Welcome to CCA’s international development blog page devoted to the Uganda/Malawi Coaching program. Enjoy the sights and sounds, the people and places as experienced by 3 credit union volunteers on the frontline of development.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Robert: Bad news, good news

The Bad News: It has been pouring rain here for the entire day today, which has made travelling around difficult. We went to the conference room at the hotel today to attend a Rotary Club (Blantyre) meeting, and no one was there. We checked at the front desk to see if the location had changed. She told us that the Rotary Club changed locations two weeks ago and that she did not know where. She made a handful of phone calls to find out where the meetings were, but she was unsuccessful. Foiled! I really wanted to attend a meeting. I'm going to ask around and see if anyone else knows, and try to attend next Thursday.

The Good News: Paul and I finished our report this evening! We're all ready to present our findings with the Chairman of the Board tomorrow.

The Children: Henock took us to Chifundo Centre 2 Orphanage today. It was in the Dilonde region of Blantyre. According to Henock, the Dilonde region is a very poor area of town. It was raining like crazy this afternoon and many of the roads had been washed out near the orphanage. We had to park blocks away, and walk through the water to get there; but we got there safe and sound! This particular orphanage is supported by the Presbyterian Church. It is run by one paid staff and many volunteers, and currently hosts about 25 children. We were told that the orphans' parents had either passed away or abandoned them. The children used to receive two meals a day (porridge in the morning and n'sima in the afternoon), however they had to cut the meals back to one meal a day because of financial constraints. The orphanage has not received financial support from the Government in the past, but we were told that this year, they would receive some financial assistance, which is very encouraging! Paul had brought toys, footballs, glasses, and various other things. We presented these small gifts, along with footballs (or soccer balls) to the children. We also made a financial contribution to the orphanage earlier in the day by making a deposit into the orphanage's bank account at Standard Bank. We presented the receipt to the coordinator of the orphanage and she thanked us. The children couldn't wait to play with the toys and soccer balls! They were running around, kicking and throwing the balls with each other, laughing and playing. Man, it was really cool to see the little guys so happy! Our financial donation will undoubtedly go a long way with this orphanage. The leader stated they the money will likely be used to reinstate their two meal/day program. Hope you like the pics!
Blog ya later! Bobby

Charlie: Farmers grow businesses with group loans

I have to be honest. I really thought that during this second mission we’d see and experience much the same as what we saw last year. Boy was I wrong. Today was the first day at EBO SACCO also in the Bushenyi region outside of Mbarara. After the initial meeting with the Manager and the Chair where high prioity issues and challenges were discussed we were treated to lunch at a local eatery. The most interesting parts of our visits are always the community visits and tours that we do. Today we visited a local secondary school and two groups of farmers - one banana, the other poultry. This SACCO has an interesting loan strategy where they lend to groups of farmers as opposed to individual - as individually these farmers would not qualify for a loan - as a group they are able to pool their resources and all benefit from the financing to help grow their businesses. Kind of like a co-operative borrowing from a co-operative. - Charlie

Brad: Lake flies and lightning bolts

When we returned to the Lodge last night we were greeted by millions and millions of Lake Flies you can see them out over the lake and it looks like black smoke. Every once in a while they decide to come to shore and last night was that once in a while. They are harmless more of a nuisance than anything else; they are attracted to the lights so we were instructed not to keep any lights on in our rooms because the flies are small enough to get through the screens. I worked on my lap top with only a small battery powered lamp and I was still swatting flies. In the morning they were gone again.

We had a great lightning show over the lake at 2:30 am it was a great show that I watched for a few minutes before going back to sleep. I guess that during the rainy season this is a common occurrence it reminded me of the lightning shows back on the prairies.

We arrived at the SACCO at our usual time and we worked on our own for a bit until Davison came in and met with us for the balance of the morning. In the afternoon Davison took us to the Dwangwa Market for a visit. It is amazing what you can find at these markets, they have everything you need from food to cloths to repair shops etc.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Charlie: living and breathing co-operative values

As those of you who followed the blog last year know, at the end of our visits at the SACCO’s we meet with as many of the board members as we can. It's a final meeting where we review our findings and provide recommendations to them and their manager on strategies they may wish to undertake to address their operational, governance and other challenges. Today’s meeting with 6 out of 9 board members of the Burere SACCO was one of the best I have attended in the five I have been to, including last year. I know I also said this last year but its such a “co-operative” eye opener to see people who live and breath the principles and philosophies of the movement every day. What an engaged board we met with. We spent over two hours discussing our report and many other off-topic items which inevitably surface when a group like this has an opportunity to sit in front of two people from a far off land with help for their SACCOs and especially considering these will be people that they will likely never see again. The warmth and hospitality they exhibited to us is truly awesome.

