Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cotton Candy at New Hope Homes...

Today, January 30th, KOICA volunteers and we surprised the children at New Hope Homes with cotton candy that they have never seen and tasted.

One of the KOICA volunteers brought a cotton candy machine from Korea and to the best of our knowledge, it is one and only in Rwanda. Not only children but also all adults enjoyed it. Children were initially cautious about tasting it, but it did not take them even seconds to make a big smile and ask for more.

Also, we played games, sang along and played group jump rope. They were all happy.

Jeffrey shared a message, "Seeing the Kingdom of God" based on John 3.

As our visits have become regular, we are greeting each other with big smiles and hugs. It is our prayer that they will grow sound, healthy and strong to become influential leaders of Rwanda. - Kristin and Jeffrey

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Economic Transformation through Microfinance - Beatrice Story

Beatrice U. is one of the clients of Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB).
She is married to Celestin H. and they have four (4) children.

Beatrice received her first loan in 2002. Her initial loan size was 20,000 Rwandan Francs (RWF), about US$35. She had a small business of selling drinks in the house where her family was living. Although she owned this small business before taking this loan, she could not increase her inventory just because no traditional bank was willing to give her a loan without collateral.

It is during this time that she learned about UOB and joined one of its Trust Groups (Community Banks). She was not required to provide any collateral under the social guarantee program of UOB’s trust group methodology.

When she received her first loan, she expanded her inventory and made profit. She completed her first loan cycle without any arrears and as a result she was able to borrow a larger loan in the next cycle.

Beatrice says that taking UOB’s loan helped develop discipline in managing business as well as the debt.

Beatrice appreciated the trust group methodology because it provided emotional and social support as well as assistance in business management when she was not established well.

Because of Beatrice’s good performance, she graduated to join a solidarity group where a smaller number of members can borrower a larger loan.

As the business grew, she moved her business from her house to a rented building and began a wholesale business. She sells various supplies to other businesses around the area.

Once again Beatrice was so successful with her business that she graduated from a solidarity group to be able to obtain an individual loan. She now borrows RWF 4 million (US $ 6,900). She finds no difficulty meeting her repayment requirements.

As the business continued to grow, her husband joined her in managing the business. They have built their own home where they are living now. They were also able to renovate the old one which served as their first shop and they now rent it out.

They were able to send all four children to school and they meet all expenses related with school including tuition, uniforms, books and other school supplies. They employ two workers.

Microfinance indeed works well to help struggling families transform themselves to graduate from their chronic poverty. Beatrice is only one of many families who benefited from microfinance.

Beatrice is extremely excited to be one of UOB’s clients. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We are sponsoring Peace for her education...

We are sponsoring Peace for her education.

Peace is one of the orphans living at New Hope Homes, a family style orphan homes in Kigali. She is nine years old and will become a third grade student at Sonrise School. Sonrise School was started by Bishop Rucyahana to educate the orphans and has now become one of top three schools in Rwanda in all aspects. Now, even wealthy Rwandans want to send their children to this school.

Peace will begin her education at this wonderful private school next month. We are grateful for this opportunity to participate in her life.

As you can see, Peace is pretty with a beautiful smile and brightly shining eyes. We could not find any dark side of her past history, thanks to the Lord's abundant grace. We pray that the good Lord will continue to hold her hands through her life journey.

Are you interested in sponsoring a parentless child like Peace? - Kristin

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sex Education for Young Adults ... 'Twa' People

On Thursday and Friday, January 8th and 9th, Kristin gave sex education to female and male young adult groups, respectively. Each group had approximately 30. Their ages ranged 18 to 25. They are part of a local church, called PEFA, supported by a Korean missionary, located in Kininya, nearby Kigali. The education was part of their two-day retreat.

The education centered around reproductive systems, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS. These young adults have never received any education about reproductive systems and they all asked many questions. The bottom line of the education was abstinence until marriage. They all asked for subsequent education.

While sex education was under way, a KOICA volunteer, Jooheum, conducted a training session on computer for males and on handcrafts for females. Although Rwanda is proud of its gender equality, the imbalance in the education level between males and females was obvious.
On Saturday, January 16th, Kristin joined a group of people visiting Twa people. Twa people are pigmies, all shorter than 5 feet, representing 1% of Rwanda's population. They are specialized in pottery and usually very poor. This group led by a Korean missionary served corn flour and beans for 86 families. Their living condition was extremely poor. Bare feet were norm and houses were of one-room with thatched-roofs. - Kristin

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Annular Eclipse in Kampala, Uganda

On Friday, January 15th, 2010, there was an annular eclipse to be seen in the whole city of Kampala, Uganda. The eclipse started around 7:06AM and the annular eclipse (ring of fire) took place at 8:30AM.

