Sunday, December 29, 2013

Trip to Senegal Africa... (December 2013)...

Kristin and I traveled to Senegal in December 2013. The primary purpose was to see Joyce who is serving as Peace Corps volunteer based in Thies, the third largest city in Senegal.

Senegal is in West Africa. Its land is 197,000 sq. km. and its population is approximately 13 million. Senegal has another country squeezed into it, namely The Gambia.

We arrived in Dakar, the capital city located at the western tip of the country, and stayed there for four nights. We visited several places, including Goree Island, French Institute, vegetable market, fabric market, Independence Plaza, Sea Plaza, Monument of African Renaissance, Seoul Restaurant, Presse Cafe, Time's Cafe, an art gallery, International School of Dakar and Ngor Beach.

Goree Island was the capital for slave trade in West Africa. It was a gathering place for all slaves collected from all over in West Africa before they were shipped to North America, South America or Europe. This Goree Island was compared to Zanzibar that was the capital for slave trade in East Africa.

The visit to the Monument of African Renaissance was quite an experience. It is the tallest statue in the world and it cost the country $27 million. This statue of a father holding his wife and holding up their baby pointing to a bright future, leaving behind the tragic past history of colonization and slavery. Ironically, the mother's skirt was completely untraditional to Senegalese culture and far too short, thus becoming very scandalous. Moreover, their faces were not like Senegalese. Another observation that I made was the baby was pointing to the direction to North Korea, while the guide was explaining that the baby was pointing at America. American was in their back. No wonder it is scandalous.

Africa pulled by other powers

Creative art by a Senegalese artist

Baobab Tree 150 years old at Goree Island

Popenguine Beach scene

Rice with chicken shared by the Ly family

Enebe Guest House at Popenguine

Flamingo scultures at Popenguine Beach

Christmas Service at International Fellowship Dakar

Heavenly scene at a restaurant in Popenguine

Almost junkie van... most of the cars were like this

The living room at the Ly's

Monument of African Renaissance

Fantastic ocean view at Ngor Restaurant

Quality time between mother and daughter

A sunset at Popenguine Beach

Another sunset

Riding a horse wagon at Thies

Statue of returned slaves

Street arts at Goree

Street vendor

Waves were gorgeous
The lunch at Ngor Beach was gorgeous. The food was excellent but we enjoyed the soothing sounds of ocean waves more than the food. The restaurant's decorations were quite interesting.

We then traveled to a small beach town called Popenguine probably with a population of one thousand. But the beach was stunning and people were so friendly. We stayed two nights at a guess house called Enebe that had four rooms in a cute and cozy setting. We thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance and the hospitality of the guest house.

Joyce and I climbed to the top of the cliff by the beach and on the way down we saw a beautiful sunset.

The restaurant by the beach was a fantastic experience. The setting was beautiful and the ambiance was a dream with the soothing sounds of breaking ocean waves. We had a lunch on Christmas Eve and it would be an unforgettable memory.

On Christmas Day, we traveled to a more touristic town called Sally. Joyce wanted to experience the sauna and facial treatment at an award-winning hotel and spa, called Rhino Resort Hotel and Spa. It was a five-star hotel, but it was obvious that they over-advertised themselves. On the way there we saw a numerous bill boards, but the actual place was not so grand nor luxurious. Kristin and Joyce had experiences at the spa, while I was enjoying my solitude moments without disruption. The lunch was far better than the hotel experience itself.

Joyce and I learned about how to play a card game, called PK, and we enjoyed playing games for three nights.

After Popenguine, we traveled to Thiess where Joyce is living and working. We stayed at a hotel called La Massa, supposedly one of the better hotels. We visited the family of the Ly. Madam Ly was Joyce's business counterpart. Joyce has been helping Madam Ly's jewelry business in market development, product design and accounting. The family invited us to lunch and we ate Senegalese traditional rice with chicken. The food was delicious but their family's hospitality was wonderfully warm and friendly. Madam Ly's husband was Samba Ly and he was a painter. They have nine children and three of them were artists. We saw some artworks and they were very unique and creative. The father Samba Ly gave us one of his oil paintings as a gift. A lovely family we enjoyed dearly.

We briefly visited Joyce's living place. A moderate place it was. I prayed for Joyce over there asking for God's special grace of protection and safety over the remaining four months or so period until she will have completed her service period with Peace Corps.

We also visited American Corner located at the Cultural Center. Joyce is teaching English once a week. Also, we stopped by Peace Corps Training Center where new Peace Corps volunteers must be trained for two months. It is the only one in West Africa.

