Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Africa: 10 things you need to know about Africa in 2014

[This is an article written by Jonathan Bhalla at Africa Research Institute.]
Africa Research Institute, by Jonathan Bhalla -January 13, 2014
On Tuesday 7th January I attended a fascinating event organised by the Royal African Society: "Africa in 2014: Prospects & Forecasts". The speakers were Patrick Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Africa Confidential and Africa-Asia Confidential; Razia Khan, Regional Head of Economics, Africa at Standard Chartered Bank; Lanre Akinola, Editor of This is Africa; and Yemisi Mokuolu, Founder of Hatch Events. Here are 10 of the things I found instructive.
1. A vaccination for malaria might become a reality - Mosquirix, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is being touted as the most advanced and effective malaria vaccine for infants and children to date. Targeting the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which causes the most deadly strain of malaria, the introduction of Mosquirix has the potential to radically alter the treatment of the disease in Africa.

2. Trade unions continue to bang on the door of government - In 2013, a series of public sector strikes over pay disputes rocked Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, three of Africa's most dynamic economies. But it is in South Africa that things are really heating up.

The National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa), the country's largest trade union, officially withdrew its support for the ruling Africa National Congress ahead of the 2014 elections. Numsa has since called on its federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), to follow suit.

The signs are that suspended secretary-general of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, will champion calls for an anti-Zuma vote by Cosatu in the forthcoming elections.

3. But is this a swansong for unions? - Unless unions can deliver tangible benefits for their members, they are likely to lose clout over time.

In South Africa, the majority of job creation has taken place in the informal and service sectors, which are notoriously difficult to unionise. Frosty relations between the ANC and trade unions might be an opportunity for the ruling party to develop a more independent political position not beholden to "worker demands".

4. More growth - Ongoing political risk and instability in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mali are unlikely to impact on the continent's growth prospects.

The economic outlook for 2014 is positive, with the continent projected to grow by 5.5%. Why? Africa's largest economies are driving growth, notably Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Angola. In the coming year, the power and influence of these countries will become further entrenched.

5. There is more to growth than commodities - The stabilisation of demand, rather than a renewed surge in the price of key commodities, will underpin Africa's economic performance in 2014. African economies have not benefitted from high commodity prices to the extent that is commonly assumed.

A more detailed look at national economic data highlights the prominence of the African consumer in driving growth, with commodities playing more of a supporting role. Resource exploration will, however, continue to gather pace, and is likely to have a significant impact on future growth trajectories.

6. Nigeria is a microcosm of the continent - In 2004-10, the Nigerian economy grew at a rate of 7% per annum. Over the same period, poverty levels also grew by 6.5% a year.

The gulf between those (few) who benefit from economic growth and the poorest in society will become more pronounced in 2014 - and not just in Nigeria. Job creation is not taking place on the scale needed to reduce poverty. As such, there is a pressing need to untangle the continent's investment narrative from development realities

7. Regional integration is essential, but not inevitable - Most economies in Africa are too small to attract much-needed investment on their own.

Increasing market size by integrating economic policies and procedures with those of neighbouring countries is the only realistic hope for sustained growth over time. While the East African Community is arguably the best illustration of what can be achieved through regional integration, the pace of these developments across the continent remains sluggish.

8. It's not all about China - Bold steps continue to be taken by new development partners. In December 2013, Turkey became the 78th member state of the African Development Bank.

In the same month, Brazil's National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) intensified its activities on the continent by opening a branch in Johannesburg, South Africa - only its third office overseas in just over half a century of operating.

9. Introducing MINT (Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) - Jim O'Neill, the economist who coined the acronym BRICS, tips MINT countries to assert their economic credentials in 2014. They stand out, he argues, because all four have favourable demographics for at last 20 years and possess a unique economic potential.

10. Africa is not rising - It is changing. Period

Sunday, January 19, 2014

UOB Transformation Awards for Clients ...

Transformation impacts of UOB's micro finance program on its clients have been tremendous. But we could not share these transformation impact stories enough with others who may not be familiar with them.

Thus, UOB established its own UOB T-Awards in July 2013. T stands for Transformation. These awards have four categories: Economic, Social, Spiritual and Holistic.

All business units submit their applications for these awards based on their client stories. Then, senior leaders will be randomly assigned to visit and interview these clients to validate the submitted stories and also to learn more about the clients. Through these interviews, home office staff and senior leadership members can experience the transformation impact stories firsthand. So the transformation impacts are also on staff.

