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Notes from the Field
Village Savings and Loan
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 12:10PM EST on May 29, 2013
By Sénèq Pierre-Martelly
Haiti (May 2013) – After a one hour drive on tortuous roads outside of Dame Marie, I finally reach "Nan Sapou," a commune of Grande-Anse. Coming out of the car, I am greeted by a vivacious young woman that immediately reminds me of a bee, buzzing back and forth; she can't seem to stay in place, hopping from one foot to another. You see, Alice is a very busy woman. She juggles duties as homemaker, manages her small business … all along with plans to build a house. She is also a member of one of CARE's Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA).
Today, she slows down enough to share her story with me:
Initially, I was a stay-at-home mother; I would keep the house and take care of my son. On occasion, during mango season, I would buy a few baskets and sell them in Jérémie. My partner works in a field and we struggled to put food on the table and send our son to school, let alone afford the small house we rented.
One day, I was visited by two gentlemen. They spoke to me about a program called VSLA. I admit I was skeptical. It all sounded too good to be true. But their enthusiasm was contagious, and I agreed to come to a presentation; I had nothing to lose after all.
When I went to that meeting, I was intrigued by what I learned. I decided to take a chance. I used the little money I made from my sale of mangos and bought "shares." Later, I took out a loan and I started a small business. At first I would sell candies in front of my house. Then, with my profit I would repay the loan and expand my business, to include pasta, rice and beans.
I was overjoyed when, at the end of the year, came time for the profit distribution. I never had so much money in my life! I felt confident enough to invest in something bigger.
My next project was to build a house. To maximize our savings, we left the small apartment we were renting, bought a tent and set it up on a piece of land my family owned. We lived there for a few months – all the while taking out loans to expand the business, and buying more VSLA shares. With my profits, we immediately started buying sheet metal, tarp and wood. Before we knew it, we had the foundations of a house. It isn't complete yet, we still need to replace the tarp walls with wood planks. Now, may it be buying a box of nails, or a single plank of wood, any money I made from the business that didn't go to VSLA or daily expenses is used toward completing our house.
Our neighbors were amazed. They couldn't believe how quickly we were building the house. "My goodness, Alice, what's your secret?" they would ask, "Did you come into some inheritance?" I would then go on to talk to them about VSLA and how with a little discipline they too can accomplish their goals and attain relative financial security.
VSLAs allow rural poor people, particularly women, to develop capacity and pursue economic independence. Groups of about 30 people are formed, and every week members contribute savings according to a system of shares with fixed values. Amounts saved into the group fund typically range from $0.10 - $6.00. Members then can borrow from the revolving fund at a monthly interest rate decided by the group (usually 5-10 percent) for the duration of 1 to 3 months. Loan amounts depend on the availability of funds, member demand and individual repayment capacity. At the end of an agreed period or "cycle," the accumulated savings and interest earnings are shared among the membership in proportion to the amount that each member saved throughout the cycle.
"Upon hearing my story, they all became intent on joining, and today I'm in the process of starting my own VSLA group. In fact, micro-credit institutions in the area are getting worried, "Alice tells me, with a mischievous smile. "But that's our next step, linking VSLA to formal financial institutions."
"I want VSLA to reach all corners of Haiti. It became instrumental to our progression in life. It gave us this house and is filling me with hope for tomorrow."
She concludes, "I truly believe it is the key to a better, brighter Haiti, and that's all I want for my children's future."
Posted by: BARUME BISIMWA ZIBA at 3:19AM EST on March 22, 2013
Im BARUME BISIMWA ZIBA Secourist Red -Cross in Uvira south-kivu rep democratic of congo im looking for a jobs in rdcongo .contact mail firstname.lastname@example.org tel 243 971603199 243 853195164 . fanks for your helping job .
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 12:58PM EST on January 10, 2013
Interview conducted by David Rochkind
Milton, Haiti (January 2013) – Three years ago, a massive earthquake destroyed Mireille Henry's home in Haiti, killing her mother and trapping her daughter under the rubble for five hours.
The mother of four lost everything she owned. Mireille didn't even have a spoon to feed her children, she says, or a blanket to keep them warm. She relocated to a field with her family. On the luckiest days, they got to sleep under a tree.
It's been a challenging – and chaotic – journey for Mireille, 44, since the earthquake that affected millions of Haitians and left hundreds of thousands in displacement camps. But Mireille has rebuilt her life, through the help of her community and an innovative microsavings program.
In 2011, CARE introduced a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) in Haiti and Mireille's community. The program serves the poorest of the poor – people who do not otherwise have access to the types financial services much of the world takes for granted.
Every group of 20- 30 women receives intensive financial training. And the group's members contribute a minimum of roughly $2.00 each to the group's savings fund every week. The women can borrow from the group fund to invest in small businesses, pay for seeds and fertilizer or cover important family expenses, such as school fees and doctor's visits. The loans are repaid quickly, with a low interest rate, set by the group members. The interest is then shared with everyone in the group as profit, distributed as "pay-outs."
Today, there are nearly 5,000 VSLA participants in Haiti, and 81 percent of them are women. These groups have saved a total of $179,646.00!
Mireille received three loans through the VSLA program, which she used on her children's schooling. And she plans to use her next pay-out to restart her fabric business.
Before the earthquake, Mireille purchased fabric in bulk and then resold the material at the market near her home. When the earthquake destroyed her home, she tried to salvage the fabric that was left. She stored some at the market, but it was all stolen, leaving her with nothing.
Eager to start her business again, Mireille says the VSLA has taught her how to save funds that will bring her fabric business back to life.
"Even though we don't have a lot of money, we now have a way to save," she says. "We don't have to go to a bank. I'm very proud of that, and I want to see this continue in the future."
Mireille, like many others in her community, are making strides since the tragic earthquake. Today, she lives in a small home with walls made out of tarps and a ceiling of aluminum. Her new home sits right next to the foundation of her former home.
With hope and determination, Mireille continues to participate in VSLA in order to increase her income and strengthen her financial planning skills. She also volunteers as the group's treasurer, and the group admires her strong-willed and serious nature. Mireille is responsible for keeping track of money – counting and verifying it at each weekly meeting – and for keeping the cash box safe.
