Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gicumbi (Yaramba) Nursery Construction Completed!

Yaramba Nursery
After long several months of construction, Gicumbi (Yaramba) Nursery is now ready to open!

As I reported earlier this year, the construction has progressed well and smoothly with a minimal budget overrun. It is solely God's grace that made this happen. I praise the Lord for His marvelous grace!

The last two visits have confirmed the good finish of the construction of the nursery. The water tank has now been installed. Toilets have also been completed. The rain drain gutters have been installed. The supporting walls towards the church have been erected. All desks and chairs for children have been brought in. Desks and chairs for teachers are on the way. Now the nursery has been decorated by a few lady artists, inside and outside the building.

In July, there was a vacation bible school run by two short term mission teams from the U.S. and Korea. These events helped inform the people in the Yaramba Sector of the nursery and attract potential students, up to 60. Some of the photos of the VBS are posted above.

Now, the nursery is in process of recruiting teachers. It will start with two teachers and two assistants. The church can afford only teacher so we will provide support for one teacher and two assistants at least for a year. In August, I am scheduled to interview some candidates.

The original budget was $15,000 for the construction, furniture and fixtures. The cost overran by 15%, but well within the funding that has been provided. If any supporter is interested in detailed report, please let me know. I will send you a detailed report.

Now  the operations are in the hands of a Korean missionary Bohye Kim and her colleagues. I will continue following up on the progress and once in a while I will share the new developments.

Below are some of the photos that show the progress from the beginning till now. It has been a wonderful ministry opportunity to experience God's grace throughout the process. Praise the Lord!

Thank you all for the support through prayer and finance. Your support has been central to the successful construction of the nursery.

Please pray that the nursery will be staffed with competent and caring teachers and assistants who will serve the children in Yaramba as if they do it for the Lord.

All honor and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ! - Kristin

Monetary Policy Statement by BNR August 2013

Rwanda National Bank (BNR) is holding its Monetary Policy Statement meeting twice a year. In August, BNR held its semiannual meeting based on June 30 data.

In short, Rwanda is cruising along well despite some challenges that it has faced since the third quarter last year due to an UN report that alleged Rwanda to have been supporting the M23 rebel groups in DR Congo. This report, whether it is true or not, triggered international development countries to suspend or reduce their development aids to Rwanda. Rwanda is denying the allegation and has been diplomatically arguing against the allegation. UN General Secretary Ban, Ki Moon visited three countries in the greater lake region and cleared the air. International development community has resumed their money support for Rwanda and the government has begun to flow the money down to the economy again through its spending.

Dir General Joy, Governor John and Economist Frank
Inflation remains low at below 4% on an annualized basis and the GDP growth is at the pace of annual 7.5%. Exports remain brisk and imports seem contained. Financial sector continues to lend to the private sector and e-payment system seems to be developing well.

Despite the rosy pictures painted for the country and for the six months this year, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning mentioned that the fiscal challenges that the government faced during the first few months this year are not well reflected in the June 30th figure, commending that the BNR has done a great job of maintaining stable and still growing economy despite the fiscal challenges. This fiscal challenge has hurt the poor people in Rwanda that are not well documented elsewhere.

This presentation has been made by the new Governor who formally was the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning. He swapped his position with the former Governor of BNR who is now the Minister of Finance. Rwanda is unique in a sense that vertical swap in positions happens and it is accepted as a norm if it is necessary for the welfare of the country. The current Minister of Finance used to be a diplomat and is very persuasive. In time of Rwanda's diplomatic challenges, someone like Ambassador Claver Gatete is needed for the Minister of Finance post. Meanwhile, the current Governor, John Rwangombwa, is very good and effective with financial management, more suitable for managing the economy and regulating the financial services sector. So the switch happens and their reporting lines are now switched.

Nonetheless, Rwanda continues to amaze me with its ability to manage the economy with stability and steady growth. This meeting was my tenth one since I came to Rwanda and I have never been disappointed by the BNR's Monetary Policy Statement meeting presentations.

I always pray for God's continuing mercy upon Rwanda and her people because the external factors remain uncertain and fragile despite the country's resolve on self-reliance and impressive transformation as a nation. May the Lord extend His mercy and grace to Rwanda! - Jeffrey

Road Trip to Bujumbura, Burundi...

I made a quick road trip to Bujumbura, Burundi with Kristin and two lady pastors: Bohye Kim, a Korean missionary and Deog Lee, a pastor ministering in a regional city in Korea. It was a two-night, three-day short trip. (August 14-16, 2013)

Bujumbura is the capital city for Burundi, Rwanda's neighboring country. Its population has the same mix of people groups: Hutus and Tutsis. Their language, called Kirundi, is 95% the same as Kinyarwanda, Rwanda's language. It is slightly bigger than Rwanda, but is population is smaller (8.7 million) than Rwanda (10.5 million). Burundi's economic and political conditions are not as good and promising as Rwanda. Burundi is also part of East Africa Community.