All senior leaders who participated in the interview process present their client stories to the group, and through discussion and debates, four winners are selected each for four categories. The selected clients receive cash prizes of Rwf50,000 for economic, social and spiritual and Rwf80,000 for holistic T-award recipients. The business units that submitted the applications also receive the same amount of cash prizes to acknowledge and appreciate their efforts.

These clients are invited to UOB Day and after the praise and message, their stories are shared with the entire staff and prizes are given to them with UOB T-Award plaques.

For January 2014, their stories are summarized below:

 UOB Economic T-Award: Marie Claire Mukantagwabira served by Kigali East EBU
Marie Claire started borrowing Rwf30,000 (USD45) from UOB only five years ago and is now borrowing Rwf15Mn (USD22,400). When she first joined UOB, she had only a sambusa (triangle-shaped deep fried food) business, but now has two supermarkets, one gift shop, one spare part shop and one restaurant. She now employs 13 workers. Marie Claire has a plan to expand her business even further to own a bakery, juice factory and wholesale business. When all are completed, she will employ up to 50 people.

It is an impressive story of tremendous economic success accomplished just over five years. Through the process of expanding her business, she has purchased a house and a car, and has been able to send her children to school. She deserves to receive the Economic T-Award.

UOB Social T-Award: Salam Ingabire served by Karongi EBU
Salam owns a restaurant. His relationship began in 2009 with the first loan of Rwf15,000. He is now taking Rwf600,000 and she is now the leader of the trust group she belong to. When she started her relationship with UOB just four years ago, she was renting a small room for Rwf3,000 a month. Now she owns her own house, one cow, a sizable banana plantation and a good restaurant business. She is paying for school fees for three children.

Social T-Award was given to her for two reasons. One was that she came back from DR Congo and had to start from scratch with nothing. Extreme poverty degrades humanity but over a short period of time, she was able to gain the respect from the local community and to make significant contribution to the community. She organizes the Women's Day for the village, coaches other women in doing business, provides a room for the women meetings and also leads the trust group as president. Also, she offers her restaurant as the gathering place for the group. The second reason is her proven ability to share her faith despite her family's roots in Islam. As her name indicates, she is part of a Muslim family, but she is a believer and she is able to talk about Jesus and her faith in her family based on her economic achievement. She attributes her success to God's blessing and her faith has grown over time. We definitely want to see more stories like Salam's.

UOB Spiritual T-Award: Eric Hategekimana served by Gicumbi EBU
Eric owns a bakery. He has been raised by a single mom and he studied up to only primary 4. He had to leave the school because his mom could not afford the school fees. He married to his wife who also dropped the school after senior 3.

Eric joined UOB's trust group in 2007 and received his first loan of Rwf50,000 and started expanding his business. Initially he did not have any capital so he was using beans grown in his own garden. But with the loan, he was able to buy baking equipment and expand the business lines. He owns his own house, a plot of land, two motor cycles. He now employs 10 people five of whom are staying at Eric and three of whom have been married. Now he borrows Rwf1,500,000 and is able to pay without any past due. Eric is also active in serving the community as a civic servant. Eric is also proud of being able to send his wife back to the secondary school to finish her study, rather than seeking his own study. He plans to send her to college.

Spiritual T-Award was given to Eric for three reasons: One, Eric used to be a Roman Catholic but now fellowships at ADEPR, a Pentecostal denomination in Rwanda, based on his conviction of the Christian teaching he has received from UOB staff. Two, Eric has been attending church services three times a week and has been taking care of many visitors to the church by offering his residence. Three, he has been practicing Good Samaritan spirit by helping several neighbors with the love of Christ, such as paying for medical bills who could not afford to pay, paying for wedding expenses for his three staff and paying school fees for two orphans in his village.  May God bless Eric and his family to be a greater blessing to many others in Christ's name.

UOB Holistic T-Award:  Aplphie Nyirabaziga served by Rwamagana EBU
Apophie was the first one who received the most highly recognized Holistic T-Award. She joined UOB's trust group in 2009 with a Rwf50,000 loan. She is now borrowing Rwf1.2 Mn. When she joined a UOB trust group, she was in the cowhide business, but now she runs an auto spare parts business. She employs two permanent staff and eight temporary staff.