The following day, we visited Ibu, a farmer, and his farm where Joyce is working on a chicken farm project. Ibu is a well respected community leader and also an exemplary farmer with several best practices of farming. He was growing many veggies with water dripping irrigation system. Joyce has just received approval to raise a funding to build a chicken house to be able to raise up to 500 chickens. Joyce hopes to finish the project before her tenure is over. Ibu was father of four children. We visited his house briefly. Ibu was a very warm and nice man, who was willing to help out his village people going beyond the boundary.

We headed off to the airport to catch the return flight to Kigali Rwanda. We used taxies several times, but Senegalese taxis were very close to junkies frequently with window shields severely cracked and the car seats were wildly torn. All taxis we rode had the odometers and speedometers out of order. It was a miracle that such cars were still running. Comparatively speaking, Rwandan taxis are fancy and luxurious limousines.

Both Kristin and I came back home safely with deep gratitude for the opportunity to see Joyce and spend time together over Christmas. For me, Senegal was the 12th country to visit in 2013. - Jeffrey 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Trip to Nairobi, Kenya (November 2013)...

James Lee, Mrs. Lee, Caleb Kim, Mrs. Kim, Kristin
I serve as a member of Opportunity Kenya's board. So I travel to Nairobi, Kenya once a quarter.

In November, there was a board meeting and Kristin joined me in this trip to Nairobi for a few days. The hotel we stayed was House of Waine in Karen, a boutique hotel with 11 bedrooms converted from a private home. The surrounding was cozy and beautiful, and the staff service was just excellent. Many honeymooners come for an experience. We also had an opportunity to stay there.

Kristin spent time with Manok Kim, a Korean missionary Dr. Caleb Kim's wife for two days. Caleb is a professor at Africa International University which converted from a theological seminary in recent years. He teaches Anthropology with the focus on Islam cultures. He directs the doctoral program in Intercultural Study in cooperation with Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has been serving in Kenya and a couple of other East African countries for the past twenty five years.

Kristin happy at Haru Japanese Restaurant
After the board meeting, Kristin and I were invited to lunch at Dr. James Lee's house, along with Caleb's couple. James is another Korean missionary who is running Bridgewood College where they teach and train pastors and young workers about bibles and related topics. They issue diplomas to them after completion. They have served in Kenya for the past 15 years or so.

Both Caleb and James were involved in Integral Mission Alliance of which I was also part two to three years ago. They are intellectual scholars, passionate missionaries, like-minded fellow Kingdom workers for holistic mission and more than anything else good friends. I was very grateful for the opportunity to fellowship with them before we left to come back to Kigali, Rwanda. - Jeffrey

Thursday, December 12, 2013

UOB Client Queen Nyirinkwaya Story on Christian Post in the U.S...

Queen Nyirinkwaya is one of UOB's clients. She is a married woman with two daughter and has a growing timber wholesale business, a little unusual for a woman in Rwanda. But her business thrives.

Queen joined a UOB trust group in 2009 and has taken numerous loans over time. The first loan amount was Rwf50,000 ($75) and now she is able to manage Rwf950,000 ($1,428). As the business has grown, she has been able to hire three employees.

As she has been transforming her economic life, she has been also transforming socially by helping others. She has been able to pay rent for her two sisters in law and also pay 50% tuition for Queen's younger brother. She also provides daily needs for her older sister. Amazing transformational impact through this business, which has been made possible with micro loans!
Queen uses mHose to buy electricity from home and make loan payments without having to close her business to travel to make the loan payment. This helps her business continuity and also avoids losing business because she is not around.

What is mHose? 

Queen with two daughters
mHose is UOB's mobile and agent banking platform. UOB is working with mVISA, VISA's emerging market solution to accelerate its outreach to underserved markets around the world. Rwanda is mVISA's pilot country and UOB is the first partner to design, develop and launch its platform.

mVISA is a powerful platform that allows the users to send and receive money, receive and pay loans, buy air time, pay bills and purchase from merchants. These features are to be even further strengthened soon.

mHose is effectively mVISA Plus. mHose has two additional features on top of mVISA's functions. mHose pays interest on all money that goes through mHose and also offers free life insurance to the users and up to two family members, tied to savings balance.

As of now, mHose has signed up more than 16,000 clients and 130 agents. Its monthly transaction volume is more than 35,000 transactions, amounting to more than $1.2 million. Incredible progress in a short period of time since it was launched in April 2013.

Queen is one of these mHose users who enjoy this technology platform for her daily business and life, yes in Rwanda, Africa. Thank God for it!

Her story has been featured in an article at Christian Post in the U.S. in conjunction with Hope International, one of UOB's shareholders and UOB's partners.

To read more about Queen's story and how she benefits from this service, Click here - Jeffrey

Sunday, December 8, 2013

UOB Celebrated Grand Opening of Gisozi Branch...

