutes later the car roared to life and we started down the road.  About two miles from our camp the road started to get very rough.  Then, very VERY rough.  Tom suspected we had a flat tire, and got out to check.  Not only was the tire flat – we were driving on the wheel and the tire was limply wrapped around it.  Tom didn't feel like spending the morning changing a tire on the truck so he opted to take a hike back to the registration office.  A half hour later he returned to the vehicle with the mechanic who had started the vehicle an hour and a half earlier.   

The mechanic changed the tire in about 20 minutes then told us to wait while he went back and put a temporary patch on the tire (since you are at least an hour and a half from anyone when you are out here you do not want to be on the road without some type of spare). When he returned with the patched tire he told us that he had discovered a sharp rock that had pierced the sidewall.  As we headed towards the park entrance, it was now 2 ½ hours since we left our banda.

When we arrived at the entrance, the guard asked us to give his wife a ride to Iringa.  This is actually a common thing out here – buses can take all day and do not run on regular schedules, so having a rider is really not a big deal.  We made room for her to get in and we continued on our way.

As we are driving along Sandy mentioned that trouble comes in threes.  We hoped that a malfunctioning seat-belt was the third thing, but we were wrong.

We made it down the “never-ending road” in good time.  That road would be a terrible place for a breakdown because it is a long ways from anywhere, and in the low tourist season, not very well traveled.  We turned towards Iringa and continued down a road where we saw no signs of civilization for close to an hour.  Then we met some Masai herding their cattle, soon we saw cultivated fields, houses, churches and worshipers returning from Sunday services. 

We were looking forward to being home in the next hour or so when Tom realized the engine had quit.  We coasted to a stop and tried to re-start it.  The battery was cranking fine, but there was no fire. 

We hadn't been out of the vehicle long before two men stopped to see what was up.  Soon there were three heads under the hood trying to see if they could spot anything.  Tom didn't know what he was looking at, or for, but he noticed a wire hanging loose inside the engine compartment. (Never a good sign, is it?)  None of the guys with their heads under the hood could see where it should go, however.  A Soma Biblia car stopped to see what was going on.  The driver was familiar with many of our friends in Iringa, but he didn't know how to fix the car.  Meanwhile the first man who had stopped left on his motorcycle to see if he could get someone who knew more about cars to help us out. 

He returned shortly, having driven to the village nearby and gotten a mechanic.  It didn't take him long to discover the problem.  He had brought along wire and some tools, he grabbed the wire and connected it to a power terminal, and the engine roared to life.  We asked the mechanic what we owed him and he humbly said we didn't have to pay him anything.  We did, of course, and we were so pleased to have been rescued by these strangers along the road.

When we reached Iringa we dropped off our passenger before going to our apartment.  Our three-hour return trip from Ruaha had taken us 6.5 hours.  So, we say with Owl, “Adventure is a wonderful thing.”

A look across the Ruaha river is quite a view this time of year.

Our banda is right along the river.

There is a great view from the dining area atop a small hill.

Our banda is really roughing it.

We seldom see monkeys here since they tend to keep to a different part of the park.

We came across a lion pride eating a zebra.  Most of them were in the shade so they did not take good pictures, but this one had to come over and inspect us.

Of course there are always a million or so of these around.

We took some close ups of this eagle, but we liked the way it was framed against the mountains.

The wart hogs were as ugly as ever.

The dung beetles were hard at work.

We took a drive up into the hills.  Lots of rock hyrax and klipspringers.

We shadowed this elephant herd for awhile.  They couldn't see us clearly (they have such poor eyesight) but they would feel our truck moving.  We were down wind form them so they keep trying to smell us but that did not work either. So they just formed a line to shield the females and young.

We followed this herd of elephants for while.  They just were not sure about us.

The kudu is very shy.  You do not often see them.

Of course giraffes are always good for a picture or two.

We have never understood why they like to stand sideways and look at you.

The bat eared fox is very shy and seldom seen.  We stopped counting the different types of animals we saw when we got to the mid thirties.

On the way back we started off needing a jump.

As things got bumpier and bumpier we realized we had a flat.

Tom did not want to crawl around under the vehicle with the tire so he walked back to get a guide.  Sure hope he doesn't meet the lions! 

The guide changed the tire and then went to put on a temporary patch so we would have a spare.

When the car stopped running we looked under the hood.  Tom spotted a loose wire but we could not find where it went.