Mireille says she especially enjoys showing other women, who are not part of VSLA, how much the program has helped her. She has encouraged many of these women to participate, and use it as an outlet for their voices to be heard within the community.
"I know that women can be strong leaders," she said. "I really believe that. I want to become a better leader, a stronger leader, myself."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:05AM EST on November 2, 2012
September 25— "I had no idea how to make a living, but now I know how to save money and reinvest it. I used to sell corn once a year; now it's several times. We live a better life now. My children go to school; I have no more debt at the health center; visitors get to eat at my house; we have enough cooking oil and salt; and I don't fight with my husband anymore when I want to buy a new dress. Thank you, CARE," Jacqueline, a 40-year old mother of eight, explains. Jacqueline is the president of a group of 30 that benefits from CARE's socio-economic program that advises members of poor communities on how to collectively save money and better invest it in small businesses.
Jacqueline's group lives in Mulo, a rural village of 8,500 people right outside Lubero center in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The group is mostly made up of women and they have gathered this morning to officially end the first one-year cycle of the group's existence. They sit in a circle on benches outside with the money they collectively saved presented in the open.
"The money is safe; no one steals here," the accountant tells the CARE staff that attends the meeting today. When they first came together as a group a year ago, some contributed 500 Congolese Francs (CF), which is around 50 cents, others up to 2,500 CF to a common pot. They continued with weekly contributions, which not only provided members with a savings mechanism, but allowed the group to provide members with small credits. With the interest paid, the group managed to accumulate a total of $1,341, which gets divided proportionally today.
"In the beginning, it was difficult to trust that the money won't get lost. But we all stuck to the agreement," one member says. Most of the group's members have invested in the production of a local alcoholic drink and the sale of palm oil and fish.
Through the project Pamoja, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CARE supports post-war communities in developing sustainable livelihoods. Celestine's group benefits from what is called Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), which allow very poor communities or groups to save money and invest to start small businesses. Pamoja has already established 228 such groups in Lubero and is planning to create another 122.
"I am so happy where I am today. As soon as we conclude the meeting, I will go to the school to pay for my children's fees. I don't have much to say, but thank you so much," Anastasia, 59 years old and a mother of ten, intervenes.
"It's the same for me," Dieu Donné, a 31-year old father of four, confirms. "Since we've started, our lives have changed. Our clothes are always clean because there is always soap."
Everyone agrees with a shout of ‘yes' that they will continue with the group's activities into the second cycle. Dieu Donné jumps up and says jokingly, "My wife pushes me every day to not drop out of the group and when I am travelling, she attends the meetings for me." The group giggles as Dieu Donné retakes his seat.
Also in Mulo, only about 1,640 feet away, the joy is similarly big. Through the project Ushindi, CARE works with seven vulnerable women, including survivors of sexual violence, to reintegrate into society and earn a living. As the CARE team arrives, the group is in the middle of a soap production—the first one since they have been trained in soap-making a few days ago.
"This will change our lives. It helps us to make some money and the community will benefit from soap at the same time," 25-year old single mother Imakele says. It's the first local soap production in Lubero and the group's members are proud.
Ushindi, funded by USAID through consortium lead International Medical Assistance, provides training for income generating activities to survivors of sexual violence and other vulnerable members, which helps them to develop sustainable livelihoods and regain a respectable position in their communities.
"We have also learned how to make soap. I will use what I make to send my children to school, feed them, and buy medicines," a mother of 12 affirms.
In addition to improving their lives, they will also be able to participate and pay their share in a VSLA. The seven women agree that the group has not only trained them in soap making and given them an opportunity to make a better living, but they have also gained new hope for a better future, thanks to the solidarity and encouragement they have experienced in the group.
Posted by: Andisheh Nouraee at 11:54AM EST on October 18, 2012
Today at 2:00 P.M. CT at the 2012 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, CARE President and CEO Helene Gayle will join USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and three other distinguished panelists for a discussion about the U.S.'s Feed The Future program to tackle global food insecurity.
The panel focuses on the importance of strong partnerships between governments, businesses, universities and NGOs. And the panelists will also explore the crucial role of women's empowerment in successful global food security strategy.
CARE's experience makes clear that empowering women is essential to improving food security and overall nutrition in the developing world. For example, CARE's SHOUHARDO program in Bangladesh reduced child stunting (a measure of child malnutrition) at double the rate of typical food security programs. An independent scientific analysis of SHOUHARDO found that the program's women's empowerment initiatives were the single most important factor in the program's enormous success. And this year CARE launched its Pathways program to improve the food security and long-term resiliency of women smallholder farmers and their families. Supported by the Gates Foundation, Pathways will use the success of CARE's Village Savings and Loan Associations as a platform to enable women farmers to access the skills and services they need to promote sustainable agriculture in their communities and reduce poverty and hunger.
The full day's events are being webcast live at WorldFoodPrize.org. The panel featuring Dr. Gayle begins at 2:00 P.M. CT.
While you wait for the webcast to start, watch this inspiring video on CARE's remarkable SHOUHARDO program.
Posted by: Andisheh Nouraee at 4:12PM EST on September 28, 2012
Acknowledgment of the success of our VSLAs from Melinda Gates would be very meaningful to us under any circumstances, but it was doubly so yesterday. That’s because the same event also included the African launch of CARE’s new Pathways program to improve the food security and long-term resiliency of women smallholder farmers and their families. Supported by the Gates Foundation, Pathways will use the success of VSLAs as a platform to enable women farmers to access the skills and services they need to promote sustainable agriculture in their communities and reduce poverty and hunger.
In a session following Gates’ talk, Pathways Team Leader Dr. Jemimah Njuki explained the program's aims, and discussed how Pathways is setting standards for other CARE programs. For example, the measurement tools developed by CARE for Pathways are already being used in four other CARE programs. Over five years, Pathways will help 150,000 people in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Malawi, Mali and Tanzania.
To learn more about CARE’s Pathways program, visit www.CAREPathwaysToEmpowerment.org. To find out more about the African Green Revolution Forum and efforts to boost sustainable agricultural growth in Africa, visit www.AGRForum.com.