The Holistic T-Award was given to Apophie because her transformation was well balanced in all three aspects of her life. Economically, she has been able to grow her working capital from Rwf300,000 to Rwf2.5 Mn., to buy two cows, a forest, a banana plantation and a water tank for her family. Socially, she has played several important roles in serving her community, such as the president of her trust group, a member of the local sanitation board, a member of savings SACCO at the sector level and a woman representative at the local cell level. Spiritually, she has transformed from a church goer to a committed member of a local church, now as an elder of the church. Because of her faith, her husband has been converted from Islam to Christianity. Also, she has adopted three orphans and takes care of them. All these exhibit a wonderful example of holistic transformation that has taken place in her life. May the good Lord produce holistic transformation in more lives in Rwanda, like Apophie!

I am so blessed to witness these transformation stories first hand along with my colleagues. May the Lord bless them to continue the transformation in their lives to be a blessing to others around them! - Jeffrey

Saturday, January 18, 2014

UOB Day - January 2014 - SHINE

UOB Day is a day when all UOB staff gather together from all over the country. UOB Day has been held twice a year, in January and July.

In uniform, all staff feel the unity immediately. As we gather together, we praise God Almighty with all our hearts and minds. UOB Gospel Singers lead the praise time and soon many others with musical talents join them. The entire staff rock the place. Unity then is apparently in spirit as well as in appearance.

We also listen to the Word spoken through an invited speaker. This time, Laurent MBanda, Anglical Bishop of Shyrah Diocese in Musanze was the speaker. He is a scholar and used to be a senior leader at Compassion International. He was Vice President responsible for Africa. He knows, therefore, business, management, leadership as well as mission. He was a perfect fit to speak to us who are running a Kingdom enterprise of UOB.

UOB is not just a bank, but a bank as mission. UOB is mandated by its shareholders not to maximize the profit, but to pursue holistic transformation of the clients based on biblical principles while UOB staff is being transformed in the process together with clients.

UOB Gospel Singers Leading the Praise
UOB has a theme every year. This theme is for both the spiritual and management purposes. For the past four years, the themes have been ARISE (2010), SHALOM (2011), IN CHRIST (2012) and TRANSFORM (2013). For 2014, we have chosen SHINE as the theme.

God is the light. Jesus is the light. Jesus followers have been called to be the light of the world while Jesus is away and until He returns. As the light of the world, Jesus followers are called to shine their lights before men. (Matthew 5:14-16) As a Jesus-following enterprise, UOB should also be the light of the world and so are all UOB staff. Throughout the year, this theme will be analyzed and studied in depth to make sure all staff will understand what it means and how they may apply it to their work and personal life.

Bishop Mbanda Preaching
At the same time, this theme signifies what the bank is pursuing as major goals and objectives. It is used as an acronym. SHINE stands for:

  • Stabilize and sustain operations
  • Scale up agricultural finance and education finance
  • Secure sufficient resources
  • Succeed in T24 R12 model bank migration
  • Help reduce PAR, write-off and frauds
  • Increase loan disbursements, outreach and recoveries
  • Expand the CSPs to remove cash-handling
We also honored four clients who have been selected as recipients of UOB Transformation Awards. We have four of them: Economic, Social, Spiritual and Holistic. I will write a separate blog post on this.

After the UOB T-Awards ceremony, we reviewed how the bank performed overall in all areas. Also we reviewed the major business KPIs to remember and implement in 2014. Key senior officers gave a presentation about their teams' highlights.

We also honor our staff who has newly joined for the past six months, who has worked for UOB for five, 10 and 15 years, and who has been promoted as of January 2014. It is a celebration to officially welcome new staff to UOB, thank the staff of long service and congratulate the staff who have been promoted. 

Help Association is the staff's voluntary savings and loans program. They collect savings and lend the money to staff, and distribute interest income to the savers. It is a mini bank for staff within the bank. The treasurer for Help Association also reported the performance.

At the end, we all knelt down and dedicated ourselves to the Lord to do our best in serving the people whom He has called us to serve for the next six months. 

Lunch is a great time of fellowship among our staff. For many staff who is living and working in rural areas, this lunch outing is a big treat and a valuable opportunity to meet colleagues whom they know only by names. We had to run the entire schedule very tightly because many traveled early in the morning to attend the UOB Day and had to travel again to return to where they live. So by 2PM, all programs were over. Very intense, but also very productive. It is remarkable that all programs run almost right on the clock. It is very unusual in the Rwandan context. That much our staff has been trained to be conscious of the time and punctual. 

