Twenty-nine Loans to Women Entrepreneurs in Uganda:  Micro-Loan Pilot Program Update

By Karen LaFrance, IWC Business Manager

We are happy to report that twenty-nine women and their families are now benefiting from micro-loans ranging from $250US to $500US in Mutundwe Village (near Kampala), Uganda.   The women’s businesses include:  farming and poultry-raising, sales of vegetables and other edibles, residential rental properties, on-the-street retail shops and cafes, a “saloon” (hair salon), vending charcoal and firewood, and sales of Mobile Money and Airtime for cell phones.

Pictured here are several Mutundwe Village program participants preparing their loan applications with organizer Abbey Ssejjuuko (third from right). Photo courtesy of Ssebunya Kizza.

Pictured here are several Mutundwe Village program participants preparing
their loan applications with organizer Abbey Ssejjuuko (third from right).
Photo courtesy of Ssebunya Kizza.

Loans go for more inventory, equipment, improving residential rental premises, providing security fencing, and purchase of young livestock and inoculations and feed for animals.   The no interest loans, with repayments terms of six months to one year, are being repaid on Saturdays through December 31, 2015.

Participants are organized into Lending Circles, also meeting on Saturdays, to learn about business and leadership issues.  They pay into a joint Lending Circle guaranty fund to cover any delinquent payments.  All borrowers have accounts at Centenary Bank.

The Africa Fund of the International Women’s Convocation (IWC) provides loan capital.  UU Funding Panels’ grants and individual contributors provide financial support for staffing in Uganda.

Mr. Abbey Ssejjuuko is the IWC/ARSF organizer.  Mr. Ssebunya Kizza is on-site program manager and I provide overall project management.  I am tasked to write final reports and recommendations for the pilot project and to evaluate the potential of next phases—like expansions or program extension on site and/or expansion to other locations— for the project.

The project is a joint effort with African Rural Schools Foundation (ARSF), a consortium of several UU churches, which owns and runs a school in Mutundwe Village (http://www.africanruralschools.org/foundation.htm).

ARSF Founder Reverend “Renee” Waun of East Suburban UU Church, Murrysville, PA and Michael Aaron Glass, a long time business planning expert, are stalwart participants in weekly SKYPE and VSee calls.  Several UU congregations have provided contributions that benefit the Pilot Project.

Rev. Waun, Mr. Glass and other volunteers travelled to Uganda this winter; while in Mutundwe Village, they visited and video-taped several women at their places of business.   IWC unveiled these videos on the IWC Global Sisters call in January 2015 and they remain available for viewing at:  https://www.intlwomensconvo.org/news/beneficiaries-of-iwcs-micro-loan-program-in-uganda-the-women-and-their-businesses/.

IWC invites participation in this project.  IWC staff and Board members listen in on the VSee calls from time to time; as they know, it is very easy to do.  Contact me at klaf40@gmail.com for
information.  Please join us!

Unitarian congregations across Transylvania have been asked to honor Mother’s Day with a special plate collection to UNOSZ, the Association of Unitarian Women in Romania, which will split the collection with IWC, directing it to the Uganda Micro Finance Project.

Experiences at the Fourth Leadership Training, Transylvania, February 2015

By Erika Hegedűs and Erika Antal

The cozy little Transylvanian town of Székelyudvarhely was the setting for the fourth leadership training session – offered by UNOSZ and IWC to Hungarian Unitarian women who are looking beyond their domestic duties, in the hope of doing something useful for their communities.

Rethinking, Reframing and the Path of an Enterprising Spirit:   Experiences at the Fourth Leadership Training, Transylvania, February 2015

Thirty women gathered on February 20, 2015 to learn about becoming effective leaders, whether in their community or workplace, facing the challenges of the 21st century, embracing new opportunities, maintaining a flexible attitude toward economic and social changes, and welcoming the path of entrepreneurship.

Unlike the first three modules of the leadership school, where the focus was more on economics, marketing, project management, and grant writing, the presentations and small group discussions at the fourth training centered on spirituality: the exploration of our own spirituality, personal growth, and the power of prayer. Insights were offered on how to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see, and on how to define your relationship with yourself, with your community, and with God.

Former Balázs scholar Rev. Szabolcs Czire talked about New Age, a religious “earthquake” that transformed the mindset of people – pointing out that “it’s not enough to hold onto what we’ve got; we have to rethink our Unitarian values and present them in a new way, to make them more desirable.” Special guest lecturer, American Linda Barnes, a student at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, presented Unitarian Universalism in the United States and spoke about her own UU community and its customs, holidays, and religious services. Doctoral candidate Rev. Enikő Ferenczi emphasized that “we should be proud of being women” and advised us on how to use the power of our faith in our everyday life.

