Friday, August 28, 2009

Zanzibar ... The Former Capital of Slave Trade

Human slaves... It is inconceivable now, but it was the reality in the past.

Kristin and I had an opportunity to visit the "capital of slave trade" --- Zanzibar.

[A stamp in the House of Wonders Museum, which shows all kinds of religious buildings, symbolically indicating the religious freedom]
It is now part of the United Republic of Tanzania, but it still maintains a significant amount of autonomy. Before the union in 1964, Zanzibar was an independent country for a short while after it was under the control of the Brits for some time. Previously, however, this island off the coast of Tanzania was part of Oman's 12 Sultans and an important center of trade in the Arab world. When Oman was prosperous, it controled all eastern coasts of Africa, Zanzibar and its own country of Oman. Once, Zanzibar was the capital city of the Oman Empire before it was surrendered to the Brits.

That is why Zanzibar is a Muslim society. 99% of the Zanzibaris, as its people are called, are Muslims. Zanzibar is composed of two islands, namely Unguja and Pemba, and many small islands. The capital city of Zanzibar is called Zanzibar City and has the famous Stone Town that is one of the World Heritage Sites.

In Stown Town alone, there are 72 Islamic mosques, but there also are 7 Hindu temples, one Roman Catholic church and one Anglican church. I later learned that small Christian churches are being planted in the rural areas. Although Muslims are dominating the society, there is religious freedom.

We visited the former slave market in Stone Town. Ironically, the Anglican Church was built on the former slave market site. A former slave chamber has been preserved where the slaves were detained before the auction. Now on top of the chamber, a hospice building has been built.

Inside the Anglican church, the altar was built right on the spot where the "whipping post" existed. The defiant slaves or the slaves who needed displines were tied at the whipping post and whipped severely. Some marble stones on the spot depicted graphically some bloddy spots.

Outside the huge church building, at one corner, there was a sculture of slaves chained around their necks in a chamber below the ground level. A sad feeling erupted...

We also visited an underground cave right at a beach. 30 or so steps from the ground, we found a huge space, unlit and naturally preserved. Slaves were hidden here for illegal trade, after the formal market was closed and after the slave trade became illegal. The cave was connected to an exit on the cliff only accessible from the sea where the slaves were loaded onto ships for sailing. We learned many died there while waiting for the trade mainly because of the lack of oxygen. The cave was as deep as 3 km.

The slaves loaded into ships set sail primarily to the North and South Americas and the Caribbean Islands. The journey was long and rough. It is said that as much as 50% of them died during the journey and only the strong survived, yet for another humiliating lives as slaves.

The slave trade was prevalent during 14th to 19th centuries, involving as many people as 9-12 million. African slaves were exported out of West Africa and Central Africa. Zanzibar was the center for the Central Africa slave trade. The African kings received various goods in return for the lives of their own people. The European and Arabic slave traders took them to the Americas. In return, they bought cotton, sugar, tobacco, rum and brought them to Europe. This trade was called the "Triangular Trade."

Ironically, I hear that there are still human traffic going on in the form of sex slaves even nowdays. Although illegal, the idea of a human thinking of selling another human as a slave makes my heart gloomy and angry. It is the greed.... and more deeply the depravity.... the sin nature.

As the night goes deeper, the dawn is nearer, the Bible says. In the midst of sadness, therefore, there is hope. The hope for the ultimate judgment. The hope for the eternal liberation from the depravity. The salvation and freedom from the presence of sin. Maranatha! (Oh Lord, come!) - Jeffrey

P.S.: On a different note, Rwanda was the only country in East Africa that resisted the slave trade. The Rwandan kings refused to sell their poor people as slaves. Rwandans are proud of this history and rightfully so.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Korean Room in Edinburgh, Scotland...

[Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gamble........... A Korean old painting.................. A pair of wooden birds]

Unexpectedly, I saw a Korean room in Edinburgh, Scotland. A Scotish couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gamble, used to live in Seoul, Korea for two years. They loved Korean culture and they brought many Korean stuff back to their home in Scotland. In fact, their reception room was entirely decorated with Korean stuff. They all were beautiful. Here are a handful of them. - Jeffrey

[A Korean wooden chest .................. A Korean pottery ..................... A corner table with a pottery]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Opportunity International Global 2015 Conference...

I had a privilege of attending the Opportunity International Global Network's 2015 meeting conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K. recently. It was indeed a global conference.
The countries that were represented were U.S., U.K., Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Colombia, India, Canada and Poland, but the roles that the participants assume and play are a lot more significant than the number of countries represented at the conference.
[From left to right, back to front] OI Global Network CEO, Chief Technology Officer, India CEO, Chief Financial Officer, SVP of Operations, Africa CEO, Uganda CEO, Chief Operating Officer, Chief of Staff, OI UK International Director, OI Africa Chairman, Ghana CEO, Chief Transformational Impact Officer/Latin Africa CEO, Rwanda CEO (me), OI US SVP of Strategic Support, Malawi CEO and Colombia CEO. Not pictured were Chief Risk Officer and SVP of Product Development for their early departure. Their names are not mentioned for their privacy.
It was a three-day, two-night conference, but the depth and contents of the conference were impressive and made me feel deeply honored to be part of the conference. Because of the sensitivity of the contents, I am afraid I cannot share too much.
Oh Lord, thank you for the opportunity to be part of the ministry that you have entrusted with Opportunity International in helping eradicate the chronic poverty from the lives of many people around the world. May You bless the leadership with your divine wisdom so that they may carry out the responsibilities assigned to them in a way that reflects Your love and that will bring You the honor and glory!!! - Jeffrey

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rwandan Coffee is on the Move...

Do you drink coffee? Good. I am sure most of you drink coffee or, like myself, used to drink coffee. Now I do not drink coffee, but I still enjoy the coffee aroma.

But, do you know how coffee is made? .... I did not think so. Not many people know how coffee is made. I mean what the coffee tree looks like and how the coffee cherries are turning to the coffee that we are drinking.

Oh well... If you did not know, like me, here is a quick and dirty rundown on how the coffee is made.
This is a coffee tree, a small one. [left] It bears coffee cherries like in the picutre. [middle] Right off the coffee tree, they are called "coffee cherries." [right] They are not coffee beans... yet.

Once they are ripe, they are taken off the tree and brought to a washing station or a drying station. There are primarily two ways to peel the skins and remove sweet liquids from the coffee beans. They are the wet treatment and the dry treatment. I am told that the wet treatment produces better coffee beans.

On August 12th, I visited a washing station in Kibungo or now known as Ngoma, Eastern Province, where the wet treatment is used. Unfortunately, it was the off-season, so I could not see the real process in action. But it was worthwhile. So I will talk about the coffee production using the wet treatment. The coffee beans that went through the wet treatment are normally turning to gourmet or specialty coffee.

The farmers have to carry the cherries to the washing station within 4 hours. Otherwise, the coffee value drops sharply. (I have not found out the reasons yet.) So farmers use all kinds of methods to carry the cherries in time to the station. Many use bicycles or carry on their heads.

Once the coffee cherries arrive at the washing station, they are poured into a tank where the dirts are washed. Then they will flow into a machine that will peel the skins and sweet liquids (called "mucilage") that cover the coffee beans inside. The machine also sorts out the coffee beans by sizes. Good coffee beans are well sorted with consistent sizes.

Once the coffee cherries are peeled off and the liquids are washed off, they are called "coffee parchments." These coffee parchments flow into several tanks, sorted by sizes, where they are stored for two days floating in the water. This process is called "fermentation" and the mucilages are more thoroughly washed off in the water.

[<= Fermentation tanks]

After the fermentation, the coffee parchments will flow into a bigger tank and are washed again for the final cleaning for another day.

Then, the coffee parchments are taken out of the washing tank and brought to drying decks in the shade. These decks are called "pre-drying" decks and here the coffee parchments are displayed over plastic sheets so that the water may be dried and/or dripped off the coffee parchments. This takes another day.