Three ladies I escorted to Burundi

We chose to drive because we were not saving much time even if we fly. The road trip normally takes six hours including an hour needed for passing through the border. But the trip down to Bujumbura took almost nine hours. Yikes! Why? Because of an accident that stopped the entire traffic for quire some time and several big trucks that slowed down all cars following them.

Hotel club du lac Tanganyika
We intended to arrive in Bujumbura when it was still bright, but we ended up arriving in the city when it was dark. Driving in Bujumbura when dark was a serious challenge. Since it was dark, all cars turned on high beams, resulting in mutual blinding. Moreover people were freely crossing the streets and they were not so visible. Additionally, we were not clearly sure where we were going. Missionary Bohye Kim ended up calling one of the pastors, Pastor Pio, whom she has been supporting to guide us to the hotel we stayed.

Bujumbura is at the altitude of 700 m. So it was quite warmer than Kigali. It was an unpleasant experience.

Tanganyika Lake Beach
The sun light brightened the city in the morning and we were able to see everything that looked so mysterious the previous night. I was thinking of the Son Light that came to the world but the world did not know who He was and rejected Him. The Son Light was Jesus Christ. Being in the light is always good.

Bujumbura has access to the Tanganyika Lake. It is big lake that borders four countries: Burundi, Tanzania, DR Congo and Zambia. I heard that the lake supplies a variety of fish and one of them tastes really good. The fish dish grilled is called "Umukeke" Both Kristin and I had an expectation to eat this Umukeke, but we could not eat it. That made us think of visiting the place again.

Traditional dancers with drums on their heads
The return trip was not so bad. It took us only six hours and the traffic was light. Besides, I was driving in the morning when my body and mind were still fresh.

In Butare, there is a frozen yogurt shop where you can taste American style frozen yogurt. Obviously we stopped there for the cold taste. It was delicious.

Overall, I have now added Burundi to the list of countries that I have visited. It was the 43rd and ninth in Africa. - Jeffrey

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rz Manna Bankery and Cafe... A Social Enterprise Opened in Rwanda...

                                                                   Rz Manna means "miraculous taste" in Hebrews.
Rz Manna
Rz Manna is a name for a bakery and cafe that has been newly opened in Kigali, Rwanda.
Rz Manna Bakery and Cafe is a social enterprise that has been established by the joint efforts of Handong Global University (HGU), KOICA and Shall We?.  

HGU is a Christian university in S. Korea. It dares to claim Handong God's University. To see a blog, Click here Handong provides manpower.

KOICA is Korean government organization that helps promote international development and cooperation in developing countries. KOICA provided funding.

Shall We? is a bakery in S. Korea. Shall We? provided bakery knowhow.

Their joint efforts have produced Rz Manna Bakery and Cafe.

The grand opening ceremony took place on August 14th, 2013. Many people attended in the ceremony, including the Korean Ambassador to Rwanda, Mr. Hwang, Soon Taik and Chief Representative of KOICA Rwanda, Kim, Sang Chul. Most of the attendees were Koreans, but there also were many non-Koreans.

Koreans welcome this bakery and cafe for obvious reasons. They now can taste Korean breads, cakes and tarts.

Many non-Koreans welcome Rz Manna because now they have one more option for reliable bakery that can supply good quality pastry and coffee for them. 
Rz Manna CEO Professor Doh, M.S.

I also welcome Rz Manna as another choice for good quality pastry, even better, of Korean taste, but I have one more reason for welcoming Rz Manna in Rwanda. I envision how this business may be used for improving the welfare of Rwanda.

It will first produce employment for Rwandans. In the beginning, Rz Manna has hired 25 Rwandans. As the business grows, this number will also increase. Job is good. It produces income not only for the worker but also for the family and extended family.

It will also produce business for the suppliers. The downstream impact could be only greater as the business grows and expands. It means jobs, income and energy to the economy.

It will also produce the transfer of technology and quality service. Rwanda needs to see many examples of good business and service practices. Rz Manna will definitely bring skills and service from Korea, which I trust will help improve those of Rwanda. This transfer of technology and quality service will only help Rwanda transform faster and to be better. 
Tape Cutting

It will also produce profit. Profit is good because it helps the business to grow and expand. It also provides funding for the social purpose of Rz Manna. For now, Rz Manna intends to help improve the hygiene of underprivileged people. Without profit, this social purpose will bear no fruit.

