Friday, March 1, 2013

Julius and our Vocational work, part 2.

Last time, we told you more about Julius Wamimbi, our Vocational Development Associate, and the story of how he came to work for Fount of Mercy.  We also promised to share more about the work he does for us in our Vocational program.  Enjoy, as we go into more detail about how we work...
"Typical" orphan situations often involve the loss of parents, so children move in with their grandmother (as in this case), another relative, or neighbor. Photo by Rebecca Cippola
Julius’ work with FOM begins with women's groups who are already meeting to socialize, pray, do small projects, looking to make money, or learning a new skill.  Often these women are widowed, abandoned, or single mothers taking care of their own children, grandmothers who have taken in their grandchildren, or married women who are helping the children in their community.  Whatever the purpose that brought them together, it is soon obvious that there are overwhelming needs in the group, so ideas start circulating on how they can work together.  When these caregivers wish to learn valuable skills which can be used to start their own small businesses and make money, Fount can step in and begin helping. 
Jullius starts in a group by teaching a required “Basic Business Class” with curriculum that FOM wrote.  The group comes together and learns topics such as bookkeeping, finding a market, investing in growth, and good planning. Julius’s degree in Business Management is invaluable to helping communicate these topics and also providing the credibility that they need to trust him. After the Basic Business Class ends, he offers what we call a “Practice Project”to the group. This Practice Project is organized and started with the group’s own capital being matched by FOM. The women take the initiative to make all the decisions of the business, while Julius visits weekly to oversee their books, anticipate problems, and guide the group in making good decisions. He acts as a consultant or guide, but not as the group leader. It is vital for the group to take ownership of every decision and action. This entire process usually takes about six months. By the end of this six month time period, the group has put their knowledge from the business class into practice and is able to run their business on their own. As of fall 2012, Julius has taught five business classes and led three group practice projects. 
Recently, one group approached Julius with the desire to create a village bank. He created a system, began teaching them how to run it, helped identify leaders, and encouraged them each step of the way. Now, this group of 25 women has given over 3 million shillings ($1250.00) in loans for their members to grow their small businesses, and has saved over 4 million shillings ($1666.70) in their group savings. These are remarkable amounts of money for village women!
Once a group has finished the Basic Business Class and group Practice Project, the women and their leaders are given the option to take one of our “Vocational Skills Training Courses.” We offer classes in sewing, baking, and agriculture. These are taught by local teachers whom FOM has either trained with our own curriculum or has contracted to teach for us. Julius is in charge of organizing and overseeing these classes. He keeps track of the expenditures, sets the timetables, facilitates the contracts, keeps accountability, solves problems, and generally oversees the entire process of providing skills training courses. 
Finally, if a group has exhibited the ability to stay organized and successful over a certain amount of time, they are eligible to apply for a business-growth grant to take their business to the next level.
When you talk to Julius about his job, you can immediately tell he is driven by his heart. He believes that the way to developing and improving his country is through the combination of education and thriving business. Working with women who have an average education level of a second grader, who have faced many hardships, and who otherwise would not have the opportunity for making an income, has become his lifework.