Then, the coffee parchments are placed on the regular drying decks to be dried for 14 days in the sun.
[=> A big tank for final cleaning and drying decks over the washing tank]

All in all, thus, it takes 18 days from the time the cheeries arrive and are born again to dried coffee parchments. Please note, however, they are not coffee beans yet.

These dried coffee parchments are collected into bags and stored until September when active coffee trading takes place. In Rwanda, the coffee cherries are collected by the farmers during April through June during the rainy season. Once it enters the dry season, coffee trees do not produce cherries any more. The rest of the year is the time of rest for the tree and also for the farmers. (Thus, the coffee farmers usually get involved in other economic activities.)
[A sample bag of parchments]

In September or so, the coffee parchments are processed to remove the stuff that is surrounding the coffee beans. Once the outer stuff is removed, finally coffee beans are produced. These beans are called "green coffee beans." They indeed look light green.

[=> These parchments value approximately $180,000.]

These green beans are sold to a coffee roasting house or a trading company that collect the coffee parchments to sell in bulk to the roasting house. These green beans are roasted according to the specific requests of the coffee distributers and/or the end-users, like Starbucks. Depending on how the roasting has been processed, the coffee would taste completely different even with the same coffee green beans. Of course, the roasted coffee may be ground and brewed, ready to be sipped and enjoyed. Hmmm.... Ahhhh.....

As a banker, I could not resist the urge to find out about the financial aspect of the coffee production cycle. The coffee cherries are sold to a washing station at RWF120 per kg, pretty cheap. The farmers are getting paid by the washing station when the sale takes place. Coffee farmers usually belong to a cooperative that usually owns a washing station. The one I visited was owned by a cooperative that has 125 members.

The coffee cherries will lose the weights as their skins are peeled and the mucilages are removed. After the parchments are removed, 5 kgs of coffee cherries will shrink to 1 kg of dried green beans. So to produce 1 kg of green beans, 5 kgs of coffee cherries are required or approximately RWF600 or a little more than US$1.00. But this 1 kg of green beans will be sold to the roasting house at approximately $3.50, a three-times higher price than the cost. These green bean price fluctuates widely depending on the weather and the harvet yields. Sometimes, Rwandan coffee beans could sell at $50 per kg when there is severe shortage of supply, I was told, because it is a gourmet coffee.

The cooperative and the washing station then will cover all the processing costs, facility depreciation and maintenance costs, administrative staff expense, finance charges for using a credit facility to make prompt payment to the coffee farmers etc. Whatever is left over will then be distributed to the coffee farmers as profit.

A one kilo gram of green beans will turn into a lot of coffee.. hundreds of cups of coffee. Let us suppose that one kilo gram of coffee beans will produce only 100 cups of coffee and each cup costs only $1.50. Remember Rwandan coffee is a specialty coffee and it more expensive than regular coffee, but for the sake of argument... In reality, how much do you pay for a cup of coffee? 1 dollar? 2 dollars? 3 dollars? Sometimes more than 5 dollars at Starbuck's? Doesn't it sound like a rip-off! It may be...

But you also have to bear in mind the freight, the insurance, the storage cost, the administrative expense, the packaging cost, the marketing expense, a mark-up profit etc. throughout the chain of distribution until it is finally delivered to you through a coffee shop or a supermarket.

Do you love coffee? Try Rwandan coffee. It is good. You can even order via internet. It has been gaining more popularity since Starbuck's owns a coffee farm here in Rwanda and uses Rwandan coffee partly for its own gourmet coffee. Try it. It is good. - Jeffrey

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feeding Hope in Jesus' Name... in North Korea

The Christianity Today had an article about Christian outreach to the people of North Korea (DPRK) to save millions from dying of starvation.

Rogue regime ... Unreliable distribution of food aid ... Wet noodles ... Malnutrition ... Nominal four churches in the entire country... One million troops... Nuclear explosion... Missile tests ... No electricity in the capital city ... Persistent cover-up of the truth ... Propaganda ...