I shared a message at their dedication service the night before the grand opening ceremony. And I reminded the staff, mostly Christians, that they should remember God's mission, on top of the commercial and social mission. God's mission is to let the world know who God is and His infinite love for the lost souls. Not necessarily by the Word only but by their life styles or deeds. 

It is my desire and prayer that Rz Manna will be a successful business that brings much value to Rwanda and people of Rwanda, achieving significant economic, social and spiritual transformation. - Jeffrey

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Edu Finance at UOB...

Education is essential for everyone's learning and growing in knowledge. It also helps shape character. Education is even more important if one is a child. It becomes even critical if one is a child in a developing country because in most cases education is the only hope parents and their children have in order to climb out of poverty.

In this light, education for children is considered an investment, a long term one in the next generation of people.

Thus, UOB has decided to make a long term commitment to all aspects of education finance in Rwanda and established a program called "EduFinance." UOB's EduFinance program includes:
Nathan and Kamari

  • school fee loan for primary and secondary students (SFL for school fee loan)
  • school fee loan for higher education students (CSL for college student loan) and 
  • school improvement loan for school entrepreneurs. (SIL for school improvement loan)
SFL was launched this year and currently 222 students are benefiting from the program. Parents borrow from UOB and make payments over 4 months. It was scaled up in April and will be further expanded in August. UOB is working with Merry Year International from S. Korea on this product.

CSL has been in existence for a couple of years, but it has faced many challenges due mainly to the lack of credit history or of the guarantor. Currently UOB has 46 loans on the book. UOB's partner for this product is Vittana, a US-based NGO specialized in higher education loan program.

SIL has also been in existence for a couple of years, but it has started picking up the pace recently. Currently UOB has four school improvement loans and all are Christian schools. For this program, UOB is working with Edify, a U.S.-based NGO focusing on supporting Christian schools and DFID, UK's arm for international development under its Innovations for Education (ifE) program. 

UOB's program was introduced to the Rwandan government and recently I was invited to a meeting with the Prime Minister of Rwanda for a briefing and we promised to provide any assistance needed for the Minister of Education to privatize the Rwandan government's ailing higher education loan program. We honor our God who has led us to come this far with this specialty program for Rwandan students. - Jeffrey

Monday, August 5, 2013

UOB Day July 2013

UOB Day is held on second Saturdays of January and July each year. It is the day when all UOB staff gathers together in uniform to celebrate who God is and what He has done for us. We praise Him, honor Him, pray to Him, listen to His Word and dedicate our lives to Him and His Kingdom. We also review what we plan to do for His Kingdom in serving the poor whom we have been called to serve.

On July 13, another UOB Day was held. The speaker was Pastor Antoinne who is an Anglican pastor. He was the senior pastor at St. Etienne Cathedral where I worship and fellowship. He is one of a few entrepreneurial pastors, as I call them, in Rwanda. They know the importance of businesses in His Kingdom and they emphasize the need to reconcile all things, including business and politics, to be reconciled to God until the Day of the Lord comes upon us. We were inspired by the message that God spoke to us through him.

Pastor Antoinne
All staff praising
On this July 2013 UOB Day, we established a new program to honor some clients who have been exemplary in the work of Transformation. We call the program "UOB T-Awards." T stands for Transformation. There are four categories: Economic, Social, Spiritual and Holistic T-Awards. Semiannually, all business units will submit their transformation candidates to the management and the management will go through an independent evaluation process and meet to decide the winners. These winners are recognized on UOB Days in front of all staff and thank God for His work in their lives. Also the business units will be recognized for their transforming work in their lives.

Praise Team Leading  the Praise
For the first UOB T-Award winners were selected for one Economic T-Award, two Social T-Awards (because we could not pick one over the other) and no Spiritual T-Award and one Holistic T-Award. They all received a cash prize and a plaque honoring their transforming examples.

UOB T-Awards Recipients
On this July 2013 UOB Day, we also recognized one of our clients who received Honorable Mention Thurman  Award for Africa from HOPE International. Thurman Award is a special recognition for one client selected out of all candidates submitted from around the world. In the past, two of UOB clients received this honorable awards two years in a row.

Group Photo
We all shared the challenges that UOB faces and dedicated ourselves to break through them with joyful and grateful hearts with trust in the Lord who will eventually help us pull through from this challenge.

May the Lord grant us His grace so that we may see the breakthrough made sooner rather than later! - Jeffrey

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ministry Updates - July 2013...

Challenges in Rwanda continued in July. But we continued elbowing through them one at a time for the whole month. Like the sun shedding light through thick clouds, however, God continued extending His grace to us even under gloomy circumstances. All we need is more trust in Him, including His time, and more endurance in this race of faith.

The following were the highlights:

1. UOB management had to dismiss 19 staff to overcome economic difficulties. Individually I feel terribly sorry, but as the steward of the organization, we had to make a painful decision. May God show them mercy and grace in their transition.