On December 6th, 2013, UOB celebrated the grand opening of its 11th branch and 44th business outlet in Gisozi, Kigali. Gisozi is booming with construction of many commercial buildings and retail strip centers.

Gisozi Branch has been established mainly to relieve Gisozi clients from having to travel to Nyabugogo Branch that is already overcrowded with too many clients. The banking hall is packed with clients from 7AM. The number of clients who will save time for travel is approximately 1,000 and this number is expected to grow as the area expands.

Our celebration was more like a dedication. We began with a prayer by UOB's director Christine Baingana, followed by the speech made by UOB's chairman of the board, Francis Pelekamoyo. A representative from Gasabo District also delivered a congratulatory speech for our opening. I had a privilege of making a speech that centered around our appreciation for our clients and UOB's uniqueness as a financial institution compared to other commercial banks and microfinance institutions.

The differences may be summarized into three P's:

Purpose: UOB's purpose is not to maximize the profit, like many other commercial banks. Rather its purpose is to maximize the holistic transformation impact on the clients that UOB serves. This fundamental difference is clearly stated in UOB's vision and mission statements.

Products: Therefore, UOB's products are not developed to maximize the bank's profit. Rather, they are developed to see how much impact they will generate. Product Fit Test is done for all new products. UOB has developed and implemented agricultural loans for inputs and production, the highest risk in already risk agricultural lending because of the mandate. Also, UOB has launched the school fee loans, college tuition fee loans and school improvement loans. Moreover, UOB is considering launching renewable energy loans and health finance because they are believed to provide significant impact on the clients for their transformation.

Process: UOB's process is established with the client's convenience and benefits in mind. The process should be courteous, speedy and accurate. It is called the UOB Way or the CSA Way. The foundation for the UOB Way is Colossians 3:23,24 where we are encouraged to work at everything with all our hearts as if we work for the Lord. It is a daunting mandate, but we are determined to stand up for it and live up to it.

I was so grateful for the clients we have been called to serve, the staff who is like-minded and dedicated to the cause and the board members who are firm in supporting the mission with their professional skills and experiences. This would be the last delivery channel that UOB will open with me as the CEO. So I thanked God for His use of the skills and experiences that He has invested in me over the past three decades.

A client testimony, tape cutting, cake cutting and branch tour all made the day's events special. Anita, a famous radio anchor, has entertained a big crowd who gathered around and also introduced a series of products that UOB offers, including Edu Finance products sponsored by DFID Rwanda, mHose, agricultural loans and remittances. It was a great event that collected many positive feedbacks from people.

Our staff did a wonderful job in making the event a great success. I am grateful for them. The following are some of the photos taken for the activities done on the celebration. - Jeffrey

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ministry Updates - November 2013

It is thrilling to taste God's grace in the midst of challenges. Only those who have tasted will understand what I am talking about.

November was another month when I had the same experience of tasting God's grace in the midst of challenges.

The following were the highlights of how God was gracious to us in November:

1. We at UOB continued to face challenges in normalizing and stabilizing the operations. Portfolio at risk (PAR) continued demanding extraordinary efforts from our staff and threatening the sustainability.  But we are grateful that we were able to contain it under 5%.

2. Oversupply of capital in the market obviously is tempting to many people who are desperate for money. They end up borrowing beyond their capability. This over-indebtedness is a serious threat to the underprivileged people in Rwanda and everywhere else. We had to apply rigorous screening to help them avoid this threatening over-indebtedness. Even in this midst, we registered a healthy growth in loan disbursements and active borrowing clients. Also, we continued seeing a steady growth in deposit clients. Praise the Lord!

3. UOB continued to work on preparing for the T24 R12 model bank migration project. We finally received the green light from the Project Board to bring in Jethro people to formally begin the process. But it is only the beginning. It will be the most important project for the next three months.

4. God has provided additional resources to help expand UOB's agent network through Access to Finance Rwanda ($300,000). We signed the MoU and received the first installment of $100,000 in November. Also, God has provided additional resources for UOB's general operating activities, this time, through Opportunity International UK! It is about $375,000 and we are waiting for the first installment of $144,000. God indeed provides! God is good and enabling all the time! You may read more about this here. Access to Finance Rwanda Supports UOB

5. mHose roll-out continued in November. Now we have more than 125 agents and 14,000 clients who have signed up. Transaction volume continued to increase. USSD availability was disrupted, causing problems for clients and agents, but it has now been stabilized. It is like walking on thin ice on a lake.

6. We finalized the three year strategic plan and 2014 business plan along with financial projection. These plans and financial projection will provide the guiding posts for the next three years.

7. We started using God Provides DVDs for staff devotion at branches and Kimironko Support Center. Their feedback will be evaluated and the program will be expanded to all other business units as well as to churches. Director of Transformation Impact attended a week-long Transformation Conference.