This UOB Day was my last one at UOB. I was asked if I would say farewell to staff. I declined because I would be still working through April 3oth, and I did not want to distract their attention that has to be focused on SHINE. I prayed on my knees that God will continue to be gracious to UOB in the years to come. 

Kristin also joined us in the program along with Dr. Yong Woo Lee and his wife Jong Ran. - Jeffrey

Friday, January 10, 2014

Kwibuka Flame...

As many of you know, Rwanda went through the genocide against Tutsis in 1994. Approximately 10,000 people were slaughtered every day for 100 days. It is recorded as the genocide that has progressed fastest in human history.

Every year, there are commemorations starting on April 7th and lasting until July 4th, the Liberation Day. The formal mourning lasts for a week, but the overall atmosphere is somewhat gloomy and solemn until the Liberation Day. During this period, some people, particularly genocide survivors, have the flash-back memory of the horror and go through traumas.

2014 will be the 20th anniversary. So the Rwandan government has planned and launched a new program. It is called Kwibuka Flame. Kwibuka means "Remembrance" in Kinyarwanda. On January 7th, there was a special ceremony at Gisozi Genocide Memorial where more than 200,000 people are buried. The Genocide Torch, also called Kwibuka Flame, was lit using the Rwanda's traditional way of making fire, called Urushingo. It will be carried by boys and girls who are younger than 20 years of age to all 30 districts. After the tour, it will return to Gisozi Genocide Memorial on April 7th and will be used for the special commemoration to take place on the day.

The fact that the torch will be carried by boys and girls of 20 years or younger signify that this generation of people who did not go through the genocide can be united. One Rwanda and One Rwandan.

This year's theme is Remember - Unite - Renew. The message seems obvious but I read it as a message to remember the genocide, unite as one nation and renew the determination and courage to never repeat the genocide again.

"Never Again."

'Never Again' has been emphasized over and over as the theme not to repeat this horror again ever.

Minister Louise Mushikiwabo
The minister of foreign affairs and government spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo, delivered the key note speech on January 7th. Her message summarizes the spirit and intent of this year's theme and Kwibuka Flame:

"As we turn our attention to the twentieth commemoration, we invite the world to remember with us. We do so not to inspire pity or guilt, but rather because the lessons of 1994 have resonance far beyond Rwanda's borders. It is a time to recommit ourselves to the simple but powerful idea: Never Again. Not just for Rwanda, but for the world. For 'Never Again' to be a reality, and not just words, 'Never Forget' must also be our creed."

Well said. 

It is my prayer that a genocide will not occur again anywhere in the world. Ever. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Client Visits in Gicumbi and Gatsibo...(January 2014)

An egg that is ready for pick-up
On Monday, January 6th, 2014, I visited one chicken farmer client in Gicumbi District and group clients in a Muslim-dominant village in Gatsibo District. Dr. Yong Woo Lee, a new volunteer to UOB, Daniel, Director of Transformation Impact, and Pacifique, Loan Underwriting Team Leader joined me in the visits.

The first stop was Clementine's chicken farm located in Gicumbi, approximately 45 minutes drive from Kigali.

Clementine is in her 30's with two children. Her husband was a military personnel and has passed away during a war. We do not know the details of his death since she became emotional. But Clementine is a prominent business entrepreneur whom even the President of Rwanda recognizes.

UOB has granted a Rwf15 Million or $21,000 term loan to her chicken farm to help finance the purchase of 7,000 chicks, feeds to feed them and construction costs to bring mountain water to the chicken farm and her neighbors in the community.

Currently, Clementine raises more than 10,000 chickens out of which approximately 3,500 chickens lay eggs. She sells 21,000 eggs a week. But the number of eggs to be sold will sharply increase after two more months when the chicks now being raised will grow mature enough to start laying eggs.

Clementine buys newly hatched chicks at Rwf1,500 or $2.30. She feeds them to grow for four and half months. Mature chickens lay eggs for one and half years, approximately 320 eggs. Then, these chickens are sold at Rwf2,800 or $4.20 per head. During the egg-laying period, each egg is sold at Rwf70 or a little more than $0.10.

She is known to be the "Woman of Chickens" in the area. She also has a "Japanese plum" farm in the vicinity.

