I write from Moyo, West Nile in Northern Uganda where I was fortunate to meet with South Sudanese refugees who are re-building their livelihoods through the support of World Vision savings groups, accessing small loans from VisionFund Uganda.
It’s been more than 20 years since I first came to Uganda as a student with a group from my University. We worked together with a rural church that had a vision that vulnerable children in their village could get a good primary education. As we worked together with the church members to build the classrooms, I was inspired by their commitment and love and determined that I wanted to commit my working life to this type of work.
So over 20 years later I am witnessing transformation amongst men and women who are affected by the South Sudanese refugee crisis. Instead of classrooms, my work supports projects that are enabling people who want to build small businesses to increase their incomes. I am now working with VisionFund, the microfinance subsidiary of World Vision working with a team to acquire funding for this work and many other projects around the world that enable people living in challenging circumstances to build a livelihood to care for their family.
The project I was privileged to visit was our Refugee Microfinance work in Uganda where we offer financial services to vulnerable refugee and host communities. VisionFund Uganda is a pioneer in this remote part of Uganda in offering financial services to refugees and opened its first branch in West Nile in May 2019 in Moyo, with plans for 3 more branches in the region in 2020.
It offers traditional group and individual loans for the host population. In addition, VisionFund Uganda is piloting savings group linkage loans to refugees. These loans are to the group, into their cashbox, rather than to 30 individuals within the group and are managed within the group’s existing processes and structure. This reduces the administrative burden and paperwork for VisionFund to process, therefore making such smaller loans to vulnerable populations more cost efficient. At the same time, the group keeps following their savings group procedures which they have come to trust.
VisionFund Uganda has an excellent committed team in Moyo with a mix of Ugandan and South Sudanese refugee staff, serving both host and refugee communities. VisionFund’s South Sudanese staff are all refugees themselves and live and work in the communities they are support and intimately know and can identify with the problems that the groups they serve face. The Savings Linkage loan clearly integrates VisionFund’s lending with World Vision and other NGO’s savings groups making it possible to reach some of the most vulnerable people in Uganda.
In the short space of time since she accessed funds from the VisionFund loan, one lady in a refugee group who fled conflict South Sudan in 2017, had bought a sewing machine, won a contract to produce school uniforms for the local school and was now employing another lady living with a disability. She, like the many group members I met, reported significant benefits such as being able to build a more permanent home, send their children to school and properly clothe their children. I was so impressed by the resilience of the people I met and their commitment despite such challenging circumstances to rebuild a life for their children, until it is safe enough to go home to South Sudan.
This trip has been particularly meaningful for me. As I write, it is exactly a year since I had a heart attack. I was admitted for emergency surgery and thankfully, I have recovered well since then. As I was recovering over Christmas 2018, a friend visited and wondered if the heart attack would put an end to my days of travelling to remote places in Africa. It feels kind of fitting a year later to be sitting in Moyo, West Nile. I feel so thankful that my days of working on and seeing face to face the impact of our work are indeed not over.
Written by Rory Bruce, Global Programme Funding Director - VisionFund International