Boba bodas and cars are assembled in the compound waiting to be washed. Connie Kemirembe is supervising the workers to ensure that the vehicles are cleaned well.
Next to the washing bay is a building with clothes and handicrafts on display. The words 'Washindi Saving and Credit Society Limited' are written on the building. Some people are getting loans, while others are registering to become members.
Why she started Washindi Saving and Credit Society
Born in 1955 in Rukungiri district, Kemirembe worked with Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB) from 1973 to 2002. She continued even when Stanbic bought UCB and worked up to 2011.
"When I was still working in the bank, I used to see poor people facing a lot of challenges while accessing services like loans. They would be asked for securities that they did not have. When I retired, I immediately thought of starting a savings scheme.
I had received my savings from the National Social Security Fund, so I started my project in 2011 in Kakoba county in Mbarara district," Kemirembe says.
She adds that her husband topped up the funds and two years down the road, the Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCO) has transformed many lives in the area.
Madinah Kyamuwadde, one of the benefi ciaries, says: "When I went to one of the banks to get a sh2m loan to start a business, they asked for a collateral, which I did not have.
I tried my luck at Washindi SACCO and all that was required was for one to be a member. I borrowed sh500,000. When I repaid it, they lent me sh1.2m more."
She now owns a shop in Mbarara town, rental houses, as well as a poultry farm. Kyamuwadde saves sh20,000 per day.
Kemirembe says Washindi SACCO is a member-owned and membercontrolled institution. It targets the economically active rural and urban low and moderate-income earners.
However, convincing the residents to join the SACCO was no easy feat. "Many residents were frustrated by the way banks were treating them. It took me two months to sensitise them about the SACCO and convince them to join.
Initially, it was mostly women who heeded the call. Two years down the road, men started seeing how women where benefi ting. They also asked to be involved. Many men have now joined the SACCO," Kemirembe says.
Before giving a loan, Kemirembe asks the members about the projects they intend to start. She also teaches the members how they can use the money and how they can overcome risks.
"While I was still working in the bank, I used to see people get loans and fail to service them because they would use the money on non-developmental projects.
Their property would be seized by the banks to repay the loan. That is why I have to fi rst fi nd out what the members intend to do with the money. I also follow up on the projects to see how they are fairing," Kemirembe says.
The SACCO currently has 172 members. Kemirembe says the number increases daily as more people continue to learn about the benefi ts of the SACCO.
"I realised people's businesses were fl ourishing, but they were not saving. I asked the members to start saving sh2,000 or more depending on how much they were earning and they agreed. How much one saves determines how much they can borrow.
Sometimes we use a member's savings to gauge their ability to pay back," she says. Kemirembe introduced a vocational skills training project called Washindi Entrepreneurs in Handicrafts, where the members are taught how to make handicrafts.
They make the crafts at their homes during their free time. "I realised there was no market for the products since the members were in a rural area. I asked them to bring the crafts to my shop so that I could look for market.
I also created room at my shop where some members could sell their products," Kemirembe says. Jessica Nahamya says: "All I need is to make my crafts at home, then take them to Kemirembe's shop, where she employed a salesgirl to sell our products.
I pick the money in the evening. I do not pay Kemirembe or the salesgirl." Nahamya now has two cows and plans to continue with her education. She dropped out of school in Senior Four due to lack of school fees.
Employing the youth
Kemirembe also started a washing bay in front of Washindi SACCO to provide employment to the youth in her area. She currently employs nine boys. Everyday, they save 30% of their daily earning. The boys register how much they have saved on a daily basis in a book.
"When I started washing cars at Washindi, I did not imagine the job that many underlook would make me what I am today. I have bought two motorcycles and three acres of land where I built a house. I also have a plantation of coffee.
Any time I want money, I pick it from my account. I can also get loans from the SACCO. I want to set up a shop for my wife," Conword Lubega, a benefi ciary, says. He adds that the interest rates at the SACCO are friendly.
The SACCO also offers land purchase loans, school fees loans, commercial loans, agricultural loans, emergency loans and free saving deposits with a minimum loan of sh50,000. Kemirembe introduced development loans for those who want to open up businesses.
Marble Kateyamba started constructing a nursery school, which hit a snag until she joined Washindi SACCO. "When I joined Washindi SACCO, I borrowed some money, which helped me set up few structures.
After repaying the loan, I borrowed more money and now my school is complete. I plan to start a secondary school using a loan from Washindi SACCO," Kateyamba says.
Kemirembe wants to set up a bank. She also plans to expand Washindi SACCO to different parts of the district.
Kemirembe says many people take loans, but fail to pay back. Since they are poor, she sometimes feels pity for them and accepts the loss.