Eclipse takes place when the moon lines up in between the sun and the earth. Annular eclipse occurs in the way the sun shines like a ring. Hence it is called 'Ring of Fire." There are other types of eclipse. Total eclipse occurs when the moon covers the sun entirely. Partial eclipse happens when the moon passes through the sun. Hybrid eclipse transitions between total eclipse and annular eclipse.

In Uganda, the next annular eclipse can be seen only in 115 years. So it was a life time experience for me and many others in Kampala, Uganda. The eclipse started in central Africa at dawn and then moved east through the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia. It crossed the Indian Ocean and the central path then continued into Asian through Bangladesh, India, Burma and China. - Jeffrey

Rural Finance Conference ... Kampala, Uganda

From January 11th until 16th, I attended a Rural Finance Conference in Kampala, Uganda. This conference was organized by Opportunity International Network Service Organization (NSO) to discuss the overall plan to implement an effective rural finance program in five countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. A week-long conference was tiring, but never boring. Rather it was very informative and fruitful in developing collaborative spirits among five countries.

This five-country Rural Finance Program, including credits, savings and transformation, has an ambitious target to outreach more than one million rural farmers by 2013.

In light of various risks and uncertainties related to rural finance, I felt more challenged than encouraged. But the mandate was clear.

I had an opportunity to lead the group in sharing the Word. When the sin entered into humanity, the perfect harmony in relationships was broken: the relationships were with God, self, others and environment. The environment included the ground. The earth. The punishment included God's cursing on the ground that will produce thorns and thisles, and man's painful toil on the ground to eat. (Genesis 3:17-19)

Through the redemtive blood of Christ, however, God showed the only way that the fallen humanity may be saved from permanent destruction, reconciled to Himself and restored for the perfect harmonious relationships with God, self, others and environment, including the earth. (Col. 1:19,20)

I came to realize that the rural finance is a way to participate in this God's salvation or restoration process between people and the ground, through educating the farmers how to prevent soil erosion, how to enhance the yield, how to prevent drought and flood, along with how to save, how to manage the debt, how to manage the seasonality in farming. It is a holistic transformation!

I do not know anything about agriculture. It scares me a lot. But the mandate is clear. Agriculture is an essential component in God's grand salvation plan of restoring harmony in people's relationship with the earth. With the mandate, I must trust in the Lord who gives me strength, power, ability and discernment. Through learning, I can acquire the knowledge and skills. Through cooperation, I can expand the knowledge and skills. Through the principles of stewardship, however, I should balance our deployment of resources against the risks inherent to agriculture finance.

Oh Lord, I know you know that the task is challenging. So I come before you, seeking your guidance and wisdom. May your overflowing grace lead me and us to the right way. - Jeffrey

Monday, January 11, 2010

Arise, Shine! ... UOB Day

On January 9th, Saturday, UOB held the first UOB Day with all employees. UOB Day was established for all UOB staff (225) to gather together to praise God for His grace upon us and to rally for the 2010 business plans. All were in uniform polo shirts, also wearing bank caps.

For the year 2010, we chose "Arise, Shine" as the theme. It was taken from Isaiah 60:1. It is the time for UOB to arise and shine in 2010. It is time to arise from the past darkness, past mistakes and failures and past mediocrity. It is time to shine, reflecting the light of God, Jesus, in all aspects of our lives.
From this verse, we came up with an acronym of A.R.I.S.E. to summarize the main management objectives. They are:

Achieve transformation internally and externally
Reach out rural clients
Innovate solutions and Impress clients
Sustain operations and Sustain asset quality
Expand products and Expand delivery network

They are all big tasks and challenges. Trusting God's grace, however, we can move forward.

We also celebrated those who have been working with loyalty for 5 years and 10 years. We had 49 who have been in service for more than 5 years and 9 for more than 10 years, totaling 58! It was a blessing to have so many loyal staff. Also, we congratulated those who have been promoted as of January 1st, 2010. A total of 21 employees were promoted, including the Chief Financial Officer and Director of Human Resources.
I praise God for his goodness and thanked Him for His unceasing grace. - Jeffrey

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Blessed New Year 2010!!!

A brand New Year has come. A brand new sun has risen.

No matter how glorious the previous year may have been, no matter how painful it may have been, now it is the past.

All people have the equal opportunity to start all over again with the new year.

God is interested in renewal: renewal of the life through our faith in Jesus Christ, renewal of the spirit when we repent our sins, renewal of the mind through tansformation and renewal of the strength through new hope.

May the grace of God bless all people who love Him and who come to know Him through faith in Jesus Christ abundantly in 2010. May His Kingdom advance on earth through His people. May the ministry of reconciliation that God has bestowed upon His people may flourish, casting hope and peace among people of differences, despair and darkness. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)
Until all have heard Jesus and until He returns and reigns as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
A blessed New Year to you all!
Joyfully and gratefully in His service in Rwanda,
- Kristin and Jeffrey