On this special Thanksgiving Day, the second time in Rwanda, we are not eating turkey or pumpkin pie, but we are grateful because in 2010:
1. He has been faithful and gracious even under difficult situations at UOB during the first half of 2010.
2. Our staff at UOB have stood together firmly to weather the challenges we faced.
3. We celebrated Jeffrey's mother's 80th birthday and she is still strong.
4. Jeffrey's father is 86 years old but still strong.
5. God has spared Kristin's mom from a couple of strokes. She remains hospitalized and needs our prayer.
6. Joyce secured a permanent job early this year and is doing well.
7. Amanda returned to the states safely after the deployment to Iraq.
8. Amanda and James have finally been united, and have even bought their first home.
9. We have been able to travel to various places with safety. (U.S., Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Kenya, Ghana, S. Africa)
10. We were able to secure a tenant for the Colorado house, thanks to Kristin's hard work in getting rid of a lot of stuff, stuff, stuff....
11. We were able to continue leading the Shalom Bible Study in Kigali, witnessing changes in the lives of the members.
12. We were allowed to participate in various ministries in helping the needy, including sponsoring Peace, supporting the construction of Amahoro House (an orphanage), health education ministry, serving at New Hope Homes etc.
13. We were able to continue the ministry blogging with an increasing number of followers and supporters
14. Jeffrey was allowed to share the gospel messages several times at the church we attend and at UOB devotions.
15. Jeffrey was allowed to meet a number of visitors to Rwanda and UOB, and to speak at various functions.
16. Jeffrey has been continuing to enjoy the delicious foods that Kristin's excellent cooking produces despite limited availability of resources.
17. Jeffrey has been benefiting enormously from Kristin's wholehearted nursing care whenever his body got weak or sick.
18. Kristin has been able to wrap up her health care management business successfully.
Additionally, there are numerous more reasons for which I am grateful to the Lord, but I will stop here.
As day goes by, our appreciation for His unceasing and overflowing love increases and deepens.
May the good Lord's blessing lead you to be thankful for everything and under any circumstances on this Thanksgiving Day and always! - Jeffrey
On Saturday and Sunday (November 20th and 21st) we held UOB Leadership Retreat at 2010 at La Palisse Gashora by a small lake in Gashora, Bugesera. It is a serene and beautiful place. 47 people participated in the retreat.
We started with a praise and prayer. I shared a scripture and message about "Growing up into Him together in love" based on Eph. 4:11-16. The message focused on building up teamwork and team spirit through forgiveness and reconciliation.
Soon after a tea break, I shared with them the bank's 2011-2013 Strategic Plan and 2011 Budget. Many questions ensued and so did heated debates. But we all shared the challenges we face and the lofty goals we have to target.
After lunch, we continued with the transformation plan that included showing a DVD on financial literacy to be developed and shared with our clients, reviewing statistics on HLI training for our clients by EBU. There were several questions and challenges that they face in conducting the HLI training in the field.
Volley ball games and soccer (alright... football) games followed the afternoon session. It was great fun to play the games although my body was not exactly in line with my desire.
On Sunday, we prayed together with several requests to the Lord and worshiped God together. We all participated in the communion led by Orren who is Director of Kigali EBU but also Pastor of a local church. After all we are brothers and sisters in Christ as His body and reaffirmed our commitment to loving and serving Him and His Kingdom. We reassured ourselves that our work is the ministry to serve the poor.
Daniel, Manager of Transformational Impact led a presentation and discussion about "Second Chair Leadership." It was a blessing to me since it helped realize we all have the "Second Chair Leader" responsibility along with the "First Chair Leader" responsibility. Although I am CEO for UOB, I submit spiritually to the Lord and administratively to the OI Africa CEO and the UOB Board. Every leader should realize these dual responsibilities and carry them out responsibly.
In Rwanda, the gender equality is real. For example, more than 50% of the Rwandan Senators are women. The chief justice is a woman. Approximately 40% of the state ministers are women, including the ministers of agriculture, of trade, of foreign affairs. Indeed women are empowered in Rwanda.