2. Our field activities remained sluggish with declining client number and loan portfolio balance. This in turn lowered our revenues to the level that is not sufficient to cover the operating expenses. We are hopeful, however, that we will see some rays of hope in August, the usually more active month of the year. Please pray with us for God's intervention in this time of challenges.

3. mHose mVisa rollout continued smoothly. We have now over 4,000 clients signed up for mHose mVisa and 45 agents serving our clients. I signed up and purchased the electricity and air time, and sent some money to friends. It is working great! One Visa senior officer did open mHose at one of branches and was extremely pleased with the 14 minute service time from the inquiry to the opening of the account and to the activation of mHose. We also continued distributing UOB Grace cards, not totaling 26,000. We praise the Lord for His grace upon this project in July. 

Group photo after UOB Day
All staff praising the Lord
4. UOB held the UOB Day in July. We gathered again to honor our Lord Jesus as our CEO and worshiped Him. We also reviewed the half year performance. The highlight was to honor our clients who were selected for their transformation. The honored clients included one recipient for Economic T-Award (T stands for Transformation), two for Social T-Awards and one for Holistic T-Award. The EBUs that served them were also honored for their exemplary work.

5. We geared up for the T24 R12 model bank migration for our core banking system, which is scheduled for September. We continued cleaning up the data while our staff started receiving training on the new model bank version. When this migration is successfully completed, we will be able to serve our clients faster and more conveniently with more features.

Bin Kim, Sungeun Choi, Pearl Kwon
6. UOB continued being blessed with "borrowed talents." Sungeun Choi went back to Korea after her internship with us for one year. She came through Merry Year International in Korea. But Bin Kim came to succeed Sungeun. He will help us in agricultural finance and branch support team while continuing to play the bridge role between MYI and UOB. Also, God has sent us Pearl Kwon as summer intern, who has just completed one year of study at London School of Economicis. She will help us in marketing for two months before she continues her master's degree study in Berlin. Also, there are other borrowed talents, such as Ashley from Chicago, Vannesa from S. California and Jason from S. California. They are extremely valuable "borrowed talents" who bridge the talent gap. We are deeply grateful for them.

7. UOB continued receiving several groups of visitors all from the U.S. but through different organizations, including Opportunity International, Hope International and World Relief. Noteworthy was a group of Wells Fargo bankers who came with the CEO of World Relief. It was a new experience of talking the banker's jargons without too much worry. May the Lord touch their hearts to dedicate more resources for His Kingdom.
SBS in July

8. Jeffrey served the financial services community at large by serving the BDF board and RSwitch board in July. He chairs the BDF board and serves RSwitch board as Vice Chair. He also gave a lecture about microfinance and inclusive finance to a group of people from S. Korea. This group of people included the Korean Ambassador to Rwanda, KOICA Chief Representative, Deputy Representative, a few NGO staff and Saemaul Movement staff.

9. Habitat for Humanity (H4H) is an international NGO that provides support in building and improving houses in developing countries. H4H has established a MicroBuild Fund to facilitate this program and UOB will be participating in this program. For this purpose, H4H sent a housing finance specialist to UOB for the initial needs assessment and institutional capacity assessment. The assessment result was positive and we will move forward. Housing is one of UOB's holistic community development elements (W.A.H.E.H.E. standing for Water/Sanitation/Hygiene, Agriculture, Health, Education, Housing and Energy) and we intend to develop a home improvements loan program with H4H. May the Lord bless us with this resource and product.

Yaramba Nursery
Painting the Yaramba Nursery
10. Kristin's nursery project in Yaramba, Gicumbi is one step closer to the closure. Her recent visit was made when a short term mission team was conducting Vacation Bible Study sessions with the children in Yaramba. This blog post is coming soon. Kristin will hand over the project to a Korean missionary and the church during a dedication service to be held in August to bring the project to close.
Children in VBS

Happy Children
Children Playing Games
11. Jeffrey continued his ministries in Rwanda through the pulpit (St. Etienne and UOB) and the disciple-making (Shalom Bible Study) in addition to the works at UOB.

12. Prayer requests --- Please pray with us that:
  • God may extend His grace to our clients and the Rwandan economy to pick up the pace and turn around the challenging situation.
  • God may comfort and lead the staff who has been dismissed from UOB to the way He has been preparing for them.
  • God may help us continue to scale up the rollout of mHose and UOB Grace cards. The usage in volume and number of transactions is rapidly increasing.
  • God may help us on a joint marketing plan with mVisa to launch from August to September.
  • God may help us secure all resources we need for the work He has called us to do.
  • God may bless us with His divine wisdom and guidance in carrying out the T24 R12 model bank migration project.