 8. I have attended Women's World Banking conference for Middle East and North Africa as a panelist on "Mobile Banking for Financial Inclusion." It was held in Amman Jordan and my trip was the trip trip to Jordan. For the blogpost on Women's World Banking conference, click here . I was able to visit some historical sites in Jordan during this trip. You may read more about this trip, here. Trip to Amman Jordan (November 2013)

9. I chaired the board of directors meeting for BDF, Rwanda's largest credit guaranty agency, and also attended the board of directors meeting for Opportunity Kenya, UOB's affiliate.

10. UOB received many visitors in November. They included OI's Global Head of Audit, OI US donors and staff, Hope International's technical assistance staff, ACCPAC consultant, One Acre Fund country manager, Coge Banque MD, HR staff from OI etc. We welcome visitors who may provide assistance for us and who may desire to learn from us. Either way, they are a blessing to us.

11. I continued being blessed with the opportunity of ministering to God's people through preaching at UOB Staff Devotion and St. Etienne Cathedral and teaching at Shalom Bible Study. These privileges help me stay upright before the Lord, more than anything else.

12. Kristin dedicated the Yaramba Nursery in Gicumbi to the Lord through service and the open house celebration in November. Now teachers and children are being recruited. Until the open house date, 37 children had signed up. The first class will being in January 2014. We honor and praise the Lord who has enabled us to complete the construction. You may read more about this event here. Yaramba Nursery Open House

13. We would like to pray with us on the following issues:

  • Stabilize and normalize the UOB operations with recovery of revenues and control of PAR
  • Continue to scale up HLI training for clients and use of 5W for group meeting standardization
  • Continue to roll out mHose to relieve lending staff from handling cash
  • Progress on T24 R12 model bank migration project, which upon completion will enhance the capacity to serve our clients better and more efficiently
  • Continue to explore the possibility of holistic community development pilot with COOPAG
  • Search and recruit the next UOB CEO whom God has prepared for UOB
  • Strengthen and nurture the faith walk with the Lord of our children
  • Discern God's will for our next chapter of life journey on earth
We thank you all very much for standing with us in our ministries through prayer and support. We value your friendship and partnership.

Joyfully and gratefully in His service,

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from Kigali, RWANDA

Thursday, November 28, 2013

School Improvement Loans...

There are many private schools in Rwanda. They are small in scale and thus considered micro businesses. The school entrepreneurs are called edu-preneurs.

Some start with one or two classes and as the students advance to higher grades, they build additional classrooms. Also, they build computer labs and expand the playground by acquiring adjacent land.

All these are perfect to be eligible for UOB's school improvement loans.

Here is an example: Apaderwa School. The school started in 2006 with less than 32 students, one teacher and one leader. Today, this school has 246 students, nine teachers and one head teacher. UOB has extended a loan to this school to help the school expand its school compound, renovate classes and purchase new school supplies, such as books.

UOB has made eight loans to private schools, like Apaderwa, year to date in 2013 with an ambitious plan to scale up the program in 2014. Many of them provide Christian education as part of their regular curriculum, thus sharing the biblical truth as well as teaching them academic knowledge.

This school improvement loan is tremendously transformational because of the lasting impact on young children for their future education and holistic development as a human being. It is our desire that UOB plays a pivotal role in this process of providing significant transformational impact on these young people in Rwanda. - Jeffrey

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Opportunity International U.K. Supports UOB...

Opportunity International is a complex organization. It has fund-raising entities in several countries, including U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, Australia and Singapore. UOB receives support from from all, except OI Australia that is focusing on supporting India and Philippines.

This week, we have received a grant support (US$375,000 equivalent GBP) from OI UK recently which supports our general microfinance programs in 2013 and 2014. It is typical that a grant has earmarked purposes, but this time it was a grant that supports UOB's general operations. Of course, it still has deliverable goals, but they are perfectly aligned with what UOB is doing.

This is a perfectly timely grant for UOB at present and here is why.

UOB has been suffering from Rwanda's sluggish economy, slow loan demand and declining sustainability in 2013. It is attributed mainly to Rwanda's macroeconomic circumstances that began during the fourth quarter 2012. Although the economy has shown signs of improvement lately, UOB's operating performance has been struggling and is still the same way.

In this context, OI UK's general support grant has been perfectly timely and tremendously helpful. I believe it is God's intervention. He indeed provides as we have experienced over and over in the past several years.

I am deeply grateful to my God Almighty for this support that comes through OI UK. Praise the Lord! My thanks also go to the leadership and management at OI UK (Edward, Deborah and Sally) for sending these resources perfectly at the right time. God is good all the time.

To learn more about Opportunity International U.K., click here - Jeffrey