And for a short photo blog detailing Melinda Gates' visit this week to a CARE Village Savings and Loan Association near Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, visit the Gates Foundation's Facebook page.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:41AM EST on July 13, 2012
Rain rules the lives and well-being of rural Ethiopians. Rain determines whether families will have enough to eat, be able to provide basic necessities, and be able to earn a living.
This cannot be truer than for people living in Mesela district, located in Eastern Ethiopia. Most of them practice small-scale, rain-fed agriculture. They produce their own food, but also use their farm production to generate income to purchase food. So when three consecutive rainy seasons (one in 2010 and two in 2011) were poor, the Mesela community was greatly affected. Harvests were poor, pasture and water became scarce. Livestock started to die. People coped with the situation by reducing their number of daily meals (two instead of three), selling their remaining livetsock (often their most important assets) and by engaging in petty trading. For example, a woman typically traveled to a large market located 3-4 hours walking distance from her home, purchased vegetables and small ruminants (goats or sheep), walked back another five hours to reach a smaller market to sell her purchases. Typical profit: 30 to 50 Ethiopian Birr ($1.70 - $2.80) per day, twice a week.
In order to support small-scale farmers to cope and recover from the drought, in December 2011 CARE initiated a livelihoods recovery project with funding from the Austrian Development Agency. The project includes the distribution of cereal and vegetable seeds, poultry, and small ruminants, along with agriculture training. The project reaches 5,600 small-scale farmers, and specifically women, who are the ones receiving the poultry and the small ruminants.
In order to decide who would receive the goats and sheep distributed by CARE, the Mesela community did a wealth ranking exercise where families were divided into three groups: the "poorest of the poor", the "poor" and the "better off". The community decided that the "poorest of the poor" should receive the goats distributed by CARE and that these families in turn would give the first four offspring of their goats to the families of the second group, the "poor". This practice, widely accepted and appreciated, shows the sense of solidarity existing in the Mesela community.
In addition to the provision of seeds, poultry, small ruminants and agricultural training, CARE also invited women to participate in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), a micro-credit approach developed by the organization in 1991. Their response was instantaneous.
VSLAs are self-managed and self-funded savings groups. In Ethiopia, a VSLA is typically composed of 20 members who meet regularly and contribute a certain amount of money to a pooled fund. Members can borrow money from the pool, and repay their loans with interest which is then shared among the group members. Participating in a VSLA is often the first time a woman will access credit in her life.
Wednesh, a 28 year old farmer living in Mesela, was introduced to the VSLA concept during a visit organized by CARE in February 2012 to a neighboring village. In that village, she discussed with women who have been participating in "women asset groups" for more than two years with the support of CARE. The members these groups each received three goats and were trained on the VSLA methodology. Inspired by what she saw, she came back to her village and convinced 80 women to create four VSLAs. With the support of CARE, the four groups meet every week and each member contributes 5 Birr ($0.28) to the pooled fund. One member can borrow 100 Birr ($5.64) for one month, with 10% interest. Most women contract loans to engage in petty trading to generate income. So far, Wednesh's VSLA, of which she is the chairwoman, has saved 1,400 Birr ($79).
Wednesh is a strong advocate of VSLAs. She constantly provides support for other VSLAs and walks long distances to discuss with other women to introduce them to VSLAs. She is one of the main reasons why VSLAs are so popular and efficient in her community.
Wednesh is also waiting to receive four goats from one of her neighbors. She has been classified in the second group in her community, the "poor", and has been linked with a woman who has received five goats directly from CARE. Once she receives her goats, she also wants to give their first four offspring to another member of her community.
Belaynesh, a 50 year old farmer, started to participate in a VSLA, and is now the chairwoman of her saving group. She has been identified as one of the "poorest of the poor" and will receive her five goats during the first weeks of July. While participating in her VSLA, she and her peers discussed a new trading tactic whereby they start with trading chickens (who bring a profit of 10 Birr each – $0.56) and work towards trading goats and sheep (who bring a profit of 30-50 Birr each - $1.70 - $2.80) and finally cows (who bring a profit of 200 Birr each – $11.28). Her ambition and confidence have inspired many other women to work towards achieving the same objective.
Fantanesh, a 25 year old farmer of the Mesela community, witnessed VSLA members of the CARE project meeting and saving every week. Even though she was not participating in the project, she convinced 19 women to create a VSLA and proactively reached out to CARE to ask for training on the VSLA methodology. Today, her VSLA, of which she is the secretary, has saved 1,200 Birr ($67.70). "Before the VSLA", she explains, "I always faced a shortage of money. Now, I have access to credit for my petty trading and I can do what I want. The market is now my farmland."
And what about the men in the Mesela community? How do they see VSLAs? Do they support their wives in participating in the saving groups? "Oh yes!" responds Fantanesh. "They support us at home when we meet every week. They keep the animals, they fetch water and they collect wood so we can participate in VSLAs. They are very happy because additional money is brought to the family." Thus, VSLAs elevate the status of women in their communities by demonstrating how the economic empowerment of women helps not just women, but everyone around them, including men and boys.
Wednesh, Belaynesh and Fantanesh all demonstrate leadership and solidarity in a very difficult situation. They are slowly becoming more confident and feel they can better resist shocks such as a drought. "VSLA will continue even if there is a drought" states Wednesh. "Petty trading will always be there". To this, Belaynesh adds "we have a good idea how to overcome poverty in the future". And the best part is that they are doing it together.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 9:58AM EST on May 8, 2012
Congratulations to all the students who took part in the Tableau Student Data Challenge! We were thrilled by all the high-quality dashboards that were submitted. This challenge asked students to take real data from the humanitarian organization, CARE and help provide insight and meaning. A panel of three judges: Dan Hom, Tableau Data Analyst; Robert Kosara, PhD, Visual Analytics Researcher; and CARE’s Access Africa MIS Manager, Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly carefully vetted the submissions based on 1. data analysis (50%), 2. telling a compelling story (25%), and 3. design elements/overall appeal (25%).
