Friday, December 25, 2009

New Hope Homes on a Green Christmas Day...

It was green on our first Christmas Day in Rwanda. It was windy, rainy and cloudy. Rain was good because now is the rainy season for Rwanda and it has not been raining for a couple of weeks.

The rain made all trees and grasses greener. It was a green Christmas, a beautiful one. Rwanda's Christmas is relatively quiet with less decoration than in the U.S. Some told me that it was depressing, but I did not feel so. It rather enabled me to observe the Christmas Day with the Christ central to the day.

Indeed, Christmas Day is the day of worshipping the Christ who was born to die for us all, sinlessly and blamelessly.

After the worship service in the morning, Kristin, Joyce and I joined a group of KOICA volunteers to minister to children at New Hope Homes, a family style orphan care place that we started ministering from November. We transported the volunteers and I shared the gospel. We praised together, played games and showed them a movie, like before. It was encoruaging to see them growing up with joyous hearts.

May the Lord bless these parent-less children with strong faith in the heavenly Father and adequate provision for all their needs until they grow up. As Mary confessed to the angel Gabriel who was telling her that she would give birth to Jesus, it was my message for them: "Nothing is impossible with God." Amen! - Jeffrey

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

$1.6 million Credit Facility Secured for 8,000 New Clients in 2010!!!

On Friday, December 18th, 2009, UOB received the first installment of funding in the amount of EUR200,000 (apprximately $300,000) as part of the $1.6 million 4-year credit facility from Oxfam Novib.
Oxfam Novib is a Netherlands NGO as part of Oxfam International that is the confederation of 14 like-minded organizations that work to end the poverty and injustice through various activities from campaigning to responding to emergencies. Lending to microfinance institutions is one of their programs towards the goal.

It was arranged through Triple Jump, a microfinance investment fund manager. This funding was arranged in Rwandan Francs so that we may avoid the foreign exchange exposure.

It was the first external credit facility that UOB has ever borrowed on a commercial basis. I trust the good Lord was at the center of all the work being done and I praise Him for His goodness!

This credit facility will be used to finance part of UOB's micro finance activities in 2010. Based on the average loan size of $200, the credit facility will enable us to help 8,000 new clients to graduate from chronic poverty. Praise the Lord! - Jeffrey

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mountain Gorilla Trekking...

Rwanda is one of a few countries that have mountain gorillas.
These mountain gorillas live only in the Virunga Mountains that spread through Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda. Thus, trekking gorillas is one of the adventures that any visitors to Rwanda should do. We have been wanting to do it for some time, but frequent travel schedules and heavy workload have made us postpone it for some time. Fortunately, we have been able to do the mountain gorilla trekking before the year 2009 was over.

On Saturday, December 19th, Kristin, Joyce (our younger daughter)and I trekked one of the seven gorilla groups, called Hirwa, in the Virunga (Volcanos) Mountains. This group of gorillas, totaling 12, was led by the male silverback, called Munyinyo, that weighs approximaately 400 pounds. Male gorillas normally have blackbacks, but when they turn 12 years of age, part of their backs changes to silver color, thus being called silverbacks. One silverback carries multiple female gorillas and they form a group. The silverback leads his group to the places where food is available and to new nests everyday. He is the protector of the group and only he is allowed to mate with females within the group, until female gorillas are lured away by other bachelor silverbacks.
[The silverback in the Hirwa group, weighing 400 pounds]
Rwanda has many gorilla groups, but only seven (7) groups are allowed for trekking and each trekking group can have only eight (8) people. So the maximum number of gorilla trekkers per day is 56, requiring advance booking and purchase of the tickets.

Gorilla trekking is not a casual hiking. It is pretty challenging and rigorous because you have to find the place where the target gorilla group is located. It takes climbing narrow paths on muddy hills, crossing bamboo jungles, walking on the bushes cut-down by the guides or scrambling several stiff hills on the way up. A couple of guides make pathways for the group, using machettes, and we followed them, up and down the stiff hills. We all got our clothes and shoes dirty with muds, but we were able to find the gorilla group and had a close encounter with them. Normally they eat bamboo shoots and other vegetables during the day.
At one moment, our group saw a female gorilla, weighing approximately 200 pounds, passing by within a foot distance from the group. Mountain gorillas are vegeterians, but they are wild animals and at times they could ferociously charging at people if they are provoked. I do not believe the evolution theory, but when you see the gorillas that closely, you cannot resist a little strange feeling about their resemblance to human being. It was quite interesting that each gorilla was identifiable by note prints unique to individuals, like unique fingerprints of each human being. These mountain gorillas have very slow reproduction cycles and are categorized as "critically endangered" species according to the U.N. classification.

