Today was my last day at WEECE, so I figured this would be a good time to write more about what the organization does, and what we did during our 3 weeks there.
WEECE stands for Women’s Education and Economic Centre. It was started over 10 years ago by a woman named Valeria Mrema (Mama Mrema to us). After a career with the local Catholic Diocese, she decided she wanted to help women in the area to become more independent and self-sufficient. There are 4 parts of WEECE: VICOBA, SACCOS, WEECE School, and the Nganjoni Centre.
VICOBA (Village Community Bank) is a small scale organization that gives microloans to women to start up a small business. It is similar to a very small credit union. Each VICOBA chapter is made up of 30 women, each part of a smaller group of 5. Each person in the group of 5 is responsible for the other, and is held to the debt of each person in the group. This ensures that a majority of the loans are repaid as the 5 women are usually friends before joining VICOBA and want to see each other succeed, as well as maintain good standing within VICOBA. The microloans are usually $50 to $100, and can, I think, go up to $200.
I don’t know much about SACCOS, but there are many throughout Tanzania. These are larger scale credit unions, and once women in VICOBA have a business that is doing well, they can apply to loans through SACCOS.
Nganjoni Centre is a new venture of Mama Mrema’s. Nganjoni is a village over an hour away from Moshi, and Mama, with the help of a group from Germany has built a school there, planted crops for the students, and is now building a health center.
Finally, there is the WEECE School, where I spent my 3 weeks. WEECE provides a 2-year program for young women (and some men) that have not, or do not have the opportunity to attend secondary school. The students are between the ages of 14 and 25, and attend WEECE School to learn computers, English, Math, Social Studies, Sewing, and other items that could be helpful to them in the future.
Right now at WEECE there are 14 students. The first year students are Mary, Noella, Theresia (Teddy), Theodora, Metheline, and Fatuma. The second year students are Aisha, Ellie, Dorothea, Monica, Mussa (our lone boy), Blandina, Neema (Mussa’s Sister), and Jenipher. They are assisted by a small staff. Johanna runs the office, Jenny teaches computers and sewing, Mama Aurelia teaches sewing, Mama Dominica runs the small shop out front, and Baba John Paul teaches English.
We fell in love with all of these women (And Mussa!) during our three weeks with them. It took them a little while to warm up to us, but by our last week, we were like a family.
Each day started out with morning prayers where the girls would sing songs, and pray the Hail Mary and Our Father. The music was beautiful! If you revisit this blog in a couple weeks, I’ll have a link to a video of them singing.
From 8:30 – 10:00 am each day, we worked on computers. This proved to be a challenge as we only had 6 laptops for 14 students. With 2-3 students per laptop, lessons went slowly. Chris, one of my fellow CCS volunteers worked with the 1st year students on Microsoft Publisher. Chris is an artist, so creating brochures and formatting came easy to her. The girls worked on a brochure for the Nganjoni Center during the first 2 weeks.
Marcia (another CCS volunteer) and I worked with the 2nd year students and the WEECE store to teach both the girls and Mama Dominica how to use excel for budgeting, inventory counts, purchases, sales, profits, clothing costs, etc. Since many of these girls may end up having their own small businesses in the future, it was very beneficial to them to learn how to track what the buy and sell . While we had the girls create their own spreadsheets to learn the business topics, I also created an easy to use template that Johanna, Mama Dominica, and the girls can use for the WEECE store.
By our third week, we decided to drop Excel and Publisher as none of the girls really knew how to type. We found some old typewriter booklets that the girls could use for the computer. With more confidence in typing, we felt the girls would be more efficient and confident in using Microsoft Suite products. With only six computers, we developed a staggered schedule in which some girls would sew or work with us on English speaking while the others typed. We made typing fun by holding competitions on speed/errors, and we made speaking English fun by recording a video of each student telling about themselves.
After computer lessons, Mel, an Aussie volunteer who I will be climbing Kili with, led Phys Ed. Type activities. She is a Health/PE teacher back in Australia, so had plenty of fun activities to encourage the girls and Mussa to let loose. Activities included learning songs/dances, and playing tag. By far, the girls’ favorite was the Macarena (see video soon!)
For the remainder of the morning, Chris taught art to the girls. Our thought was to expand the girls’ creativity in order for them to use their new skills to someday make a profit. Chris worked with the girls on drawing and necklace making. The necklaces were super cute, made using braided fabric scraps and a fabric lined bottle cap. These were free to make, so any necklaces sold would be pure profit. During this time, Marcia and I worked with Mama Mrema on emails, and with Johanna and Mama Dominica on business skills.
I feel that our time at WEECE was very well spent, and that we made at least a small impact on all of the girls there. There is so much more I wish I could do for the girls and the organization, but 3 weeks is not much time. Luckily, there is an organization that was started by a former WEECE volunteer called “Friends of WEECE.” The group brings together former volunteers to support WEECE from abroad. More than anything, I hope to somehow stay in touch with the girls. While all of the girls have been given a second chance on education, I think many of them will need the encouragement to continue following their dreams.
Our last day at WEECE was a tough one. So hard to say goodbye to so many wonderful people. To our surprise, Mama Mrema, the staff, and the students threw a going away party for us. We were treated with tea and chipati, kind words, skirts made by Mama Dominica, and a performance of 4 or 5 songs wishing us well. When leaving for the day, we got plenty of hugs, and a few tears. The girls would not even let me walk to the van…they carried me!
I know I have already thanked many of you who are reading this blog, but once again, I am so grateful for both your financial support for this experience as well as your words of encouragement. I never imagined I would have an opportunity to do something like this, and it was more than I thought it could be. THANK YOU!!!