When the mechanic showed up Sandy had to take a look.  He knew where the wire went and got it running for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Meeting At The University And Some Numbers

On Friday we held our Iringa Hope Update meeting.  This is something we do at the end of our visits to summarize what we are finding in the villages.  This year we had attendees from the national, regional, and municipal governments; the financial community; the NGOs; the Diocese; the University and Bega Kwa Bega.  In all there were 28 people in attendance.  We gave a summary of our results, then had people introduce themselves, and had some questions and discussion.  The group was very lively with lots of comments and good discussions.  Following this meeting Sandy and I took off for a few days at Ruaha, the national park near here.  For now, here are a few numbers I would offer –

·              * We met with over 1,000 members of our SACCOS
·              * We did in depth interviews with 47 members – for a 3 year total of 140 interviews
·              * We also interviewed 66 elected SACCOS officers for a 3 year total of 118 interviews
·              * In addition, we have examined 135 loan documents

Our results are that –

·              * All of our SACCOS are profitable
·              * Loan repayment is over 98% (better than most US banks)
·              * Our membership stood at slightly over 2,000 at year end
·              * Our Capital base stood at slightly over 400,000,000 TZS ($256,000)

Once again our members did a great job in their SACCOS.  In particular our members

·              * Earned over 600,000,000 TZS ($385,000) in profits after repaying their loans
·              * Donated over 50,000,000 TZS to their churches from their profits
·              * Sent 1,400 children to secondary school from their profits (more than all of the scholarship programs combined)
·              * Started building or finished 120 houses (generally their first house with metal a roof and a cement floor)
·              * On average increased their incomes from about $300 to $750/year
·              * Created 1,300 full time jobs in their villages
·              * Created 2,500 seasonal jobs

We now have 21 registered SACCOS in Iringa Hope, while we are working with 38 villages.  Last year our SACCOS

·              * Had 1,400 members in registered SACCOS and 2,040 overall
·              * Made 1,047 loans
·              * Had an average loan value of $350
·              * Had 65% female head of household members
·              * Had 85% small holder farmer members
·              * Made 83% of our loans for farming purposes (mainly seed and fertilizer)

We have many, many other details about our members and what they are doing, but I am probably boring you already so I will quit here.

The biggest payoff however for us is the many, many people whose lives have changed for the better and who are proud to tell you what they have done.  It is always a real privilege to meet with the people in the villages and listen to their stories.  We hope that we have been able to capture a little bit of their achievements here.

We served chai to the attendees.

It was a good mix of government, private, financial, church, and university representatives.

A few had wandered off before we took this picture.  But this is most of the group.

Afterward a reporter interviewed a member of Iringa Hope.

She tried to interview people from the government, the university, etc.  Here is Sandy getting interviewed.

If you would like to see the slides from the update, just click on this link!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


We are at the end of our visits.  We have visited 29 villages.  We have met with 40% of our members--1040 people!  We have also been to another district to visit a village there and to meet the Bishop of the Southern Diocese. 

Idete is a two hour drive up in the hills to the south of Iringa.  The last time we were there there were over two hundred people to see us.  About 150 of them indicated that they wanted to join a SACCOS, but so far only 52 have signed up.  The problem here is just like we have seen other places.  There was a SACCOS here (started by a business person) that went broke because the owner gave large loans to his friends and didn't collect.  As a result, many of the people want to wait and see how this new SACCOS does.

We have been giving out “Iringa Hope” pens to everyone who attends our meetings.  We came with 1000 and today we were nearly out of pens.  Peter announced to those waiting that there was a “zawadi” (a gift) for the first ones to come – and there was a real scramble to get pens.  Most of the early arrivals were women – so they got the pens!

We looked over the records with the Chairman and the Secretary.  They are using our new Iringa Hope forms.  During the last year we designed our own financial forms and had them printed.  We are selling these to our SACCOS at cost for now.  (Itiweni told us that other groups have asked her if they could buy them.  She thought that we could make a profit.  We told her that maybe sometime later – for now we need to focus on serving our members.)

There were 35 people at the meeting today.  Tom talked a little about Iringa Hope, stressing the things we do to protect our members.  Then Sandy spoke a little bit about how glad she was to see so many women here. Around the world women have been shown to be the most conscientious SACCOS members and the ones most likely to use their profits to benefit families and communities.  Women love to hear this statistic and it always gets a big response.  Today was no an exception.  When they quieted down Peter gave a class focusing on how a SACCOS works, the importance of savings, and how Iringa Hope Joint SACCOS can help them.

There were many questions.  One gentleman wanted to know what happens if someone does not pay.  Peter told him that the SACCOS will take their savings and the savings of the two cosigners, and if there is still an outstanding loan, the police will get involved.  They seemed to approve of the idea and many heads nodded in agreement. 

This group plans to collect the necessary money by June and is on schedule to have enough to register.  The village executive was at our meeting and told us he thinks they can do it in one month.  When the meeting adjourned we left but most of the group remained to make plans for registering.  The SACCOS chairman and the village executive were talking to the members about collecting fees and selling shares. 

As we were getting into the truck two women came over and wanted a ride.  They hope to get a ride to the bus stop in Kidabaga (about a 45 minute drive).  The next bus wouldn’t be leaving until tomorrow.  A third woman went running back to her house to get some things for the trip she was making to Kilolo.  Tom drove over to pick her up so she wouldn't have to carry her things back up the hill.  To our surprise it turned out that she was going to get some corn and a kuku (chicken).  We learned of this addition when she got into the car and we heard it crow. 