The entrepreneurial part of the training featured entrepreneur Jenő Borzás and economist Gábor Kolumbán. The former shared his life-experiences about grabbing opportunities, developing and implementing ideas and projects, and using both failures and successes as stepping stones. Gábor Kolumbán presented a new kind of business principle, based on benefiting others. He and his wife (also an economist) opened a buffalo farm which serves the entire community.  Their employees are looked upon as part of their bigger family. As a special treat, we had the opportunity to taste cheese specialties from the farm!

Rev. Szabolcs Czire closed the session with a discussion of “reframing:” how to step out of our comfort zones in an effort to change the things that are not working anymore. Reframing also means that negative processes can be altered by looking at them from a different point of view. Reframing in itself may not always rectify a given situation, but it brings about positive motion.

Summing up, the weekend revealed that all participants found something that touched them personally – and everyone started their journey home with new plans, new hopes, and new strength. We are all grateful for the support of UNOSZ and IWC to make this happen; and to the chief organizers, UNOSZ Vice President and IWC Secretary Gizella Nagy and her colleague Kinga Győri.

We look forward to the fifth –and final – session of the trainings in October 2015. Let us hope that leadership training does not end here: we firmly believe that these sessions have an immense potential to transform our individual lives and our Unitarian communities at large.

Romanian Senator Exemplifies the Work of the Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania

By Zsófia Sztranyiczki

Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania 1On August 30, 2014, the annual meeting of the Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania (UNOSZ) brought together over 400 women across Transylvania in Szentábrahám, a tiny picturesque village close to Székelykeresztúr, Hargita county.

To me, the gathering represented a strong affirmation of the renewed strength and vitality of UNOSZ, which was palpable in many ways. Participation beyond expectation, smiles and joy on the faces, a terrific program, and the efficiency of the local organizing team made the day unforgettable for all of us present.

Romanian senator Rozália Biró, a keynote speaker at the Second Convocation and a Unitarian herself, addressed the women gathered with a passionate speech about the importance of this day: a “milestone” event in the lives of all Unitarian women of Transylvania. In her welcoming words, she praised the work of UNOSZ since the Second Convocation, which, as she pointed out, “I set as an example to follow for the women’s wing of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania.” The women’s wing was created a year ago to enhance women’s participation in politics, where they are substantially under-represented.

Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania 2 As I sat next to the senator, in the break between the welcoming messages and the keynote speech delivered by Dr. Emőke Bagdy, one of the most famous clinical psychologists from Hungary, I took the opportunity to talk to her. I thanked her for her heartwarming words and told her that I was very proud of what she said and that in some ways we, as global sisters, all contributed to the accomplishments that grew out of the Second Convocation in Transylvania.

UNOSZ is on a roller coaster ride that pumps fresh energy and enthusiasm into the organization: Global Sisters projects have been started and implemented, while the leadership school is giving women the resources, tools, and skills to enable them to become the leaders of tomorrow – leaders in their congregations, women’s associations, and communities. The International Women’s Convocation is proud to be a partner in these exciting happenings.

Come, share the flame with me:  A Dream-Come-True: The Unitarian Women’s Association of Hungary (MUNOSZ)

By Zsófia Pap Zomboriné

Unitarian Women’s Association of Hungary 1 On May 17, 2014 the Unitarian Women’s Association of Hungary (MUNOSZ) was established in Hódmezővásárhely. It was a great historic step. None of the Hungarian participants who met for the first time at the Marosvásárhely International U*U Women’s Convocation in October 2012 dreamed that it would come true in such a short period of time.

In the spring of 2013 we organized a meeting in Budapest at the Béla Bartók Unitarian Church for Hungarian Unitarian women to meet, share what we have learned at the Second International Convocation, and to start conversations about our future plans – in other words, to carry on the flame we received in Marosvásárhely. At the initial meeting in Budapest, the participants welcomed the idea of establishing a national association as a little sister of UNOSZ (Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania), in which all the Unitarian women’s association of Hungary would take part.

In August 2013, at the second gathering in Magyarkút, most of the women asked for the establishment of the Unitarian Women’s Association of Hungary. The process was supported by UNOSZ, namely Klára Asztalos, Csilla Dimény and Gizella Nagy and of course by International Women’s Convocation (IWC), represented at the Magyarkút gathering by Zsófia Sztranyiczki, Executive Director.

All three gatherings had keynote speakers on topics such as mental health, church history, and the importance of religion and family and values of society. We sang together and did physical exercises together. But, most importantly, we thought together: we shared our good practices in our churches to help each other and strengthen our communities.

Unitarian Women’s Association of Hungary 2In Hódmezővásárhely, the association was established and the leaders elected (Tünde Kiss, Erika Léta, Julianna Sigmund, Lídia Szőke, Mariann Bohrné Szűcs and Ilona Szentiványi). The delegates also agreed on membership and fees, and adopted the founding document of the Association. The first step was taken. Now is the time to work together, act together, and change together. God bless us in this endeavor!