Today was our first real day on the ground and where we truly began earning our keep.
I’d like to say I greeted the day with a smile but the inviting and refreshingly cool shower of the evening before had somehow turned into a grimace producing ice cold shower this morning. But that’s OK, as I’ve been told more than once since I arrived, this is Africa J
The power was on when I got up but apparently it only stays on from 6:00 until 7:00 in the mornings so just as I lathered up to shave the lights went out and the room went dark. Not pitch black because it was getting light outside, but just dark enough that I had to stumble around looking for the headlamp that I so carefully packed in the one place I’d be sure not to look when I needed it. But this was all just a very small bump in an otherwise extremely rewarding day.
Our driver Michael, and the local district field officer Adad, both from UCA, the Uganda Cooperative Alliance, picked us up right after breakfast and drove us the short distance to the Koboko Town Council SACCO, a Savings and Credit Cooperative, or what we would refer to as a credit union.
It’s a small office in a small rural Ugandan town. It’s hot and dusty outside and lacking many of the modern accoutrements inside that most of us – probably all of us – would absolutely insist are necessary for the running of a financial institution; electricity and modern computers just to name a few. But just like the TV advertisement at home likes to say, those people would be what we like to call, wrong. Because what they may be lacking in modern conveniences and amenities they more than make up for with perseverance and professionalism.
The board and staff of KTC SACCO provide necessary savings and loan services to rural farmers with no other access to capital. Capital sometimes needed for farm equipment but far too often needed for things we take for granted like medical expenses and schooling costs for their children.
And they do this just like any credit union at home: with a dedicated board, a professional staff and well established policies and procedures. What they were looking from us was advice. And not general, “why is the sky blue, kum buy ya, we’re a cooperative so let’s hug advice”. No, very specific advice and recommendations on a broad range of topics and real-time issues facing any credit union today, whether it’s in Summerland, Vancouver or Koboko Uganda.
What was amazing was the juxtaposition between what we were discussing and where we were discussing it. In a small dark storeroom, in back of a rented facility with a dirt floor and the roar of a generator in the background, where we were often interrupted mid-sentence by the crowing of the resident rooster (which I have to admit only Audrey and I seemed to notice) we were grilled all day about our thoughts on capital adequacy, loan default procedures, board governance and human resources policy, just to name a few of the topics covered. And all this by board members with more combined education than most Canadian small towns.
I’m exhausted! I feel like it should have been us asking for the advice, not the other way around.
But by the end of the day some great ideas were exchanged and Audrey and I were able to give some specific advice and concrete examples the board of KTC SACCO can now consider as they move forward to strengthen and grow their credit union. Tomorrow we do it all again but this time with the senior management and I’m already a little intimidated.
It’s getting late as I settle in for my second night at the Hotel Di’Ambiance. We’re in a secure walled compound and the hotel is full tonight but other than Audrey and I the rest of the patrons appear to be Ugandan aid workers. There are lots of 4X4 four-door Mitsubishi pickups that seem to be the vehicle of choice and lots of people in various uniforms of one sort or the other. We saw a UN truck yesterday and there lots of Red Cross teams here this evening. The generator is on but it’s been sporadic and the water isn’t running. But no worries, this is Africa J The staff already brought me a Jerry Can of cold water and they delivered a Jerry Can of hot water earlier so I’m good to go. I can work by headlamp and my memory stick thing gives me great internet so what else do I need?
Signing off from Koboko Uganda