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Agnes: an inspiration from Masindi, Uganda
Posted by on Apr 11, 2016
In my first 2 months in Uganda, I’ve met some incredible borrowers. I’m preparing to highlight these inspiring stories shortly. But before I do that, I have a tangent story.
This might be a little unusual but… Agnes, my feature profile for this blog post, is not a borrower. She is a mother, sister, student, and a bad-ass woman. And the Branch Manager of the Masindi branch of Hofokam (the partner organization that I am volunteering with in Uganda as a Kiva Fellow).
I heard about Agnes from everyone before I visited Masindi, a district northwestern part of Uganda:
“Oh you’ll have so much fun in Masindi with Agnes” OR “Oh Agnes will show you a great time!”
When the hotel I stayed at in Masindi was horrible, Agnes marched into the hotel office, checked me out and took me to her own house. Once we entered her humble house, she said “Oh no! I forgot – I gave my fan up to the pregnant woman next door. I’m sorry!”
That’s the kind of person she is – giving. And a really strong community member who takes care of her family and community every step of the way. And throughout the next 3 days that I spent in Masindi, everything I learned about her increased my admiration for her and left me inspired. And if she inspires you after reading this, you can click on any of these links or simply search for loans by Hofokam at kiva.org to support her organization.
Agnes is only 33 years old but Masindi is her second branch that she has managed in her career. She is single now – separated from her husband – but she is not alone. She adopted 3 kids in the last few years: Angel, 12 years old, lives with her in Masindi and Joel and Shafik, brothers, live in Kasese with her father.
The parents of all 3 of the adopted kids fell victim to HIV/AIDS and died without leaving anything behind for them. She heard about Angel from a family friend. Joel and Shafik were her sister’s kids. She financially supports all 3 of her kids, her father, her step-mother and some of her siblings.
When I asked Agnes why she does it, she says, “I love children.” It’s that simple.
Even though Angel is 12 years old, she is only in P3 (equivalent to our 3rd grade). Her parents were battling HIV and never enrolled her on time. When Agnes took her in though, she made sure that Angel was going to get a good education and progress through the grades as fast as possible. Angel has been living with Agnes for the last 2 years and you can tell that they both have gotten really close. Angel calls her “mama” and Agnes treats her as her own kid.
After Agnes took the two boys in, she had them both tested for HIV. They were both negative. You can hear and see the sigh of relief from Agnes when she tells me this.
“How about Angel? Has she been tested?”
This time, I can feel the fear and anxiousness in Agnes’ voice. She says she will get Angel tested soon but she is nervous.
Agnes with Angel at her house in Masindi, Uganda
Children aren’t her only passion. Agnes values education, entrepreneurship and independence. She originally wanted to be a lawyer, she says. “Actually, originally originally, I wanted to be a doctor but then I discovered that I really hated needles” she laughs. In the middle of her path to becoming a lawyer, her mother passed away. She was in S5 (or 11th grade) when she had to give up thinking about a university and earn money to take care of her family. So she started working at a retail shop and saved, saved, and saved.
When she finally had enough saved, she pursued instead a 2 year diploma program in Business and Accounting. It was a shorter time frame and she could definitely afford it with what she saved. She then interviewed for Hofokam on campus, became a loan officer at the head branch in Fort Portal. In 3 years, she quickly moved up to Internal Audit officer and then in another 3 years, became the branch manager of Bundibugyo. 3 years ago, when the Masindi branch needed a manager to lower the high default rate they were experiencing, Agnes was called to help.
She manages 15 people now and a portfolio of $1.6 billion Ugandan Shillings. Her branch currently works with over 1200 borrowers. Personally, she financially takes care of her 3 adopted kids, her father and her step-mother.
In addition to ALL of this, she takes classes on weekends in Kampala to become a CPA. She leaves every Friday evening from Masindi to Kampala (a 3 hour journey) and comes back on Sunday.
Whew – exhausting isn’t it? But what I found the most inspiring about Agnes is that her energy is infectious. You can hear her laughter constantly. It seems like she is in 5 places at once. She took me out dancing while we are in Masindi and showed me some of the local dance moves :)
You don’t have to be rich or well-off to help others and live a life that inspires and encourages others. Agnes is the best example of that.