I think you will find the article of interest and I trust you will find a ray of hope in this country but only in Christ who will eventually deliver His pepple out of this unbelievable darkness.

Please click below for the article.

- Jeffrey

Dairy Farmers in Rwanda...

I had an opportunity to visit dairy farmers in Nyagatare on August 11th with a couple of people from Rwanda Development Bank (BRD). BRD is a government-owned bank focusing on the development of the Rwanda's infrastructure. UOB signed an MoU with BRD for business cooperation in helping the rural farmers and this field trip was the first step towards the goal.

[Some cows of a farmer who wants to buy 15 more]

We met with Augustine, the Chairman of the Union of 19 cooperatives for cattle farmers, and his staff, Fred and Sylvia. The union's membership totals more than 4,000 in Nyagatare District only.

Later we visited a cattle farmer that currently has 12 cows and desires to buy 15 more. It was the BRD's site visitation for their loan request. We found that the farmer was not ready to raise additional 15. The farmer agreed.
[=>The milk storage tank at a milk collection center]

Each dairy cow produces 20-40 litres of milk each day. The farmers milk their cows twice a day: 4AM and 4PM. This milk is brought to one of the milk collection centers and stored into a chilled tank with preliminary filtering. Then this milk is transported to a dairy for pasteurizing or to an agregator who collects the milk and sell it in bulk to a dairy.
[<= Milk transport truck]
The raw milk is sold by farmers at RWF150 (less than 25 cents) per liter. This raw milk price goes up to RWF800-1,000 per liter at the retail store.

While we were visiting a milk collection center, one farmer arrived on his bike with a 40-liter container in the back. When measured, the container had 20 liters of milk. It translates to RWF3,000 in value or RWF6,000 per day. (Remember that they are milking twice a day) I was told that the farmer will net the sales at 70% of the sales price. So the net profit will be RWF4,200 per day or approximately $8.00 per day. This translates into $240 a month and $2,900 a year. Assuming a family of 7, this farmer's income is approximately the same as the national per capita income of a little less than $400. The assumption is that the farmer does not do anything else, but normally farmers are engaged in other economic activities, such as growing other animals or vegetables for their own consumption or for sale. So most likely this particular farmer is better off than the average household in Rwanda.
[The only dairy in Nyagatare still under installation]
Each dairy cow a farmer buys should be at least six month pregnant so that the farmer may be able to produce milk soon after the purchase. Each cow is costing RWF500,000 to 1 million, or $900 to $1,800, depending on the breed and the health. This price is far higher than traditional cows. Nonetheless, each dairy cow returns the farmer's original investment within 4 to 8 months, plus another cow in three months. Not bad. That is why the Rwandan government is promoting the dairy cows in the Eastern Province where the land is flat and the pasture is wide. The business is good, but it is a tough business, too, since the farmers have to get up early to milk the cow and take good care of them.

It was a wonderful experience. - Jeffrey

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer Interns from the U.S.

During the summer, we have had three summer interns from the U.S. They are Jackie, Jinho and Seung Chul.

Jackie finished her internship early July and has gone back to the states. She finished her sophomore year and spent two months with us. She worked on marketing and webpage projects. As a young college student, she was mature and participated in all activities with enthusiasm. She wants to go to a law school after graduating from the college. She desires to help the poor in the developing countries later. Jackie felt a lot more comfortable with foreign living after her life in Rwanda. It was very encouraging to see a young lady like Jackie think globally and develop into a global person in this global age. [Jackie making dirt bricks on an Umuganda Day]
Jinho finished his internship on August 7th. He had worked with us for two months. He is a graduate student at Columbia University, New York. He is a Korean student. He has helped us with marketing reports for each EBU, but he has helped me tremendously in putting together many policies and business continuity program. He was fast and highly productive. He even helped me over the weekend. Jinho traveled to Tanzania on a summer mission before he started his master's program in the U.S. and liked Africa very much. Later, he desires to help the poor hopefully through clean and renewable energy and micro enterprise development. He was a godly young man and it was a blessing to have him on our team even for a while.