And now the drum rolls please…
Our first place ($1,250) goes to Team UW Pro-Track. The dashboard submission can be found in the blog article, Family Economics in Lesotho: A Tableau Data Challenge. The judges were particularly impressed by the team’s ability to present data in a meaningful, but simple and clear way. The visualization made good use of multiple types of views and interactive functionality to present a big picture of Lesotho and its residents. The team comprises three Journalism graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, Kate Prengaman, Amy Karon, and Emily Eggleston.
The second place ($750) winner goes to Alden Denny’s one-person team, Orogeny and Phylogeny. Alden’s dashboard can be found as part of the blog, Lesotho: A Landlocked Country. Our judges especially enjoyed the thoughtful introduction, study description, and interpretation of the findings. Alden is a graduate student at the University of Washington studying Marine Geology.
Last, but not least, our crowd-favorite ($500) goes to Ariel Anaya’s one-person team, Correlize, with 260 ‘likes’. Not only did Ariel score the most ‘likes’, but his view provides a well balanced and easy to understand dashboard on loan usage of the data set. Ariel is an undergraduate student studying Finance at the University of Central Florida.
In addition, we have several honorable mentions. First, we will be sending a special Tableau care package to Michael Peck of the Parachuting Khertakers. Michael was in close competition behind Correlize, with 256 ‘likes’. His dashboard uses a wide array of different visualizations, giving the reader a dynamic understanding of the local economy. Michael studies Information Systems at the Indiana University Kelly School of Business.
Other honorable mentions go to teams:
Filtrix: Connor Gray and Garrett Lambert, Information Systems and Finance studies at the University of Washington
Helen Yezeretz: Helen Yezeretz, Computer Information Technology studies at Indiana University – PUI
Inquisitive Hedgehog: April Hoy, Public Administration studies at Boise State University
Purple Team: Arturo Catellanos, Management and Information Systems studies at Florida International University
TeamKiwiFruit: Chim Lau, Economics at the University of California, San Diego
Tequlia Mockingbird: Daniel Yerelian and Sunil Shah, MBA students at Loyola Marymount University
Once again, congratulations to everyone!
Text is courtesy of Tableau Software: http://www.tableausoftware.com/public/blog/2012/04/announcing-winners-1511
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:22AM EST on April 30, 2012
By Suzanne Berman, CARE Field Coordinator
Siaya is a town twenty miles from Lake Victoria, in Western Kenya. I am in town to visit community groups that my CARE Kenya colleagues (Alex, Lucy, and Margaret) have been working with in the last six months. The first group we visit named themselves Twelve Sisters, but they are quick to tell me they have fifteen members, as they have been growing. Six months ago, these women started working together as a community savings and loans group. The women meet twice a month, and at every meeting they contribute money to the group. They are required to contribute 20 Kenyan shillings (about 30 cents) to the group's social fund, and then they can choose the amount of money they want to contribute to the group's pooled funds. The pooled funds are lumped into shares, which cost 100 Kenyan shillings (about $1.50).
At any meeting, group members can take out loans from the group's pooled funds. In April, Dada started an embroidery business. Frances improved her poultry farm. Alice paid the secondary school fees for her children. The women repay their loans a month after they take them out, along with 10% interest.
The social fund, however, is a different matter altogether. The social fund grows every month, and if one of the women has a problem, the group votes on whether or not to use their social fund to help her. Two months ago, Frances' house caught on fire, and she lost many of her possessions. Twelve Sisters voted to nearly deplete their social fund, giving Frances a way to start over. Unlike the loan system, the social fund does not need to be repaid.
Beatrice, the group's president, tells me, "this box is a painkiller…before when we had problems we had nowhere to turn, but now we have a resource." While we only spent a day together, it was clear to see that Beatrice was a force to be reckoned with. In addition to leading Twelve Sisters, Beatrice is a community educator on clean water. Trained by CARE, Beatrice goes into rural villages armed with PUR water packets. Donated by Proctor and Gamble, these packets purify 10 liters of water. The packets cost 15 Kenyan shillings (20 cents), but thanks to Proctor and Gamble, Beatrice and other health workers can distribute samples for free when they conduct community trainings.
Beatrice shows me how she demonstrates the packets. She empties the packet into a bucket of brown water that she collected from the nearby river. As she sings a song about the process, Beatrice stirs the bucket for five minutes. Then we wait. Twenty minutes later, the water is miraculously clear. Beatrice ties a white cloth around a second bucket and uses it as a filter for the sediment that floats on top of the translucent bucket. "Now it is safe," she says. I must admit, I'm impressed.
Alex and Margaret, who run CARE's water and sanitation programs in Siaya, tell me that the funding from Proctor and Gamble will last two more years, and their clients are always asking for more PUR packets. The mortality rate from water-borne diseases has dropped significantly in Siaya since CARE started the Safe Water System Project, and families are eager to use the PUR packets because the water looks and tastes better, and they see immediate improvements in their health.
Beatrice asked me what I was going to do when I got back to the United States. I explained that my job is to tell stories to members of Congress, so they will support programs like Twelve Sisters and the Clean Water Project. I hope to make good on my promise.
There are two bills in Congress right now that could help women like Beatrice and groups like the Twelve Sisters. The Microenterprise Empowerment and Job Creation Act (H.R. 2524), and the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act (H.R. 3658). Please call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask for the office of your member of Congress, orclick here to send him/her an e-mail in support of these life-saving pieces of legislation.