The other great thing about today’s meeting was that it was held outdoors at the top of this little mountain village overlooking a valley where all sides of the surrounding mountains were covered with tea plants. We did a bunch of other things today including visiting “Harriet” and her SACCO (she was in Canada in June hosted by OMISTA CU and stayed with Tammy Christopher and her family). We also visted a primary school where our UCA rep Felix’s wife works. We donated a soccer ball to the very grateful teachers and kid’s there. The ball was donated to me from the Heart and Stroke Foundation  - I have a good connection who works there. she gave me four in all so I will be stopping at other schools to drop them off over the next few days (thanks honey). One more thing - it was hot today - like Africa kind of hot - my mellon is toasted. Bye for now.  - Charlie

Robert visits the Sunbird Tourism SACCO

Hello! Paul and I are currently working at the Sunbird Tourism SACCO main branch in Blantyre, Malawi. The SACCO Manager is Mr. Henock Chakhaza. He has three employees, one accountant (Getrude Chiomba) and two clerks. The two employees Paul and I primarily deal with are Henock and Getrude.
The Sunbird Tourism SACCO is a closed-bond SACCO, meaning that there are limitations as to which members of the community can join the SACCO. As the name would suggest, this SACCO is open to employees of the Sunbird Hotel chain. They have two branches: One in the Sunbird Capital Hotel in Lilongwe, and the one we are working at, which is in a tiny office, located in the basement of the Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre. There are seven (7) Sunbird Hotels in Malawi, which makes Sunbird one of the largest hotel chains in the country. All of the employees working at any and all of these hotel locations are able to bank with the Sunbird Tourism SACCO. The hotels have a courier system between their hotel branches, which the members and the SACCO staff are able to use to send documentation (new account, loan, deposit, etc.) and money (for loan payments, loan advances, deposits). So how does this all work? Good question…

So, for example, let's say Paul Innes, an employee of the Sunbird Hotel Mzuzu, works and lives in the Northern region. If he wants a loan, he simply fills out the loan application, sends it in the courier bag from Mzuzu to Blantyre, and waits for Mr. Chakhaza and the Sunbird Tourism SACCO credit committee to review the application and either advance or decline the loan. If the loan is advanced, a cheque will be sent through the courier system from Blantyre to Mzuzu, and Paul will be able to cash the cheque and make his purchase.

Loan payments are made directly off of the staff's pay cheques. So if an employee had 1,250MWK owed to her at the end of the month, and her loan payment was 250MWK/month, she would receive net pay of 1,000MWK. This practice has kept the SACCOs delinquency and loan default rates very low, which is great! Paul and I are in the processes of piecing together our recommendations, as we will be presenting to the board on Friday!

Henock will be showing us around Blantyre tomorrow. The highlight should include the following:
  • Orphanage – where Paul and I will be donating soccer balls, among other items!
  • Presbyterian Church – apparently it is very large and Blantyre is known for this huge church!
  • Anglican Church – Paul is Anglican, so this will be really cool for him!
  • Tour de Blantyre – This isn't a location… rather, a reference that we'll get to drive around and explore this city.
Another highlight – I'll be attending the Blantyre Rotary Club meeting tomorrow at 12:30pm. I forgot everything that associates me with the Rotary club at home (idiot!!!!!) so I hope they take my word for it that I'm a Rotarian!

I have included two photos with this entry. The first is the view outside of my hotel room! Beautiful! The second is a picture of Getrude and the two other clerks we are working with. Getrude is on the right!

Okay! Back to work! Later,

Brad visits DWASCO SACCO

The first night in the Ngala Beach Lodge was good. I slept most of the night which for me was good because last year I think I only averaged 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night the whole time I was over here. Davison arrived in the morning to pick us up to go to the SACCO and when we got there he introduced us to the staff. We were given a working area in the Board Room and policies to read to help us understand the SACCO we are here to help.

After lunch we met with Davison, the DWASCO SACCO is a closed bond SACCO for the employees of the Lloyd Sugar Company out of South Africa. They have 4,255 members and of that 3,800 are men and 455 are women. One of the main issues for the SACCO is their lack of liquidity to fund member requests and they are looking at ways to raise either shares or deposits. They are talking to other related companies to have access to more potential members and they will be tentatively converting to the new banking system in June of this year that has cost this SACCO MK 3,500,000.

This SACCO is innovative in their approach to non interest income -- they sell paraffin for cooking, cell phone cards (Zane and TNM) and they also sell empty sacks for maize to their members. Since Davison has been Manager they have been named "SACCO of the Year" three times and Davison was named Manager of the year for District two.