She is an active member of ADEPR, one of the largest Christian denominations in Rwanda. She has a dream to be the largest and the most effective chicken farmer in Rwanda.
Clementine proud to be a successful chicken farmer
Part of chickens that are laying eggs

Chickens after Clementine rearranged the feeds...

Eggs getting ready for shipping

Pacifique, Dr. Lee, Clementine and Daniel

We headed further north close to Gicumbi town and continued to drive in the eastern direction. The next step was a village in Gatsibo where the predominant population is Muslims. There Jean Baptist has been serving three groups of clients for the past five years. I heard about his service in this village almost five years ago and I have meant to visit with them. But, we had not been informed of this challenging mountainous terrain where we had to drive for two and half hours. The road was impossible to drive without a 4x4 vehicle. With God's grace, we made it. We met Jean Baptist at a location close to the village and followed him who was riding a 125cc motor cycle that he owns.

Jean Baptist with his motor bike
Nyabiheke Refugee Camp
On the way, we spotted a refugee camp deep into the inland of Rwanda. This refugee camp was called Nyabiheke and it was quite sizable. DR Congo refugees have been brought this much deep into the inland of Rwanda in order to avoid possible disruption into the Rwandan society when the border conflicts worsen.

When we arrived at the village, a group of 35 predominantly women were waiting for us on a grass field, nearby a small church under construction. As usual, there was a small table and five chairs where we were expected to sit. After I explained to them about the products we offer and training we provide, I asked them how else we can serve them better. They appreciated the school fee loans that we currently offer and were excited about mHose mobile banking platform. I also explained about solar lamp loans and we received their clapping of welcoming the product. Also, they showed a strong interest in agricultural loans, particularly the feature of not having to make payment until the harvest is completed. A member prayed for the meeting and there were several Muslim ladies who were covering their hair. A mosque was noticed nearby but they chose to meet in front of a small new church being built.

Jean Baptist shared his testimony in 2009 when I first visited Gicumbi EBU to which he belongs. How he first entered into the village without knowing anyone, how he listened to a lady who was weeping because she was rebuked by Muslim leaders for her attending her Christian friend's wedding, how she appreciated Jean Baptist's compassion, how she invited him to the village and her home to collect her friends and how the group started growing. Today, several clients stood up and openly expressed their appreciation for Jean Baptist's humble, compassionate and considerate services. They also proudly shared their transformation stories. How they were able to bring the power to their houses. How they were able to send their children to secondary schools. How they were able to feed their children with milk. How they have been able to build their small homes. Of course, they have achieved all these economic transformation after they have paid back all principals and interests. Their stories always touch my heart. I had a sigh of relief and murmured. "Our endeavors have not gone wasted and God's grace has been apparent to them."
Jean Baptist with his clients

Clients listening

A client asking questions

A small new church under construction

Children are always curious...

We appreciated their being UOB clients and shook hands with all of them. Many children gathered around and listened to their stories as well. I am sure they have felt the same way as their parents. We praised the Lord who has shed the light of life to this village and many have come to know God through the service of love that has been lived out, not just talked about.

I ended up driving almost seven hours today. Tired as I may have been, but the joy my heart has been filled with was far greater than the fatigue. Our God is an awesome God! I praise Him with all my heart! - Jeffrey

Monday, January 6, 2014

Joyce's Chicken Project in Senegal through Peace Corps...

Riana from Colorado, Ibu, a farmer, Joyce and Kristin
Our daughter Joyce has been serving in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer for the past one and half years. Based in Thies, she has been involved in teaching English at American Corner of the Cultural Center, helping a jewelry distributor in marketing, project design and administration and assisting a farmer who is a well respected community leader.

She is scheduled to finish her tenure in Senegal in May. Prior to her departure, she is working on her last project. This project is to build a chicken farm that will help raise up to 500 chickens. This project will  be funded as a partnership program where the community raises 30% and Peace Corps supports the balance. The Peace Corps portion will have to be raised through support from individuals and organizations that share the purpose and intent of this project. The amount that needs to be raised is approximately $5,000.

If you want to participate in assisting a Senegalese agricultural community, or if you know someone who may be interested in this type of project, here is the opportunity. The link to make your donation is included herein below.

The following is the snapshot summary of this project which Joyce has prepared:.