Posted by: Abdoul Karim Coulibaly at 4:45PM EST on April 5, 2012
CARE’s Access Africa Program and Tableau Software are partnering to launch the Tableau Student Data Challenge. The purpose of the contest is to turn data into a beautiful story-telling tool using Tableau’s data visualization tool. The contest will uses data from the Lesotho Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA). Analyzing the data, students will tell a story about the livelihood condition of people in Lesotho. The registration opened on March 30 and will close on April 11th. The four-day contest takes place from April 12-16. This is an exciting opportunity for Access Africa to make our work known throughout the world. For more details about the context please visit: http://www.tableausoftware.com/public/datachallenge.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 1:51PM EST on April 5, 2012
As I sit around a table with four members of the Tuungane Village Savings and Loans Association , I am struck by the colossal change that has taken place amongst the women in Kishishe village in just over a year. Last year when I visited CARE's Mama Amka project, designed to empower women and communities to respond to and fight sexual and gender based violence, I found a traumatized population; women led me to dark corners of their homes and whispered about the sexual violence plaguing their communities. Survivors spoke about their fear of being identified as a survivor, abandoned by their husbands and shunned by their community. While the woman in Mama Amka I found solace and strength in each other, their eyes clearly showed the isolation and trepidation they felt as they attempted to move beyond their nightmarish experiences.
This year, when I arrived in Kishishe, Kharehe, the 25 year old community counselor who I remember being so timid that she found it practically impossible to speak to me last year, grabs my hand and chats about her VSLA group while leading me to a group of women who want to share their experience in Mama Amka II. In a small but well lit one room hut I find 24 year old mother of one Kahambu; 37 year old mother of six, Chantal Kahundo; and 54 year old mother of twelve Flora. All of the women tell me they are widows and do not provide any additional information about their husbands. Flora laughs when I ask if they find being a single mother hard, saying "What man would want to take on a woman who already had children? Anyway, I am so happy now. I am independent. I make money and then decide how to spend it. My children go to school, we eat every day, and when we are sick, I can pay medical fees". The women around her giggle with glee at this new found economic independence which has opened the door to a future for themselves and their families. As one woman put it "before I was short-sighted, but now I see into the distance".
CARE's Village Savings and Loans Association approach, introduced in the second year of the Norwegian MoFA funded Mama Amka project is at the heart of this change. Survivors of sexual violence and other vulnerable members in communities in ten health areas have formed forty of these groups. Almost 70% of the 1,149 members have taken a credit to launch income generating activities. Flora, for example, took a loan of 20,000 Congolese francs (about $35 USD) and started her own local brewery; her first loan provided her with a profit of 50,000 francs (about $87 USD)in sales of banana wine. Chantal has accessed two credits of 30,000 francs (about $52 USD each), which she used to start her own restaurant. Specializing in beans, she serves between 25-30 plates a day. Kahambu and Kharehe became friends and now live together in a rented home they pay with from profits from their respective VSLA loan activities. Although it is rare for young single woman to live on their own in a village, Kahambu and Kharehe are focused on the possibilities of their future. Kharehe made over three times her loan selling corn while Kahambu used the profits from selling salted fish to buy goats, which have already produced two offspring.
The women are energetic and radiant as they speak of their success. They ooze confidence and happiness- I can't remember the last time I heard so much deep, true laughing coming from women in a village in eastern Congo. While their excitement about their new work is palpable, when asked about the sexual and gender based violence this area of the Congo has become notorious for, the women remain realistic. "There has definitely been a reduction in the frequency of rape here", Kharehe explains. "But", Chantal interjects, ‘we still have a lot to do". Woman after woman I speak with repeats that a group approach to sensitizing the community on gender quality is the most effective means to make a difference. Flora explains, "Before women who were raped were alone and didn't know where to go. Now they know to seek treatment at the health centers and to talk to the community counselor. Now we work together to get the community to change. No more should young girls not be allowed to go to school". The economic empowerment has also had an impact on the household level. As Jean-Baptiste, the projects psychologist explains "Economic empowerment valorizes the woman in the home. Once she starts profiting from her VSLA activities, she begins to independently make household decision. The husband respects and appreciates this. This has a positive impact on their relationship and on the household dynamics".
As I leave, Chantal shows me her small restaurant. As she poses for pictures, she gives her parting message "Please continue to help us fight SGBV. There is so much violence here. There is violence in the home, there is violence in their fields. Petit a petit we have made a change. But we must continue to work as a group to address the problems and find the solutions".
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:41PM EST on August 11, 2011
By Trond Skramstad
My fourth week in Mozambique was spent in the northern part of the country. We visited with financial services businesses, NGOs and VSLA groups in and around the towns of Pemba and Nampula which lie in the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula respectively. A relatively large and stretched out country—almost two times the size of California and the distance from north to south almost twice that of California’s as well—traveling around takes time here. Adding poor roads and infrastructure to the equation means that distances become multiples of what we are used to back home and as such the cultural differences and state of economic activity are also magnified. So, getting around to observe these differences is important for our project.
Pemba lies on the Indian Ocean in Cabo Delgado province which borders Tanzania to the north. It is a majority Muslim province and one of the poorest regions of the country (Mozambique is about 25% Muslim in total). Being closer to the equator it is a lot hotter than Maputo and the “cultural” differences, not to mention the distance to the capital and central administration gives it a very different feel. Combine that with a beautiful stretch of beach and a bit of a backpacker’s destination, the mix of people there is interesting indeed.
Probably four or five years old and hardly a toddler anymore, this little boy sat completely still in my arms, most of the time just resting his little head on my chest. He did not want to let go—more than 30 minutes later I finally just had to put him back down… Photo by Alessandra Valent
One of the most exciting things about life in general I think, is the opportunity to not just experience the unexpected and serendipitous, but also that which makes you feel something genuinely new and surprising—something that sets your thoughts off on a different path and ends up tweaking your view of the world and yourself just a little bit. Travelling to new places is one of the ways that affords you a chance to take these small steps into the unknown. While I am hardly a Dr. David Livingstone travelling up the Zambezi here, this trip has provided me with more than one such occasion.
Alessandra, my colleague on this project and a regular churchgoer, managed to find a place for herself to attend Sunday’s service located inside the Iris Ministries’ orphanage at the outskirts of Pemba. Having been invited to come back, she asked me to return with her to get a tour of the place and meet some of the kids. We went back later in the day and found our way into the orphanage—a first for me. The setting is special with baobab trees, notable for their enormously thick trunks and being many centuries old—dotting a gently sloping hill down towards that blue of the Indian Ocean which in the late afternoon light no painting or photograph ever can do justice. By no means a fancy place though, the kids are fed, taught, nurtured and perhaps more important than anything, regularly given a little affection and a warm human touch. There are a good number of volunteers as well as the regular employees there but of course, the adults are far outnumbered by kids. It didn’t take long after we entered the little area set aside for toddlers and babies before a little friend stood in your way, arms stretched up just looking at you and wanting to be picked up. How could you not? I can’t see how anyone goes untouched by such experiences…at least it makes you stop and think.
