Village Enterprise Vision Trips are transformative travel immersions that go well beyond traditional opportunities to visit East Africa. Two such trips just returned from the field. This is the first in a series of blogs that shares the perspectives of our visitors. This story comes from longtime supporter, Christine Rose, during her travels to Uganda in June.
“To set context, every year I take a “Perspective Reset” trip – partly because I want to do my part in giving back, and partly because I feel it’s healthy to step away from our stressful, wealthy, unusual Silicon Valley lifestyle and put it all back in perspective just a bit.
Why Uganda? For many years I have been involved with Village Enterprise, a microenterprise development organization supporting rural entrepreneurs in Uganda and Kenya. Village Enterprise operates a robust program, with African nationals managing all in-country operations. Interested business owners (groups of 3) must demonstrate that they meet established criteria and submit a business plan. Once approved, they receive 4 months of weekly business training, ongoing business mentoring, participation in a savings group, along with a grant of $150 USD to start their business ($100 is disbursed 2 months into the program, with the final $50 being disbursed 8 months into the program). Considering that the target audience makes less than $1.25/day, this amount is significant. The program is truly transformative for those who adopt the learning and business skills; from being able to send their children to school, to long-term improved health and living conditions. My biggest take-away is the sense of pride and ownership these entrepreneurs have – their faces light up as they share their success in improving the lives of their families.
Let me share a story of what I was so honored to experience – I will do my best to bring it to life, so you can get a sense of the significance… Who would not walk away humbled and forever changed?
A small group of us (Village Enterprise board members and supporters), were visiting from the states to see the work going on in the field. We, along with village leaders and local staff, were invited to attend a grant disbursement meeting…or rather really more of a ceremony. 30 businesses were receiving their first $100 disbursement on this day. A momentous occasion in these villagers lives!
When we arrived at the disbursement site (bamboo mats and benches under a grove of trees), we were greeted with singing, clapping, dancing, waving of palm branches, drumming and “whooping.” The joy in the air was palpable! As they “danced” us from our vehicle to our seats of honor, the grant recipients continued dancing and clapping until we joined in with them – this was their intent! We clapped and laughed and held hands as we all entered the disbursement area. All of the villagers were dressed in their finest.
What followed might sound contrived or uncomfortable – but it was NOT! It was beautiful and inspiring.
The disbursement began with local village leaders, Village Enterprise leaders, and community members each sharing words of greeting and encouragement to the business owners.
I do not recall ever hearing a more sincere and moving series of motivational vignettes. The leaders then asked that the foreign visitors also speak. Through translation, each of us shared words of encouragement and affirmation. Despite living worlds apart, we easily bridged that gap to the common ground – all of us are living and working to provide better lives for our families and children. The positive response from the crowd was overwhelming. I had been forewarned that foreign visitors in their midst would lend an air of significance to the occasion – similar to as if a dignitary attended one of our meetings. Rather than fighting any awkward emotions about that, I chose to embrace it and was thankful that being present added to the memorable nature of their day.
Once the speeches were complete, it was time to disperse the funds. Each group of three was called up one by one. They put their thumb print on an official document, and then came to the disbursement table. Our visiting team had the privilege of dispersing the funds to each group, and congratulating them on this significant milestone. Each group came with a sum of funds they had already been saving; these funds were carefully twisted into the fabric of their garments to be sure that not one shilling was lost or misplaced. These carefully saved funds were handed to the one giving the disbursement; that person placed these funds in the envelope along with the $100 disbursement; this was done so it was clear there was a partnership between the business owners and Village Enterprise. When we gave the envelope back to the business owners with the complete funds, reactions were across the board – reserved quietness, shrieks of joy, kneeling in humble appreciation, “high fiving”, whooping and hollering.
Each was authentic to who they were and had their own share of emotion. The fact that the entire savings they contributed was $2-3, and they were being granted $100 (50 times what they could save) – how amazing and life changing!
As the disbursement ceremony ended, we all danced and clapped and laughed and “shrilled” together, each of us discovering our “inner-African”, holding hands high, sharing a moment that none of us would ever forget.
It was remarkable how natural it all felt. I have never felt such unity with individuals that I had not previously known, and by every classification, we live worlds apart. All of us were partnering together, from high-tech America to rural Africa. It was a sacred moment.
Attending this disbursement was one of the most beautiful and moving experiences of my life! I do not understand why I have been gifted to witness such unique moments first-hand, but I feel both blessed and responsible to share such significance with those in my own world. These villagers in East Africa live with joy, and remind me what is important in life – our families, our children, our faith, our health, our communities. That is universal. We have much to learn from them.”