Since the 2005 closure of borders to imported chickens due to the outbreak of avian flu, there has been a severe market deficiency in adequately meeting the demand for poultry in Senegal. The main objective of this project is thus to address this gap by producing poultry, improving income generation as well as food security for the community. Another desired outcome of the project is to improve soil quality and crop production at the project site as well as among other agricultural producers in the community by using the chicken manure as a fertilizer. 

The last objective is to promote environmental education based on the type of chicken coop being built. In collaboration with the French organization La Voute Nubienne, the project will demonstrate the positive potential of sustainable architecture with natural, locally-sourced and lower-cost materials. This type of structure, furthermore, renders a temperature opposite of what's happening outside; when it's hot outside, it is cooler indoors and vice versa. As chickens do not sweat and expend much energy regulating their body temperatures, this unique feature of the structure is likely to lead to improved poultry production, approximately 15% larger chickens. 

The grant primarily will be used to purchase equipment and build the production facility, while the community's contribution is predominantly through brickmaking and labor to construct the coop, as well as maintaining the facilities once poultry production has begun. We forecast that the impact of the project will be to provide the participants a functional and sustainable revenue-generating activity through which they are able to respond directly to a market demand within their community.

Also, Kristin and I have recently visited Joyce in Senegal over Christmas and I have posted a blog. To read this blog, please click here.

Thank you for your interest in and support for this project. May God bless you richly. - Jeffrey

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rwanda's Education System...

Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in Africa. At least by the number.

But, Rwanda is not one of the countries that are self-pity on themselves. Rwanda is determined and resolved not only to overcome the poverty but also to transform itself to be a thriving nation.

There are many examples and evidences: Green revolution in agriculture, National Dialogue for transparency on the government's governance, Umuganda (community work) for boosting team spirit and cooperation, forgiveness and reconciliation between the genocide perpetrators and victims, fight against corruption, clean environment even to the unpaved rural areas, affordable health insurance coverage for more than 85% of the entire population, domestic safety and security throughout the country, remarkable improvement in Doing Business Ranking compiled by the World Bank, and the list goes on.

One the things that make Rwanda different from other developing countries is its education system.

Rwanda had implemented the 9-year basic education for all children until 2012. When the current President Paul Kagame was running for re-election, he promised the 12-year basic education. And it has been being implemented here and there. Obviously there are challenges for full implementation, but it was not just an empty promise, but a promise to be delivered.

Rwanda has many boarding schools. Rwanda children are sent to boarding schools from their early childhood. Obviously, our Western thinking would point out the lack of parental love when they are young, but many parents are just too busy working on rebuilding the nation and instead of leaving their children with the housemaids, they have preferred to send them to boarding schools. Boarding schools are scattered around the nation and they assign the students based on random lottery.

Once children finish the primary schools, they all take the national exam. Based on their performance, they may be selected to go the public secondary schools on government scholarship. They are also boarding schools. This percentage seems pretty low, estimated at 10-20%. So some who are not selected but can afford choose to go to private schools on their own.

What about those who are not smart enough to be selected by the government and who cannot afford to go to the private schools? You may ask.

Well, it is an excellent point. There are many who cannot afford. True. That is why there are Nine Year Basic Education schools, now transitioning to 12-year Basic Education schools. They are all over the country and their school curricula are the same as the secondary schools. Their tuition is free and they can go to schools nearby, without having to go to the boarding schools. After they have completed Secondary 3, they can take exams to advance to the government's public secondary schools. So it is the second chance provided for all students who were not smart enough and could not afford to go to private schools.

The government is asking the families who are not sending their children why they are not attending the schools. That is a commitment I have to admire the Rwandan government for.

Me, John, David, Kristin, Chantia and Sarah
Kristin and I have been privileged to be part of providing education for four children for the past three years. Here is a brief profile of who they are and where they are.

  • David (22) have finished his secondary school and has taken the national exam. Based on the exam result, he will decide what to do next. His specialization is MCE or Mathematics, Computer and Economics. 
  • John (21) will resume the Secondary 6 (S 6 or 12th grade equivalent) in January, this month and actually tomorrow, Monday. He had to skip one year because of physical illness but is now ready to resume. He is focusing on Computer Science.
  • Sarah (19) has completed S 4 and will move up to S 5 this month. Sarah performed well at national exam after primary school and was selected by the government to attend the public secondary school. Her specialization is PCB or Physics, Chemistry and Biology. She wants to be a medical doctor and stays on course.
  • Chantia (17) has completed S 2 and will start her S 3 this month. She was also one of those who were selected by the government to attend the public secondary school. She does not have to choose the specialization yet, but she is pursuing to be an accountant. Chantia has been sponsored by a friend of Kristin's.