No, its not a Christo art installation. Samora Machel under wraps in Nampula, protected from damage from road work. Trained as a nurse, he was a socialist revolutionary leader and the first president of the country (at the age of 42) following its independence from Portugal in 1975. He was killed in a plane crash in 1986—not sure what the circumstances were around that...
In Pemba we visited with the Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) offices. The AKF is a multi-sector charity and has a fledgling microfinance operation in Cabo Delgado and is launching a VSLA type project in the area as well, and as such someone we might garner further insight about our project. Also getting a glimpse into how another, and very different NGO type operates and understanding their underlying structural differences was fascinating. Although a charitable organization with Shia Ismaili roots, AKF has a secular mission but says it is guided by the Islamic principles of consultation, solidarity with those less fortunate, self-reliance and respecting human dignity—ideals one hardly can argue with. The Imam Aga Khan is the leader of the organization and part of his family fortune is used to help fund it.
One of the things I had hoped to get out of this trip was to better understand how different charitable organizations operate and the types of people they employ—not to mention how the “business” of aid and development function at a grass roots level. The one thing I have found, whether it is a Christian orphanage, the Aga Khan or the people at CARE, at the source of the engagement there lies is a deeply shared intent of doing good, something I believe all healthy people share as part of their humanity. How one best helps out however, and which organizational types are the most effective is another and much more complicated question. I plan on getting back to that later, perhaps in one of my “weeklies” towards the end of my stay here.
One hen. Not leaving empty handed. It was given to us by a VSLA group as a “thank you” for taking the time to visit. What do I do with this thing—its alive! It would be very rude not to accept the gift…Photo Alessandra Valenti
After a few days in Pemba, we took the short flight inland to Nampula, which is the second or third largest city in Mozambique (depending on who you ask). The place has an industrious feel to it but little of the cosmopolitan flair of Maputo. Nampula is also the regional, and for some the national headquarters location for a number of NGOs. It is the site of CARE's second largest office in Mozambique, and the Natural Resources Management sector, for example is administered from here. One of the very helpful things about CARE’s significant presence in the country is that there usually is some infrastructure in place to handle the logistics and a friendly face to greet us when we arrive—indeed, seeing someone with the "CARE" logo in hand as you exit the airport terminal in a place you have never been gives you a slight sense of relief in the knowledge that you will be well taken care of when in town.
The visits in Nampula were entirely focused on microfinance and VSLAs outside the auspices of CARE and we got an opportunity to visit several VSLA type promoters and NGOs as well as microfinance and "technical support" organizations. The main purpose of these meetings were to learn more about alternative models for delivering financial services to the poor, including ways to do linkages of VSLA like groups (other NGOs also organize savings groups but the structure is often a bit different).
Some General Thoughts on Microfinance and VSLA Groups
When it comes to giving financial services to the poor, there are some significant differences in how NGOs and microfinance institutions do this, not just in Mozambique, but around the globe. There are also some big questions with regards to what the objectives should be, what realistic expectations are as well as the efficacy of such programs. In my opinion, the biggest distinction is whether to take a “savings first” or use a “credit driven” approach. Importantly, microfinance is an umbrella concept and microcredit is not synonymous with microfinance—it is just one of its dimensions as is savings, small ticket insurance and so on. While an oversimplification and not an “either or” issue, in my opinion the main question is whether the better way to help is one of the immediate impact of microcredit vs. the more gradual one of a microsavings-led approach. Both have their advantages and shortcomings. The second and very important difference in my opinion is whether microfinance is provided as part of a “bundle” of financial literacy education with other components of a broader development effort within a community or if it is done in isolation. In other words, the longer-term positive impact is likely to be broader and more lasting if microfinance is offered as part of a bigger picture effort although the measurement of the impact of the microfinance component in such “bundled” deliveries of aid become near impossible to measure. In any circumstance, in my opinion microfinance is just one of many ingredients in aid, and that if done right may contribute to economic development in a meaningful way only over longer time horizons.
One way to do microfinance is to take a credit led approach where you effectively start out by immediately putting fresh cash into the hands of the poor in the form of a loan. This is typically done after a brief training period, usually a week or less—sometimes none. While practices vary, some microcredit organizations administer a “financial literacy” test before credit is extended, probably a good idea. The main thrust behind microcredit is that it provides an immediate economic lift through the financing of cash for working capital, like money for a farmer to buy seeds for planting his crop or perhaps a woman buying a sack of beans wholesale and repackaging them into small bags for "retail" sale at the local market. Such credit also can go to funding “capital investment” like a seamstress buying her first sewing machine and thus dramatically enhancing her own productivity. Money borrowed on such credit also at times is used for tuition, school uniforms or perhaps buying medicine. This kind of use of microcredit is typically what donors like to hear about and is trumped as “how microfinance works” on many NGOs’ and microfinance institutions' websites. Often though, the actual numbers tell a somewhat different truth—indeed a lot of credible research show that a lot of microcredit is just plain old consumer lending for small items like food, a basic TV set, taking a trip to visit relatives, in some parts of Africa even paying for a little girl's circumcision (yes, that's unfortunately a fact), or perhaps paying off another loan and so on.