Once the meeting was completed Davison took us on a tour of the compound within the Plantation where he showed us the first SACCO office which was one room and had four employees. We walked through the local market and past people's houses and to the church compound. They call it the church compound because they have all denominations from Muslim to Jehovah's Witness to Catholic. Davison stated that there are no religious issues other than each congregation trying to convert others to their religion and one church trying to sing louder than the church beside them.

That finished our first day at the SACCO.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Malawi - Brad Day 1 & 2

Meetings, monkeys, geckos and finally some sleep...
Our four-hour layover in Jo-burg was uneventful and the best part was we had to go outside to board our plane in the warm African sun. As luck would have it I sat beside Rosemary Kanyuka the Chief State Advocate for Malawi Ministry of Justice who I had a conversation with all the way to Malawi. Still no sleep for 29 hours so far but at least I know a high powered Lawyer in Malawi.

We met Dixon the MUSSCO operation Manager at the MUSSCO office in the morning for a quick briefing before we head out to our respective SACCOs.

MUSSCO negotiated the purchase of a new banking system from Kenya that all of the SACCOs will be converting to within the next two years. They scrapped the banking system they were converting to last year since it did not give them the capacity they needed. Each SACCO now has a policy on Gender and HIV and Dixon stated there has been some movement on gender.
The trip (Lilongwe - Dwangwa) was uneventful but the scenery is beautiful since it is the rainy season here and everything is so green and lush. We arrived at Dwangwa and went in to meet Davison the SACCO Manager Bruce and I will be working with and went to the Kasa Club for something to eat. Made it back to the hotel and crashed around 10:00 pm, awake for 38 hours so I slept pretty well.

This Lodge (Ngala Beach Lodge )is right on one of the beaches on Lake Malawi and I have a great view of the beach and Lake Malawi right outside my door. There is a family of monkeys that run from tree to tree. Chris says they are pests since they eat their garden vegetables but the tourists like watching them. The other neat thing that they have here is two gecko lamps at the bar that three or four real geckos hide under to keep warm and attack insects that are attracted to the light. They were fun to watch scurrying around eating bugs it was great entertainment.  Stay tuned for stories of our first day at the SACCO in Dwangwa.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uganda/Malawi Coaching Mission - Day 1

Our three bloggers have arrived in their respective African countries after a few travelling hiccups due to snow and ‘lost’ travel documents. Everyone arrived safely and while struggling with slow internet connections have managed to share some of their experiences so far...

Malawi – Robert - “The Credit Union movement in Malawi is alive and well!”

Happy to report that credit union numbers have increased from 70,000 to 100,000 in the past year, Paul (my coaching partner) and I are working with two SACCOs in Blantyre, South Malawi. A day of hectic driving through potholes, fog, people, livestock and being on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was rewarded with beautiful scenery of lush green hills and a delicious meal of Chambo, a white fish delicacy of Malawi. Tomorrow begins with an early meeting at the MUSCCO regional office and then a meeting with the Sunbird Tourism SACCO, with no fear of more chaotic driving, as the SACCO is housed in our hotel.

Uganda – Charlie – A snapshot of Day 1

Sorry everyone but the internet access here is brutal.

Another short night. We got in at 9:30pm (local time) which is 8 hours ahead of most of you. John Katwaza (our driver from last year was at the airport to pick us up). I don’t have a lot of time as there are others who need to use this hotel computer, so here’s a "snapshot" of things that stuck with me from

Day 1

- great debrief meeting with the UCA and a nice lunch.

- a 5-hour drive afterwards to Mbarara in west Uganda - more beautiful country side than the east.

- John is an amazing driver, thank God, anything less won’t get you to where you need to go around here.

- I stood on the equator (really).

- bad year for potholes - tons of them and most are big enough to squeeze a Volkswagen into them.

- side of the road vendors - lots of sweet potatoes, fresh tilapia and I mean fresh.

- a maybe 5-year-old dragging his maybe two-year-old sibling into stalled traffic to try and touch the hearts of the white people in the truck for some spare change - parents in the distance watching.

- no one fazed by the thick deep red mud that is everywhere right now due to the heavy rains the night before.

- saw the Uganda president’s motorcade whiz thru the city - very cool.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Three Bloggers...

As Brad and Robert prepare for Malawi and Charlie for Uganda, the blogging has begun!  The long journey of planes and trains (and an assortment of other transportation) commences as most coaches leave for Africa today. 

This is a return journey for all coaches.  Each team of two will be visiting a new area of Malawi or Uganda and meeting new credit union managers and staff.

Our three bloggers report of excitement in meeting old and new friends, the anticipation of assisting the growth of credit unions in these developing nations and also the hope of escaping some of the infamous Candian Winter!

We will catch up with Robert, Brad and Charlie daily, posting their words and photos as the Uganda/Malawi Coaching Program gets underway for 2010.  Check back soon...