At UOB, we are also empowering women in several ways. To name a couple, more than 90% of its clients are women and 55% of its staff are women.
Recently, Alice Gasatura, Director of Credit Support was on a 3-week tour to the U.S. as part of the fund-raising team of Opportunity International US. She shared her life story as well as the client transformation stories. She visited Washington D.C., Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta etc. She is one of the most senior women staff at UOB and she was the first female staff who traveled to the U.S. as an embassador of UOB.
Also, we have sent five middle management female staff [Alida, Oddette, Pelagie, Mary and Marie from left to right] to a month-long training in Nairobi, Kenya. This training was sponsored by Goldman Sachs in its campaign to develop 10,000 women entrepreneurs in developing countries. During their training period, they learned about 23 managment topics on microfinance.
They will be deployed, along with other staff who have been trained else where, to share their knowledge with their colleagues through UOB Academy to be established in 2011. I hope to see more women empowered not only at UOB but also among clients to carry out more important tasks going forward. - Jeffrey
[Burning woods to generate steam to dry tea leaves ... Different sizes of tea powder ... Ready to be exported]
[Praising the good Lord with Sangmin's guitar play... It is all tea plantation. Beautiful, isn't it?.... Kind of cute, huh?]
On Saturday, November 13th, we had a retreat with Shalom Bible Study members at the SORWATHE, the largest tea factory in Rwanda. It supplies 75% of the Rwandan tea. It has its own tea plantations of approximately 260 hectares and also collects tea leaves from nearby farmers who have approximately 1,200 hectares. From the main road, we drove 19 kms to the tea factory and we were able to see the tea plantations along the road throughout the journey. It was beautiful and impressive.
We toured the tea factory and it was quite interesting. We all had to put on blue gowns and we looked interestingly cute. We toured the black tea, white tea and orthodox tea factory facilities. The green tea factory was not in operation. I learned that green tea production process is different from black tea's in that 1) their tea trees are different and 2) green tea is steamed while black tea is withered.
After the tour, we had a great time of praising the creator God, of eating B.B.Q. beef with lettuce and more, and of studying about "Good Steward's Financial Management." One of the members (Junghee Park) was going back to Korea a week later after his service as a KOICA (the Korean version of Peace Corps) volunteer and I felt strongly that young people should learn about the biblical principles on financial management when they are still young. I had to condense 7-8 hour volume to 2 hours, but it was a blessing to us all. If they could grasp and apply even one or two principles to their lives, they would be better off.
Oh Lord, may your Holy Spirit bless their hearts with your divine wisdom in their financial management lives! - Jeffrey
Praise the Lord! Recently, UOB has been approved to raise $100,000 a month through Kiva.org. This limit has doubled in several months! It is an indication that Kiva is happy with the way UOB operates and the way UOB is helping the poor.
To those who are new to Kiva.org, Kiva.org is a web portal that provides millions of individuals around the world an opportunity lend a small amount of money to the poor around the world through implementing partners like UOB. The loans are coming to implementing partners at a zero interest rate and if the loans are not collected, the individual lenders bear the credit write-off. Implementing partners have to post a photo with a brief description of who the borrowers are and what they do. Collectively, individual lenders send their funds to Kiva.org that in turn forwards the funds to implementing partners. You as individual lenders can choose whom to lend to, in which country and through which implementing partners. I was a Kiva lender before I came to Rwanda and it is a great platform for anybody who is willing to lend a small amount of money indirectly. The amount could be as low as $25, if I am not mistaken. Please check it out at www.kiva.org.
Normally, we post the stories and raise the funds in 2-3 days. It takes several more days until we actually receive the funds, but nonetheless it is a tremendously fast speed and it reflects the widespread interest of people around the world in helping the poor.