More than one hen. An entrepreneurial VSLA member has built her own prospering poultry business using her savings and borrowings from the group. We found this place one hour’s drive north of Nampula. Truth be told though, these success stories while great to see, are not all that common here. Photo: © 2010 Trond Skramstad/ CARE
Another microcredit “story line” is that poor people can be very good credits and that women in particular pay loans back as promised. While this is true in general, the reality that someone pays back a loan may not correlate with any significant increase in their level of prosperity but rather that if ones reputation in a tight knit community is on the line (or one is hooked on credit) the borrower will go to extraordinary lengths not to default. While there is definite evidence that microcredit can provide an economic uplift to the recipients of the loans and does help a number of people out of poverty, other studies that look more broadly and longer term at the overall economic impact (i.e. also including the non-recipients of microcredit) show that the total community may only be moderately better off. In other words, it is perhaps not quite the magic bullet some rather well know figures in the development community claim it to be. So, the exceptional stories of rags-to-riches entrepreneurial types getting their start with a $100 loan that you can find on a number of websites are just that—exceptions, and probably say more about the unique entrepreneurial talent of some people than it does of the merits of microcredit, although the latter may have been an important catalyst in the mix. Microcredit, that is if it is used for economic activity in the first place, is for the great majority just a means of basic self-employment. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t set the stage for sustainable growth either. The petty trading it often funds and the jobs it creates because of the lack of skill and available opportunities of the borrower does often not amount to much more than a “lemonade stand on steroids” and has such has little to do with true entrepreneurship. Real entrepreneurial talent and drive, as in the developed world, is not something most people are naturally endowed with but is rather something that occurs “naturally” in a few people. In the US for example which is one of the most dynamic economies around, only about one in ten people are self-employed. All this doesn’t mean to say that a credit led approach is all bad. Rather, it suggests that one may have to lower ones expectations and look very carefully at the details and try to understand how a microcredit program is structured and how it is delivered as well before deciding to get involved.
Although a bit of an “aside,” from a very important “bigger picture” perspective the history of consumer credit in the so-called developed world has generally been that your average citizen started to save first. These savings became an additional source of capital for industry that then could invest in size and employ a large number of people, a critical component in putting these economies on a path to prosperity driven by economies of scale and the very important productivity gains that were generated on the back of this. And, looking to Asia as a real life example today, places like China are growing rapidly from low levels of income based on a culture of thrift that likely is an absolutely critical component in funding the manufacturing capabilities that now has made that economy a global powerhouse. Neither VSLAs nor microcredit in their own right can provide this capital, but at least with a savings led approach as promoted in the VSLA framework, there is hope that the building block of “thrift” is put in place, eventually leading to a more significant economy wide capital deepening on a much longer but more realistic time horizon. Indeed, an ample supply of microcredit (particularly if it comes at the expense of the availability of funding to SMEs and bigger businesses) may not encourage scale but could perhaps actually encourage economic fragmentation as an unintended consequence.
The "other" model then, is a savings led approach. A savings led approach doesn’t necessarily mean that credit is not involved but rather that the guiding principle is that one learns to put aside savings first before one gets to borrow. While it may sound disingenuous and arrogant to teach people barely above subsistence the value of deferred gratification, if done on a small scale the longer term educational component from learning how to save may be more valuable than quick access to credit. While there isn't that instant impact of fresh cash into your hands, you are starting a process of teaching financial literacy and understanding that “delaying” now can result in greater “gratification” later but where “later” still is within a reasonable horizon (for the VSLA groups less than one year). To me, financial literacy involves a lot of components. Some of the more important ones, like understanding what it takes to live within ones means by doing “savings first,” provides an opportunity for a person to learn how much money they can put aside each month—and importantly, understanding what the limits are to how much they can borrow to reduce their risk of over indebtedness later. Understanding that there are meaningful rewards from routine and diligent discipline, whether it is with your money and savings over time, or something else that demand such “skills,” I believe this kind of training also can be of great value. Hence, if you skip the savings step I think there is not just a greater risk of getting into more debt than what you can handle, but perhaps more importantly, a missed opportunity for learning and personal growth.
While I by no means am an expert on aid and development, one of the most important things I have gotten out of my visits around Mozambique thus far is that I have an even greater level of conviction than before that the longer-term efficacy of development probably is much, much more dependent on the “mindware” than the “hardware” in giving aid. What I mean by “mindware” are things like education in the broadest sense of the word and work effecting attitudinal change—some as basic as helping build the self confidence and self respect of individuals and communities—another important byproduct of the VSLA approach as well. When the VSLA group methodology works as intended there is almost a year’s worth of NGO involvement and learning, and “mindware” development can go hand in hand with the practical benefits of the VSLA that can help put more food on the table.
The VSLA methodology does have its own limitations on the path to financial literacy and economic development though. Inherently, the VSLA groups are a “closed” system. i.e. the savings and borrowings as well as the learning once the NGO assistance is over, is limited to the group’s own resources. Indeed, the poverty reducing impact (and improving financial literacy and “mindware” development) can only go so far for the VSLAs. What I am very excited about with respect to the bank linkages project we are working on now is that this may perhaps be one good way of clearing a path to the next level of financial literacy while building on the very important lessons already learned by the VSLA members in their group.
The table below is taking a look at a study done of a relatively similar group format in India and shows that there is an initial uplift from implementing a VSLA type, or Self Help Group (SHG) methodology, as it often is called there. It also points out that if left to its own devices, there are clear limitations on how far such groups can take it which may not just be borne out of this study but also makes intuitive sense to me. What I am hopeful about and what would be very exciting to me indeed, is if “linkages” could become one of the components that help produce a further incremental reduction in poverty after the initial round of benefits from the “traditional” VSLA methodology have been harvested.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 1:36PM EST on August 8, 2011
Even though the fields of East Haraghe look green, the area has been gripped by a drought due to insufficient rainy seasons.
By Sandra Bulling
Green plots of land cover the lush mountains of East Haraghe in Ethiopia. Small brown huts dot the landscape, their owners busy working in the fields. Thick grey clouds hang above the peaks as high as 3,000 meters, seemingly bursting with rain any moment. On a first look, East Haraghe looks like postcard idyll, perfectly suited for agriculture that yields enough crops to sustain the farming families. On a second, the area is the scene of a severe drought. Malnutrition cases East and West Haraghe zones increased steeply in the past months. The reasons: insufficient rainy seasons, high food prices, chronic poverty and a weather phenomenon called La Nina.
