As this week the world marks the International Teacher’s Day celebrated on 05 October, it is important to recognize some of the teacher’s development initiatives changing their lives, including Umwalimu SACCO. Umwalimu Savings and Credit Cooperative in full words, is one of the initiatives of the Government of Rwanda to enhance teachers’ socio-economic standards of living. Since its establishment in 2006 and obtaining license to operate as a financial institution in 2008, SACCO has proved to significantly scale up its members’ standards of living. The teachers’ SACCO has a variety of savings and loan products, all aimed at improving the well-being of members, especially teachers, through loans they are given and encouraging them to save. It provides teachers with access to finance through giving them loans to enable them set up small income generating projects to supplement their income. This is done by members committing to save 5 percent of their salary every month and get access to a variety of loans aiming at addressing various issues of members. Umwalimu SACCO currently has about 11 different types of loans, and everyone chooses which one to take depending on what they plan to use them for. The interest rate of the loan also depends on the type of loan the member has taken, most of which are obtained with an interest rate of 11 per cent for public teachers and 14 per cent for private teachers: Mortgage loan which facilitates the members to build their own houses, Business investment loan for a member who might be having a small income generating activity to start, Equipment loan for buying household equipments, Salary advance (13 per cent for public and 14 per cent for private), Overdraft or credit line loan which can also be acquired online, Emergency loan which is a short term loan for emergent cases, Other types of loans like solar loan, education loan, medical loan, etc Since 2008, many teachers have got loans and those loans supported them to develop in many ways. Up to now Umwalimu SACCO has granted loans to its members amounting to Frw 264 955 910 574. According to Laurence Uwambaje, the Director General of Umwalimu SACCO, these loans have facilitated teachers to achieve their financial goals, and most of them does not require having collaterals. “The main purpose of Umwalimu SACCO was to facilitate teachers’ social standards of living by giving them loans and as of today, when you look at our members’ social welfare, the actions do speak for themselves,” she said. Uwambaje also recalls that, this development did not leave the institution the same, citing that more loan uptake also developed SACCO’s services. “We started giving loan repayment period of two years, but we have now scaled up to 10 years and salary advance which was one or two years, is now four years,” she added. The teachers’ SACCO has also expanded exponentially both in assets (From 10 million to 104 billions), services and branches across the country, from 12 to 30 branches and now it is working in partnership with Umurenge SACCO so that teachers can deposit or withdraw money from a branch close to them. In addition, the Teachers Cooperative has brought to its members various technology services including the Mobile Banking Service which helps members to: Deposit, withdraw, take overdraft loans, among other services via their mobile phones. This Mobile Banking service solved the problem of time and travel expenses that members used to spend by going to deposit and withdraw money from Umwalimu SACCO branches; View all information related to their account, pay water bills and purchase electricity, airtime, TV subscriptions (Startimes, DSTV, Channel +, etc.); and Pay school fees through Urubuto Education System which Umwalimu SACCO introduced in collaboration with BK TechHouse to help parents pay for tuition fees via their mobile phones. Through this system, schools are also informed that the payment has been made without requiring the parent to bring the payment proof to the school. In the past 13 years since the inception of Umwalimu SACCO (2008 - 2021), the Teachers’ Cooperative has been increasing types of loans it provides to members based on the expressed needs of its members. This has played a significant role in the members’ social-economic development. Beneficiaries speak out A former teacher and now a dean of discipline at Groupe Scolaire Kabirizi in Ngoma district, is one of teachers whose lives have been greatly impacted by the services of Umwalimu SACCO. Diane Byukusenge today owns a Rwf4.5 Million mega drinks’ store in Ngoma district, which she says were obtained from one of her loans. “I had a business idea of using bikes, but I made a loss. However, I did not give up, I requested a three million loan from Umwalimu SACCO to open a store for selling alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in 2019,” she reiterates. She says that because of the store, she does no longer struggle to pay her three kids school fees or cover her expenses as a lady, instead of asking everything from her husband. Another educator whose life has been changed by Umwalimu SACCO services is Charles Habiyakare, 43. He is a senior four Economics and Entrepreneurship teacher at Groupe Scholaire Mbati in Kamonyi district. Habiyakare did not only acquire his development from Umwalimu SACCO, but also his education. “As I started my job while I was still a student, advance salary loan facilitated me to cover my tuition at university and I graduated with the help of SACCO’s loans,” he recalls. After graduation, he also built a house worth Rwf15 million and opened a shop of Rwf10 million, all acquired from SACCO loans. Habiyakare advises his fellow teachers that they can’t raise their standards of living without using financial institutions, notably Umwalimu SACCO. Speaking with the Director General of Umwalimu SACCO, she also revealed that the financial institution has a lot in the pipeline, mainly internet banking services and debit cards for their clients. “We are soon introducing the Umwalimu SACCO Mobile Banking App whereby our members will access the emergency loans via their mobile phones. We will also soon be employing more internet banking services as well as Debit cards to facilitate our members to access all the needed services easily,” she noted. “We are also planning to introduce remittance and money transfer services that will help the cooperative’s members to transfer money overseas. Besides, we will soon be launching online loan application services to help Umwalimu SACCO members request loans and get them without coming to our branches,” she added. The Director General of Umwalimu SACCO further encouraged members, especially teachers, to take advantage of the opportunity to have their SACCO because it is a great opportunity for teachers to develop and increase their income, and the cooperative has the potential to provide them with a variety of quality services, including various loans and saving products. In order to build members’ capacity to manage businesses acquired from loans granted by Umwalimu SACCO, the Teachers’ SACCO plans to increase members trainings in project management, so that they can learn more about how to manage their projects in a sustainable way, hence increasing their income and socio-economic development. Apart from the above-mentioned products and services, the Teachers’ SACCO has set up a Funeral Solidarity Fund to help members in the event of a tragedy such as loss of a family member in order to help the member to get cash to organize burial ceremonies, hence saving the dignity of the member in the society as well as building unity and love among those who do the teaching work. The Director General of Umwalimu SACCO Laurence Uwambaje encouraged Rwandans in general to keep supporting the Teachers’ SACCO by using Umwalimu SACCO accounts in paying for their childrens school fees via the schools’ accounts opened in Umwalimu SACCO, since the Teachers’ SACCO now works with almost all schools operating in the country, and has introduced Urubuto Education System in partnership with BK TechHouse that helps parents to pay for school fees via their mobile phones, and schools are also notified that payments have been made without requiring a parent to bring a payment proof to the school. “Schools are also encouraged to support Umwalimu SACCO by often using their accounts in the Teachers’ SACCO in terms of tuition fees payments and other banking services they need, because supporting the teachers’ SACCO is supporting teachers, and supporting teachers is also supporting the education of Rwandan children in general,” she reiterated. Ending the interview, she further thanked members of the Teachers SACCO for their continued loyalty, trust and good cooperation in the development of their Cooperative. “Let me take this opportunity to wish our members a Happy Customer Service Week that we started on 04th October and will close on 08th October 2021. This week is normally dedicated to clients and customer service improvement, therefore we pledge to our members that will continue seeking all possible solutions and devising more strategies to make their Cooperative more useful and impactful to them” she noted.