[A baby gorilla]
Our group had a shocking moment once. The silverback, weighing 400 pounds, is normally sitting at a place overlooking the group. All of a sudden, this silverback started moving swiftly crossing the valley where we were busy taking photos. The guide instructed us to move out of his way, but one Belgian lady did not hear him in time and ended up being pushed aside by the silverback. Although it was a slight push, she fell down and rolled into the bush. We all became frightened, but that was the end of the encounter. It all happened so fast that no one could do anything about it. We all felt relieved. The guide explained that the silverback was not mad and his rush was not a charging at us. He simply decided to move from one hill to another hill for whatever reason and the lady happened to be on his way. He told us that the silverback gorilla's abrupt behavior was his first time experience.

[Our group, plus 2 more taking photos, with the guides and armed guards]

All in all, we trekked the gorilla group for two and half hours, spent one hour watching them and another one hour to come back down. We all received the gorilla trekking certificates and I bought the wooden stick that I was allowed to use for trekking as a sovenir. It has carvings of three gorillas. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience, particularly for Kristin who initially suffered greatly from a heart pain. But, she was able to finish it with a lot of help from a porter, Andrew. - Jeffrey

Monday, December 14, 2009

Agricultural Finance and John Magnay

As I wrote in the earlier post, agricultural finance is essential to Rwanda because of its significance to its economy.
So we are getting ourselves prepared to offer the agricultural finance in 2010. But, agricultural finance is a risky business for many reasons. First, the agriculture depends heavily on the weather. Without sufficient mitigating factors, the harvest could fail and the source of repayment also fails. Second, the agriculture is highly seasonal. So the loan needs to be structured in irregular payment schedule, increasing the risk. Third, the agriculture is subject to volatile price fluctuation depending on the level of harvest. A good harvest could mean an over-supply, without proper export mechanism, reducing the sale price. This price volatility also affects the payment ability. Also, the agricultural harvest depends on the exact timing of input supply, such as fertilizer use and water supply. Moreover, many farmers are doing subsistence farming so if you do not profile the farmers properly, you may end up lending to finance their own consumption. In this case, your source of repayment does not exist. These are only part of the reasons. For more, please refer to the left.

Thus, the agricultural lending is a risky business that many banks avoid, causing the farmers to remain underserved. Rwanda is not an exception. Nonetheless, we are entering into this industry, but with extreme caution and a lot of preparation. Part of the preparation is to have an agricultural expert on board.

Opportunity International Africa has John Magnay. He is Special Advisor to OI Africa on Agriculture. He was born to an English farmer. His father ran a huge farm that Henry Ford established to showcase an exemplary farm to eventually promote sales of Ford's tractors. So John grew up with hands-on experience in various aspects of farming. After college, he moved to Uganda in 1977 to help his father start a dairy business, owning 3,000 heads of cow. His experiences expanded to other sectors of agriculture and to other Sub-Sahara African countries, including Rwanda. In total, his direct experiences in African agriculture have been 32 years. He is well connected to government offcials and well familiar with the value chains of the agriculture industry by different types of crop and by geographical regions.

Despite all the preparation and extreme caution, however, we may not be successful without the blessing of the almighty God. We are entering into this market knowing the high risks because the needs are great but have not been served. In other words, we are taking on the responsibility on our shoulders to serve the underserved needs of the poor with faith in the Lord. I trust that the good Lord will bless the heart and intent. Pray with us and for us to the Lord. - Jeffrey

P.S.: While I was talking with him, I have learned an interesting fact about his family. Magnay was a spin-off from MacNay, a Scotish name. His forefather was disowned by the MacNays for political reasons and he settled in England and changed the name to Magnay. Now the Magnays are approximately 400 a half of which is in Australia. It was amazing to hear that they could count all of the family members by name and what they do and where they live. It was the same as the "Jokbo" in Korea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Green Revolution in Rwanda...

On Monday and Tuesday, December 7th and 8th, 2009, John Magnay, Special Advisor to OI Africa on Agricultural Finance (See another blogpost about him) and I participated in the Post CAADP Compact High Level Stakeholders Meeting held at Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda.

CAADP stands for Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program. Rwanda was the first country to sign the Compact in 2007. It is the initiative made by African countries that emphasize on the Country-initiated, Country-driven, Country-focused agricultural development program. This compares sharply with the traditional methods where donor country-initiated, donor country-driven approaches.

To be able to adopt this methodology, a particular CAADP member country has to prove that its governance is trustworthy, its fiscal management is transparent and the outcome is highly effective. It sounds very challenging in light of the past experiences in African countries.

The meeting was to showcase the Rwanda's success story. The President of Rwanda, His Excellence Paul Kagame was the keynote speaker and also in attendance were his Prime Minister, Chief Justice, all ministers and a dozen ministers of agriculture from other African countries along with many international development partners from the U.S., U.K. Canada, E.U., AfDB, IFAD, KOMESA, World Bank, United Nations, World for Peace etc. Even the special advisor to the U.S. President was present, indicating the importance of the meeting.