[Jinho - left and Seung Chul - right]

Seung Chul ("Chul") is an interesting guy. He graduated from the Kellogg School of Business with an MBA degree this year. But he also has a master's degree in political studies. He is a third-generation Korean Japanese, living in Tokyo, Japan. He worked for UNESCO in Korea and for Red Cross International in Fiji and Myanmar. His previous job before the MBA program was with Bain & Company in Tokyo. He will go back to Bain & Company and work there for at least two more years. Amazingly, he has visited approximately 50 countries. Wow... for his age of 37. Chul is interested in social enterprise. He started his post-MBA internship on August 3rd and will continue until the middle of September. So far, he has finished a feasibility study report on mobile branch with impressive work quality, and is now working on developing procedural manual for business continuity program. He will surely bring good value to the bank while he will be with us for six weeks. He started his African tour from Kenya to Uganda before he arrived in Rwanda. After his internship with UOB, he plans to visit Malawi and South Africa. He plans to meet his wife in Johannesberg before he goes back to Japan. What a global person he is!

God clearly works through people. He leads His people to meet each other in His time and by connecting them He creates synergistic value for His Kingdom. It is a great blessing to be able to meet so many people with so diverse experiences and background.

These interns may be inexperienced in banking and micro finance, but they bring tremendous value to an institution like us, because they understand the instructions clearly and know the expectations. At the end, they produce what is expected. And fast. It is great joy to work with them.

Lord, may Your Kingdom advance through Your people in a way beyond our imagination! - Jeffrey

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gecko... is a Friend to Us

Gecko is well known to many Americans as the mascot for GEICO, an insurance company. I would guess that a gecko was chosen because the company name GEICO sounds similar to Gecko.
In Rwanda, geckos are friends to people because they eat bugs at their homes.
At our place, there are two geckos: a small one and another tiny one. They freely move around the house primarily on the walls. Initially, Kristin was freightened when she found one on a wall and she tried to kill it instantly. At that time, we had a guest visiting with us and he told us that geckos are friends to us. They do not bother us and they eat bugs. So Kristin cautiously and skeptically let the gecko get away.

We have since seen the gecko on and off. These days, we even do not think of them any more, but at first we just did not feel comfortable when it was on the ceiling upside down right over our dining table.

We found another tiny one later. Sometimes we enjoy watching it move up and down on the wall, hoping that they will catch all the bugs that are living with us in the house. Part of fun living in this country. - Jeffrey

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Story of Athanase Mwiseneza

Athanase MWISENEZA: From selling few eggs to becoming a successful businessperson.

In just twelve years, Athanase has been able to move from selling just a few eggs every day to owning his own retail shop in his own building. Athanase heard about Urwego Opportunity Bank (Then Urwego Community Banking) through the church his mother was attending.

Athanase lives in the Eastern Province, Kayonza sector in Mukarange cell. He had only US$2 when he joined a UOB Trust Group, and he had no vision for a prosperous future. With an initial loan of just $27, Athanase began by selling a few eggs every day in the local market. With the profits he made, Athanase decided to change his business strategy, and he started a small retail shop under a tree by the roadside. With additional profits, he was able to build his own commercial retail building. He then asked the government agency in charge of supplying water to run water pipes into the building so he could sell tap water to community members. Now he sells tap water to the members of his community and makes profit of more than $73 per month.

Athanase was also able to install electricity. Because he is among the few who have access to electricity in his neighborhood, he developed a new business. Athanase started charging neighbors’ cell phones. At the present, Athanase gets over 45 customers per day and makes total monthly profit of about $210 just by charging cell phones.

From the profits made, and a village phone loan from UOB, he bought two public telephones which community members can use to call friends and relatives. He charges them few cents per unit.

In his community, Athanase is now highly respected and well known.

While he once had no house, Athanase now owns three buildings - his own home, a house he rents out and his business retail store.

