Envest Finances School in Uganda – by Sarah Lesar

In September, I had the privilege to do my very first travel through Uganda and Kenya with my colleagues Annette Ecila and Elizabeth Rodriguez. 

Elizabeth Rodriguez, Sarah Lesar and Annette Ecila at the equator marker en route to Mateete SACCO

I’ve been with Envest for over four years, so I was beyond excited to finally meet in person with our partner microfinance institutions (MFIs) that I only knew from Zoom calls. The trip also gave us time to bond as colleagues, which is appreciated when you work from home as we do. In two weeks, we visited all four of Envest’s partner MFIs in Uganda, two partner MFIs in Kenya, and one potential partner in Kenya. It was an unforgettable whirlwind of a work trip where we witnessed first-hand the difference made by the financing provided by Envest to local MFIs.

After arriving in Kampala, Uganda and adjusting to the time change, we embarked on the first item on our agenda – a visit to Mateete Savings and Credit Society (Mateete). Mateete provides much needed credit in the Sembabule District of central Uganda. The visit took place in a town called Kinoni which straddles the main highway in Uganda. After a few hours in the car, complete with Afrobeats on the radio and a stop at the equator marker en route, we huddled inside Mateete’s Kinoni branch. Introductions and rapid-fire questions from both teams were followed by unforgettable visits to a few of Mateete’s clients. One of these clients was Apex Primary School, a nontraditional microfinance client given its need for larger loan sizes and its structure outside a traditional small business or lending group.

Representatives of Mateete SACCO, Apex Primary School and Envest posing in front of the Apex sign that reads “The sky is the limit”

Apex is a private school in Kinoni serving over 900 students. While private schools are a loaded term in the United States, they are often the only option for education in countries that lack solid public education infrastructure. We drove into the sprawling campus dotted with colorful one-story buildings, all decorated with murals. The sound of students’ joyful learning reverberated. We interviewed Aidan, the head teacher, and Idis, the vice director. I was struck by their passion for education and for building a trusting relationship between teachers and students. Later, we stopped by a class of students with disabilities. Children with disabilities do not always have access to traditional education in Uganda. It was meaningful to meet folks that are intentional about providing quality education to every student. Education has been pivotal in my life, so I was thrilled to see that these students can learn and that their community supports that journey.

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Sarah Lesar interviewing Idis Mugabe, a teacher and vice director at Apex Primary School

Apex has grown since its founding in 2017 and aims to serve 2,000 students while being a model school in the region. The school provides vital access to education, and it has worked toward this with Mateete’s support since the school’s founding. Apex used Mateete’s loans for building classrooms, purchasing vans for student transportation, and buying books and food. Since school fees are only collected at certain times of the year, loans from Mateete provide liquidity during the off seasons so Apex can keep improving the school. Apex currently has a loan of 200 million Ugandan shillings (about $50,000) from Mateete. We are encouraged by Mateete’s longstanding support of a phenomenal school and its willingness to lend to nontraditional microfinance clients. 

An Apex Primary School classroom