It was a very bumpy but pretty ride back.  The road had dried out a bit so it was not as slippery as our morning commute.  On the other hand a drier road is a bumpier road!

Our last village visit ended with us dropping Peter off at the hospital.  He thinks that he might have malaria, so needs to be tested.  Peter has had malaria several times before (most folks here have had it), but it is nothing to fool around with. 

Starting tomorrow we will be having meetings, a four day training session for SACCOS officers, and, hopefully, some meetings with bankers and agencies in Dar.  

Some of the houses along the road are very isolated.

We passed by many clusters of buildings.

When Peter told the members that we only had enough pens for the first members who arrived, everyone scrambled to get theirs.

They are using the forms that Itiweni had printed.

The women really liked Sandy's talk.

After uluating for her and applauding they finally settled down.  Everyone was very attentive to Peter's talk.

Peter expanded on what Tom had said.  There were lots of questions.

When we went to leave there were three mamas who wanted a ride.  We heard a crowing and turned around to see one of the mamas had a chicken.

The hills are very pretty this time of the year.

Talk about an out of the way place to live!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At Magulilwa

Today we visited Magulilwa.  Magulilwa is an hour’s drive down some rather rough roads from Iringa.  This road will rattle your teeth and shake your mirrors and tailgate loose!  Magulilwa is located in the heart of the maize growing region.  It has many big farms and a lot of small ones.  It is of course the small farmers that we went to see.

As we entered Magulilwa we passed by the empty government SACCOS building.  This SACCOS, like most of the government SACCOS, went broke after about 2 years.  The story is pretty much the same as all of the others we have seen.  The SACCOS started and over 100 people joined and put in their savings.  Soon they found that the SACCOS was making big loans to only a few members.  After awhile the borrowers started defaulting and nothing happened.  Before long the SACCOS was closed and everyone who had savings in the SACCOS lost their money – sounds all too familiar!

We visited here last year.  At that time they had a little over 100 people who were interested in forming a SACCOS.  Just like at Magubike, when it came to putting in money most of them decided to wait.  Right now there are 26 members of this group.  They are planning to go talk to other churches in the area to invite their members to join, which we thought was a good idea.  The pastor said that the members of his parish are very hard working and spend all week on their shambas, so Sunday is the only day to reach most of them.  Peter offered to come on a Sunday so that he could conduct a class.

As we started the meeting Tom gave a talk about how Iringa Hope is owned 100% by the members.  He emphasized that all records are open and no one is allowed to own so much that he or she controls things.  He went on to emphasize that Iringa Hope was “neighbors helping neighbors” and that we work hard to protect our members’ money.  There were lots of heads bobbing yes – but it may take some experience for people to believe this.

Peter gave the lesson today.  He stressed the need to only admit trustworthy people who wanted to work.  He went on to instruct them on what they needed to do to start getting organized and invited the officers to come to our training session in Iringa next week. 

There were many questions and Peter gave good answers.  People here have clearly watched things fail and knew what to look for.  At the end of his talk the group gave Peter their appreciation and asked if they could talk awhile.  The pastor told us that they wanted to plan a strategy for spreading the word about SACCOS and telling others what they had learned.

Before we left Sandy visited with two of the members.  The first one was Odidya Kasike, 60, married with 5 grown children.  She told us that the income here is very low and the area really needs help with development.  She would like to get a loan for her 10 acre farm.  She hopes that she can increase her profit so that she and her husband can build a brick house and improve their standard of living.

Jaklin Mhavili is 37, married and the mother of seven.  She too would like to get a loan to improve her farming.  She told us that she knew how to improve he crops, but she cannot get the capital to do it.  Her goal is to earn enough to have her children finish secondary school.  So far she has helped one finish form 4 and another start form 2.  With five more children needing to be educated Jaklin and her husband need the additional income that they hope borrowing from a SACCOS can provide. 

On our drive home we had two extra passengers – the pastor and the parish secretary.  The secretary needed to bring his motorcycle in for repairs, so we loaded it into the back of the pick-up, and for his benefit, Tom drove at a much slower speed than usual as we headed off down the road.  

This road will really shake you up!

One of the first things we spied was a defunct government SACCOS.

The town streets were quiet today.

Sandy talked about the need for strong women in a SACCOS.

The first member Sandy visited with was Odidya Kasike, 60, married with 5 grown children.  She told us that the income here is very low and the area really needs help with development.

Jaklin Mhavili is 37, married and the mother of seven.  She would like to get a loan to improve her farming. 

We gave a ride to a member and his broken motorcycle.

Tom had to go extra slow when we had the motorcycle in back - still the ride was a real shake up.