Rwanda is lacking natural resources that are abundant in certain countries. It may look unfortunate for Rwanda. But it is a blessing in disguise. It is the very right reason for Rwanda to try to build a knowledge-based economy. Towards this audacious goal, Rwanda has had to invest in education.

I admit it is still a long way to go. But Rwanda is progressing continually and fast. Sooner rather than later, Rwanda will get there.

Recently, Rwanda has consolidated six public universities and formed one university, called University of Rwanda. Previous universities have become colleges for this new university. This university will be a research-focused institution. The governance body and school leadership have been filled with renowned scholars and administrators, including Westerners. That much, Rwanda is serious.

At the same time, Rwanda has been establishing and promoting TVET (Technical and Vocational Educational Training) program. These are two-year colleges where students learn vocational skills to start businesses or to seek employment. They will become strong work forces in rebuilding the nation.

Again, it is a long way to go. But I cannot deny the good feeling that I have inside that Rwanda will make it and shine like the bright sun among African nations and even in the world's developing countries. Rwanda continues to progress and I remain impressed.  - Jeffrey

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflection on 2013 for 2014...

I could have said that it was just another year... but I could not.

The year 2013 was full of events. More painful than joyful events. Nonetheless, God's grace has been sufficient.

Here are ten most significant events that have occurred in the lives of Jeffrey and Kristin in 2013, with no order of priority or significance:

1. Kristin and I celebrated the 30th wedding anniversary in 2013. It has been purely God's grace. We traveled to Panama and Ecuador for the celebration and it was a wonderful time.

2. Amanda has been discharged from her military service as Captain with US Air Force in 2013. James is also in transition to a different type of aircraft. Joyce has been kept safe and healthy in Senegal in her service through US Peace Corps. Jeffrey's father was hospitalized due to illness, but he has improved significantly. All family matters have been under God's overflowing grace.

3. Rwanda suffered from macroeconomic challenges and as a result UOB also suffered from several setbacks, including a declined loan portfolio and borrowing client base, rising PAR and write-offs, threatened operational sustainability. This challenge has kept us humble throughout the year and made us confess that God reigns.

4. As a result, UOB had to dismiss 19 staff to curtail the operating expenses. It was the first time ever Jeffrey has done anything like this in his 30 plus career. It was extremely painful and sorrowful. It could have been complicated, but God's mercy prevailed and all received it well.

5. Kristin was successful in completing the construction of Yaramba Nursery in Gicumbi. Moreover, the construction cost-overrun was relatively minimal, while the construction quality was superb based on Rwandan standard. The Gicumbi District has chosen this nursery as the exemplary case for all other nurseries to be built in the district. This project would not have been made possible without prayer and financial support from friends and partners like you. Praise the Lord!

6. UOB launched the world's first interoperable mobile banking solution in partnership with mVISA. The system has been functioning relatively well. We have experienced some glitches here and there, but we have signed up more than 130 agents and 16,000 clients since April 2013. Moreover, God has provided us with financial resources timely for the needs we have had. Jehovah Jireh!

7. Jeffrey gave a notice to the board in March to resign from UOB in February 2014. He will have served at UOB for five years and will have been a good time to pass the torch. The successor has not been identified as of YE 2013 and he has agreed to stay on through April 30th. We trust that God will send the most suitable person to continue the mission to serve the poor in Rwanda.

8. UOB was selected to be the first Opportunity International implementing member to migrate into T24 R12 model bank, and the work has begun in 2013. This migration would enable UOB to serve its clients faster with easier and more convenient services. This project is scheduled to go live on April 1st, 2014.

9. Kristin and Jeffrey both traveled quite extensively in 2013. The countries traveled to include Korea, USA, Panama, Ecuador, UAE, Jordan, Ghana, Senegal, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and S. Africa. All travels went well and we have been kept safe and healthy. We experienced God's travel mercy.

10. We have continued serving God's people through preaching and teaching regularly at UOB staff devotions, Agape Church Rwanda, Shalom Bible Study and St. Etienne Cathedral. We were also privileged to serve for His Kingdom irregularly at several other places, including Pohang Joy Church, Business As Mission Consultation, Jubilee Presbyterian Church, Logos Central Chapel.

