Anatoria Baregyena, 54, lost her husband when their children were still young. Although she never went to school, she had always nursed a desire to give her children the best education, but she could not afford school fees.
Baregyena is a subsistence farmer, who relies on the hoe to feed her family. When she thought her doors had been closed after losing her husband, she got wind of a SACCO known as A-Z Striders, founded by Rose Namakula. She gave it a try and enrolled as a member. Baregyena started by saving a minimum of sh5,000 a week.
With these savings, however, she still could not afford to take her children to university. When she told her last born, Gorreti Mukama, that she could not raise shI.5m every semester to pay her tuition fees at university, the girl was devastated.
"She cried for days and refused to eat. I did not know what to do," she recalls. The SACCO lent her money for her daughter's school fees at the beginning of the semester and she agreed to repay the loan in a weekly instalments of sh50,000 during the school semester.
Mukama is due to complete her course midyear this year from Makerere University Business School. For the five years that Baregyena has been in the SACCO, she has built a three-room house and bought another piece of land.
She sells her produce to raise sh60,000 so as to pay back the loan and also continue saving. A-Z Striders SACCO, located at Mbuya Parish headquarters in Kampala, has helped a number of women, some married, others single parents, in the area to grow their businesses and educate their children.
Namakula, had a vision to help women and improve their lives through saving. "They say 'kitchen' women do not have money, but experience has taught me that they are the best savers and can do a lot for themselves," says Namakula.
Born in Masaka Namakula is the daughter of Charles Mukiibi, a former secretary manager of Nassolo Growers, a defunct cooperative society in Masaka district.
She used to see her father counting money and balancing books when she was still young. "I started differentiating between debit and credit at the age of nine," Namakula says.
Her mother was part of a club that often gathered to weave baskets and mats to generate income. Namakula's background makes her appreciate the efforts of women getting together.
She trained as a secretary at Bridge Tutorial College in Masaka, before working with the Institute of Public Administration, which is now Uganda Management Institute. She joined business, providing secretarial services on Nkrumah Road.
Namakula started with a typewriter before getting to a computer. She had plans to start a stationery shop, but did not have the capital. Based on her background, she saw a need to bring women together and help them benefit from a pool of financial resources.
Namakula proposed that she and her friends meet at home in Mbuya and each contribute sh1,000 weekly. The day's collection would be given to one beneficiary, who would be chosen by a draw.
However, the money was not enough, so the group identified a banker to obtain loans. The loans became expensive to repay and the conditions were harsh.
As the group grew, the team came up with mandatory weekly subscription of sh1,000, which worked as capital. The members grew each month and met in different people's homes.
In 2007, Namakula registered the group as a SACCO with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co operatives. Before registration, the team had to be trained in financial literacy by the ministry officials and her home was the venue.
After registration, the LC1 chairman, Aston Karatunga, recommended the group for office space at the parish headquarters.
They were given space at an affordable rate and had to buy a container and set up an office thanks to the money generated from subscription.
Karatunga says the reason why the parish allowed it to give them space at its headquarters was because it had started out as a village SACCO, but ended up helping a number of people in the parish.
"With a central location, it has been able to reach out to a bigger number of women," he says. Karatunga explains that in the last SACCO audits, it was rated among the best performing SACCO in Kampala district.
The group has grown to 335 members and Namakula knows each by heart. Even though she was the initiator, Namakula feels that the members jointly own the institution.
That is why it is mandatory for every member to own shares, pay an annual subscription and to make weekly saving of a minimum of sh5,000.
The SACCO uses its funds with no help from any external microfinance institution. Because of different incomes, some members will have more shares and savings than others.
Members can deposit, withdraw or obtain loans using an in-house receipting system. Some members are outside Mbuya and, therefore, cannot make it to the offices, but send their savings through mobile money or delegate someone to deliver the money.
Business loans are at 10% interest, while savings are not subjected to any charges. After receiving annual audited accounts and balance sheets for the financial year, the group holds an annual general meeting to chat the way forward and make some decisions.
At the end of the general meeting, the members receive dividends on their shares and also interest from their savings. While some of it is take-home, part of it is ploughed back into the institution to grow their shares.
Because of this, there is a sense of communal ownership of the institution. "Members rarely default. They know that they have to save weekly or pay back a loan as agreed," she says.
As Baregyena's testimony spells, what makes this saving scheme different from others is the school fees loan, which has helped many members educate their children on meagre incomes.
Members with more than 10 shares open a maximum of two school fees savings accounts each in the name of the beneficiary.
Those who need more than two school fees accounts have had to register their partners too, who can register two more benefi ciaries under their names. The SACCO has also opened its membership to the men.
As the member saves on his account, he also contributes on school fees account for a later date when he will need it. If the money is not enough, parents can obtain a loan thrice as much as they have on their children's account.
The loan is payable in four months at a 5% interest rate. To ensure parents do not divert the money, they must present bank slips, report cards and SACCO staff pay the school fees.
Namakula chose to start the school fees loan scheme because she realised a lot of members were suffering because they had to take children to school.
"Through the school fees account, parents take children back to school without having to leave their businesses bankrupt," she says.
Rose Kaitwa, a mother of three and a resident of Naalya has been a benefi ciary of the school fees scheme. She joined in 2007 and runs a business on Nkurumah Road.