We honor and praise the Lord who has been gracious to us at UOB and to Rwandans. They deserve an opportunity to graduate from chronic poverty particularly as they go through an unbelievable process of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation among people after the 1994 genocide. Be merciful, Lord! - Jeffrey
[A motor taxi waiting for a passenger ........... A matatu passing by ............ Sameer, Simon and me]
On Thursday, November 4th, UOB signed a Tripartite Agreement with Sameer Hussein S.A. and FERWACOTAMO. Sameer Hussein is the largest motorcycle dealer in Rwanda with an 85% market share. FERWACOTAMO is the largest motorcycle taxi association in Rwanda with 8,000 motorcycle taxi riders throughout Rwanda. Pastor Simon is the President of FERWACOTAMO.
In Rwanda, you can ride a motorcycle taxi (called "Ipikipiki" in Kinyarwanda - photo) to quickly move from one place to another. It is a public transportation. The riders are wearing either a green jacket or a blue jacket with a helmet on. The passengers have to wear helmets too. (It is quite impressive, compared to chaotic disorder in other African countries... no helmet, no rule, no uniform.) Regular commercial taxi is prohibitively expensive to Rwandans and minibus taxis (called "Matatu" in Kinyarwanda - photo) are too infrequent and too crowded.
Motor taxi is a micro business, earning a gross income of RWF10,000 or $17 and netting $7.00 a day. Approximately 60% of these motor taxi riders are renting the motorcycles from private individuals or institutions because they cannot afford to own.
Thus, we have reached an agreement to offer a motorcycle loan program to these riders under special arrangements. FERWACOTAMO will verify and recommend the prospective riders and set aside a certain amount of money as a loan guarantee fund. For this service, the bank will pay a referral fee to FERWACOTAMO so that the association may be able to afford the administrative expenses.
I am excited that many motorcycle taxi riders will now have an opportunity to own their own motorcycles in a year or so, thereby graduating from chronic poverty faster than before. As a side benefit, all motorcycle taxis will carry the UOB logo on their front license plate spots since Rwanda does not require license plates on the fronts. I envision thousands of motorcycles will carry the UOB logo on their motorcycles, promoting the bank for helping them out. Praise the Lord! - Jeffrey
Jeffrey is a Christian financial entrepreneur. He has been in the industry for more than 35 years, including 17 years as CEO for three banks in the U.S. and Rwanda. Recently, he was CEO for Urwego Opportunity Bank in Rwanda for more than five years until May 1, 2014. In October 2015, he founded SfK Ministries and serves as its CEO. His experiences are diverse from branch banking to project finance, from community banking to corporate banking.
Kristin is a registered nurse. She has been in various departments of nursing for 30 years.
They are happily married and have two daughters, Amanda and Joyce. They live in Rwanda and Thailand.
The Needs in Rwanda
60.3 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day
87.8 percent live on less than $2 a day.
The life expectancy is 44 years old
5 percent of the population have access to electricity and 3 percent have internet access
In the genocide of 1994, over 800,000 people were killed in 100 days.
A small country of about 9 million people, Rwanda is located between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi. Rwanda experienced Africa’s worst genocide in the 1990s, in which the two main ethnic tribes (Tutsis and Hutus) came head to head; over 800,000 people were killed and two million fled to neighboring countries.
Rwanda is now rebuilding its economy, with coffee and tea production among its main sources of foreign exchange. Although economic growth has exceeded 5% since 2001, Rwanda is still highly dependent on foreign aid, and nearly two thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. Only 5% of Rwanda’s population has access to electricity and 3% has internet access.
The microfinance sector in Rwanda is still young, but has grown considerably in a short amount of time. There are over 200 MFIs in Rwanda, many of which emerged after the genocide in 1994. Since 2004, the nation has seen the rapid growth of unregistered and unregulated MFIs. Even with this boom of MFIs in Rwanda, both the informal (moneylenders) and formal microfinance sectors are still weak and have only reached about 30% of the estimated demand for microfinance services.
In the past two years, several MFIs ran out of funds and were forced to shut down. The current irregularities in the microfinance industry have forced the government and National Bank of Rwanda to create more stringent norms and standards to strengthen the sector.