Our life tends to center around activities. But the real significance is more in being. It is about character development. But it is not easy to describe how we have drawn closer to the Lord. Nonetheless, I trust the good Lord has worked in us in His own unique ways to continue to shape and mold us into His image until the completion will be made when He returns.

We are grateful to our God who is always good and faithful and who has held our hands as we endeavored to walk with Him throughout the year 2013. We trust that He will achieve His good, pleasing and perfect will in 2014, however it may be, and we look forward to being part of His will. Praise the Lord!

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

May the Apostle Paul's statement be our statement of confession not only towards the personal holiness but also whatever work He may bestow upon our little shoulder. May it become true!
- Jeffrey and Kristin Lee

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ministry Updates - December 2013...

Another month has passed by... another year has gone away...

The year 2013 has been a challenging year in many respects. But it has been a blessing anyway because God has taught us many lessons that we could not have learned otherwise. So we remain deeply grateful to Him who sustains us everyday, every week, every month and every year.

The following were highlights of what transpired in the month of December 2013:

  1. UOB held its quarterly board meeting in December. The board approved UOB's new strategic plan (2014-2016) and business plan for 2014 along with the budget. 
  2. UOB celebrated the grand opening of Gisozi Branch, its eleventh branch and 44th business office. Board members were able to join us in our celebration and dedication. To read more about this grand opening celebration, click here.
  3. UOB formally kicked off its T24 R12 Model Bank Migration project in December. An ACCPAC consultant for general ledger completed his work on upgrading the accounting software and Jethro team is on the ground to work on the migration. This work will continue for the next three months, with the target go-live date of April 1st, 2014.
  4. UOB was able to scale up its agricultural input loans to more than 5,000 farmers in Kirehe District so that they may not miss the planting season. In 2013, UOB has been supporting more than 15,000 farmers with the input/production loans. May they all achieve good harvest after the growing time.
  5. UOB continued the roll-out of mHose platform with now more than 16,000 clients and 130 agents signed up. Praise the Lord for His faithful guidance in this process!
  6. Jeffrey attended the board meeting of RSwitch, Rwanda's national payment switch, to review and approve the 2014 budget and strategic alliance.
  7. UOB also established a new dashboard for Transformation Activities using Spiritual and Social Performance Management (SSPM) Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
  8. UOB received a surprise grant support from OI UK, totaling GBP193,304 or USD311,219 to be received equally divided in 2013 and 2014. Indeed God provides!!!
  9. UOB submitted a proposal to GIZ EnDev program to manage EUR 4 million to be used for supporting developers of village grids and solar lighting to supply renewable energy to rural Rwandans. OI US has helped us in putting together the proposal by sending two proposal writers with a short notice. TEAM stands true. Together Everyone Achieves More.
  10. Jeffrey served God's people through teaching and preaching God's Word at Shalom Bible Study, UOB staff devotion and Agape Church Rwanda.
  11. Kristin and Jeffrey traveled to Senegal in December to visit with Joyce who has been serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. We met Joyce's business counterparts and were blessed by the work she has been doing. We were blessed by the quality time together and have come back feeling proud of her thriving under challenging circumstances. To read more about this trip, click here.
  12. Opportunity International now has a new logo. It reflects the vibrant colors of Africa and Asia where OI is primarily ministering to the poor. It also shows a mother caring for a child in addition to OI. It will take some time until it is fully implemented, but it surely looks different. To see the new logo, click here
  13. When you remember to pray for us, please pray that:
  • God will make His face shine upon UOB and the search process for UOB's new CEO will bear fruit soon;
  • UOB will stabilize and sustain its operations again soon;
  • UOB will continue to scale up the implementation of mHose program and other CSPs;
  • UOB will go through the T24 R12 model bank migration process seamlessly;
  • UOB will inject its missional DNA for client and corporate transformation into everyone at UOB;
  • Jeffrey will be able to wrap up his tenure at UOB well and discern His will for the next ministry opportunity;
  • Kristin will be able to put her nursery project into full operations from January 2014;
  • Our children will stand firm and grow mature in their faith in Jesus Christ; and
  • Our aging parents will live their remaining lives on earth gracefully and hopefully for the eternal life. 
We thank you for standing with us in our ministries in Rwanda.

Blessed New Year 2014 to you and your family!

Gratefully in His service,

Jeffrey and Kristin from Kigali, RWANDA