Before he joined the UOB Trust Group, he was not in a position to get married, since African weddings are very expensive. Now he is a proud father and husband.

Athanase says, “As a result of joining the Opportunity Trust group, I was able to build my Business house, my own home, met my wedding requirements and now I am married. I have three children two of whom have started school and I take care of them with no difficulties. I am successful, but it all was made possible because of joining the UOB Trust Group.” Athanase goes on to say, “I have gained many friends – my fellow Trust group members, customers and Urwego staff members. I would not have met them had it not been Urwego Opportunity Bank coming to us.”

He says that his prayers are full of praise rather than asking God for food or tuition for his children. His relationship with God is based on love. In addition, Athanase is a contributing member of his church through offerings and tithes and through other financial and non-financial contributions.

Athanase is planning to build a local commercial house that will be let to business people and in turn generate income from rent. Once he has completed repayment of the current loan, he hopes to take out another larger loan.
I praise the Lord who has been working in the life of Athanase. May there be more Athanases in Rwanda! - Jeffrey

Sunday, August 2, 2009

EXPO 2009 in Kigali

[The Expo entrance........................ The Expo ground .................... One of the handmade products]
Currently, an international trade fair is taking place in Kigali. It started on July 30th and will last until August 10th. It was reported that 419 exhibitors from 10 countries are participating in the Fair.

Kristin and I took time today, Sunday August 2nd, to visit the Expo. We paid a little less than $1.00 per person to enter and another $1.00 for the parking.

There were many booths, but the items were mostly household goods, such as food, clothing, souvenirs, shoes, and some light industrial goods. The booths in the Import Section were displaying better quality goods than the Rwanda Section. That leaves Rwanda with some room for improvement. Many of Rwandan vendors were cooperatives. These cooperatives should find good momentum to develop into enterprises.

The scale of this year's 12th Expo was quite small to be called International Trade Fair, but it is improving. They are planning to build a new trade fair ground that is six times larger than the current location. I was envisioning an International Trade Fair in Rwanda that is attracting many IT vendors and buyers who are actively placing orders and buying goods not just for a cheap price but for the quality and technology. Would it be possible in 10 years or 20 years? I suppose it depends on God's plan to be done in His time.

I was sincerely hoping and praying that Rwanda will become the African tiger nation. Oh Lord, I pray that You bless Rwanda and the people of Rwanda so that they all may turn to You and draw near You in their plans and their lives. May your name be glorified! - Jeffrey

UOB Leadership Retreat

[Mission in Kinyarwanda...... Daniel Ryumugabe, Transformation Manager...... My ministry partners in action at UOB]

On July 24, 25 and 26, we held a Leadership Retreat at Bethanie Center righy by the Lake Kivu. A total of 65 officers of UOB attended.

We worshiped our faithful God with praise and prayer, but we also learned Servant/Situational Leadership, Effective Communication, Teamwork, Transformation Plan, Vision, Mission, Values and Business Performance Review/Business Plan.

I had the privilege of leading the sessions about Servant/Situational Leadership, Effective Communication and Teamwork while executive management discussed the business session and Transformaton Impact Manager discussed the rest.

We picked the topics in hopes to enhance our teamwork and communication.

At the end, the officers chose T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) and "None of us is as smart as all of us" as the bank's slogans. We ended our official session with a chanting of "Team Yesu" and "Team UOB." We came back to Kigali with excitement and boosted spirit.

The enhanced teamwork showed a fruit immediately. Last week was the end of July. The month-end is a hectic time for closing. It is even more so with UOB because of the unique nature of the loan disbursement process for the poor. Four teams have to work very closely, but traditionally one of the teams has been dragging the process.

Last week, it was not the case. The dragging team also stepped up and closed all disbursements on time. Actually, they finished them all even earlier than usual. Director of Credit sent me an e-mail filled with praise and gratitude, looking forward to a great hope for the future.

Thank you, Jesus, for your good and faithful guidance! We praise your name! May this enhanced teamwork produce more efficient and synergistic delivery of "your love in action" to the poor!
- Jeffrey