If it was only Rwanda's show-off of their success story, it could have been another "Yeah... right." story, but almost all participants congratulated on the Rwadan success and saluted to the government officials. To date, almost everyone who knows Africa has said that the "green revolution" has never materialized in Africa, but at this meeting, many mentioned the green revolution in Rwanda. It was pleasing to my ears.

In 2009, Rwanda, for the first time, saw the production of crops exceed the consumption needs. It was commendable in light of the food insecurity prevalent in most African countries. The impressive result was the combination of many efforts, such as terracing, fertilizer use, input system improvement, irrigation, land consolidation for more effective farming, soil eroision protection, suitable crop farming for the soil quality etc.

Agriculture is essential to Rwandan economy because:

1. It accounts for 35% of the country's GDP;
2. It affects 80% of the country's population, directly or indirectly; and
3. It generates 60% of the country's foreign exchange revenue.

Rwanda's Ministry of Agriculture presented its Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA II) to the international development partners and showed the gap in funding needs of $325MM for the next three years. And the Ministry of Finance officials presented how the government is monitoring and reporting on the use of the funds. To me, it was pretty transparent and convincing. Apparently so was the case to all other deveopment partners.

After all presentations, the Minister of Finance asked for any pledge or commitment of new capital to bridge the gap. Most of the international development partners pledged their commitments for continuing support with some indicating the specific amount. E.U. pledged the most significant amount of $150MM in new capital for the country.

I was proud of the Rwandan government officials for presenting their exemplary cases calmly, logically and straightforwardly. Their presentations were impressive and their transparency was so apparent. It was not just I who felt that way. Even ministers of other countries did not spare their compliments to the Rwandan government. A country's minister said that they could use Rwanda's case for their own country.

In summary, Rwanda showed the world what they resolved to do, what they actually did, how they implemented the plan, how impressive the results were, how accountable and transparent they are in using the aid money, what the additional funding needs are, and they asked for the international development partners' support. What a way to provide opportunities for the international development partners to make good and effective use of the development dollars. So much money has been poured into African countries, yet so many countries are poorer than before. Now Rwanda is showing a difference. I sincerely prayed that Rwanda would remain on the course of the current development to be an exemplary African nation to be recognized by the world as well as other African countries.

The two-day meeting was very informative to me in witnessing, although extremely fractional, how the international development partners think, approach and measure the performance of the countries that are in need of foreign aid. - Jeffrey

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hope Through the Eyes of Children...

On Saturday, December 5th, there was a photo exhibition organized by a ministry called "Hope Through the Eyes of Children." This was started by a couple of Christian ladies, namely Linda Smith and Angela Kim. Both are from New York, U.S.A.

They visit primary and secondary schools and have the children identify those in financially difficult and seemingly hopeless situations. They then lend these needy children cameras to take photos of other people and/or things. The photos are developed for sale directly to other people or through exhibition in Kigali or in other cities in the U.S. The ministry provides camera and printing for free for the needy children so that they can generate income for their family.

Almost all of them are victims of the 1994 genocide, directly or indirectly, and/or the HIV/AIDS. These needly children learn not only how to generate income but also how to have hope in seeminly hopeless circumstances through the sharing of the Gospel. It is a mission, a holistic one.

Kristin and I were invited to this photo exhibition and saw many photoes taken with hope through the eyes of (seemingly hopeless) children.

Let me share a story among many at the exhibition.

[A photo taken by Odila]

Odila Umuziranenge is a 15-year old boy attending Gilomero Secondary School. He lost his dad in 1996 and his mom in 2004. Both died of AIDS. He is the youngest of 8 children and lives with the HIV/AIDS. They own no house, no piece of land. His older brothers and sisters all work to make a living. Odila earns some money to buy food and to pay for the tuition through the photography. But, he finds hope in Jesus Christ. --- Jeffrey

Thursday, December 3, 2009 Partnership Approved...!!! is an web-based person-to-person micro credit lending platform. In other words, any individual or business in the world may lend his/her money, as little as $25, to the economically active poor people around the world through Kiva's implementing partners. You can view and review all the needs of the prospective micro businesses by country or by implementing partners on the internet. You choose the businesses you want to support and click to lend the amount of money that you want to. will send you notices of repayment and advise you of the money availability for re-lending or for return of the money if you choose to do so.

Why am I talking about it?
Today, UOB has just been approved as one of Kiva's implementing partners. It has been a long and rigorous process, but this approval news has made all the efforts worthwhile. We praise the Lord for His grace and provision.

Now, those who want to help the poor graduate from the chronic poverty, but somehow could not do, now can do it all at your fingertips. You do not need to travel a long distance to do it. You do not need to have a large sum of money to do it. You do not need to worry about accounting and collection, either. What a way to participate in the microfinance to help transform the lives of the poor! --- Jeffrey