The large majority of Ethiopian households, 87 percent, relies on agriculture as source of income and nutrition. A good rainy season brings relief, a failed one desperation. The past twelve months were determined by worry; the Meher rains that usually arrive from June to September in East Haraghe ceased prematurely last year. As a consequence, the complete harvest was lost. The following Belg rains which are scheduled by nature from March to May were delayed for about two months, insufficient in amount and erratic in distribution. For many farmers it was impossible to plant; and those who did are still waiting for their maize to ripen. One month ago, in June, farmer would have normally started to harvest. But instead, people have no food left in their homes. Scientists credit the insufficient rains to La Nina, a weather phenomenon that changes weather patterns and causes drier conditions in East Africa.
Maize porridge, twice a day
Kado Kaso came with her son Sabona to a government run health center in Kurf Chele district. “My son was vomiting, he had diarrhea and could not hold any of the food I fed him”, she says. Sabona was diagnosed as severely malnourished. The three year old has lost his appetite. His feet, legs and eye lids are swollen – characteristic signs of edema, a medical complication of severe malnutrition. He stares into the room, there is no energy left in the little body to play or move around. Sabona arrived one day ago and the therapeutic food provided by CARE has not regained his energy yet.
When the Belg rains began this spring, Kado started to plant barley and beans on her small land. But the rains stopped earlier and all her crops withered. “We have barely anything to eat. During normal years, we eat three meals a day. Now we are lucky if we eat twice a day,” the 30 years old mother says. She takes Sabona into her arms. “We only eat maize porridge, I cannot afford anything else.”
On the bed next to Kado sits Abdi Mahommed with his five year old daughter Milkiya. She has been here for one week, has recovered her strength and appetite. Both father and daughter will leave the center the next day. They will continue receiving weekly rations of therapeutic food, to ensure Milkiya’s condition stays stable. But Abdi has sold his ox to buy food for his family of eight. “I don’t know how to plant for the next season, I have no ox and no seeds,” he says. He is glad his daughter has regained her appetite and started playing again. “All that matters is saving my daughter’s life.”
Searching for labor
Kado’s husband has moved to the nearest town in search of work. But he is not alone. Fathers stream into the towns offering their labor – and salaries have dropped by 50 percent. “My husband now earns 10 Birr a day, in normal years he can earn 20 Birr”, says Kado. Ten Birr are USD 0.60; and that is how much a kilo of maize costs. A price, that has risen significantly over the past months. “My husband comes back every four days, giving me money to buy food. My four children and I are dependent on him, we have no other income.” She now stays with Sabona in the health center, until the little boy can eat again and reaches a stable condition.
Kado’s other children are at home, alone. Neighbors look after them, but they have no meals to share either. And the health center has run out of resources to hand out food to mothers like Kado coming to stay with their children. “CARE is now starting to provide food for the mothers in the health centers. Because if they don’t get anything to eat, they might be forced to leave or refrain from coming here with their malnourished children,” says Jundi Ahmed, CARE Ethiopia’s Emergency Nutrition Advisor.
A malnourished generation
Today, almost every tenth pregnant woman or lactating mother in East Haraghe is malnourished due to the insufficient rainy seasons. However, malnutrition is a chronic condition for many Ethiopians. Even during years with normal rainfall, the small plots owned by households in East Haraghe do not yield enough to cater for balanced and sufficient meals. Malnourishment during pregnancy determines the entire life of a child. Sons and daughters, who do not receive sufficient nutrition in the first five years of their life will not fully develop their mental and physical capabilities. “It is a chronic hunger cycle that can last for generations. Malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children and have no means to feed them with most needed vitamins, iodine and iron. Children are smaller in height than well-fed children their age, they are stunted. And it is very likely that they will also have malnourished children,” says Jundi Ahmed.
CARE started food distributions to reach 66,000 people in the zones of East and West Haraghe and Afar. Kado’s family and others in her district receive monthly rations of sorghum, vegetable oil, supplementary food such as corn-soy-blend and beans whereas pregnant mothers and lactating women get special supplementary food. But CARE also has long term development programs in the area, supporting families to overcome poverty and hunger. Through Village Savings and Loan Associations, for example, women can contract small loans to open shops and small businesses. With an additional income families can save assets that protect them in times of drought.
Drought comes in different shapes in Ethiopia. But whether in the dry areas of Borena in southern Ethiopia or the lush green mountains of East Haraghe – the pain and consequences of drought and hunger are the same throughout.
Posted by: Ahungu at 3:34AM EST on October 23, 2009
When I was "forced" to leave CARE in Tanzania in May 2006, I was somehow confused! That was a "Threat" to my survival - for you who know "SWOT". But I turned things differently. On July 1st 2009 ASMET celebrated her 3rd year supporting and created new "life" for over 450 "Vituo Vya Maendeleo Vya Jamii" - VITOVU (umbilical cord - in Kiswahili). 3/4 of the 450 VITOVU members are women and young people who had lost hope! By July 2009 all were leading assured social and economic lives - many are now supporting 3 to 5 members of their families; including assured 3 meals per day, have sponsored their children to secondry schools and all managing viable small businesses.... (more)
Posted by: CARE at 3:11PM EST on July 10, 2009
Blog by Sarah Blizzard, Development Writer, CARE
Posted by: CARE at 10:05PM EST on September 1, 2008
As the journey in Malawi came to an end, I was left both humbled and deeply impressed by the women I've met. One of the most moving things I heard on this trip was that women were encouraged by our visit, and some who haven't participated in a village savings and loan group may even be inspired to try it.
Posted by: CARE at 6:27PM EST on August 30, 2008
If I could summarize what I have seen in Kaundama village in just a word, it would be "harmony". I have met the delightful, inspiring members of the Namirazi women's association (named for a local river). I was instantly drawn to them because of their joyful singing; I thought it was just to welcome us, but they continued to sing as they walked to and from their fields, as they cooked lunch, after they ate they just clearly loved the camaraderie and companionship they have found in their savings and loan group.
The group works so well together, they have undertaken a major investment in a new business. In the next couple of months, they will start raising poultry. Each member has already committed 3,000 Malawian Kwacha (about $20) to have the coop constructed. It stands at the ready. After they have saved a total of 110,000 Kwacha ($760), they'll be ready for CARE to help them arrange the purchase and transport of the chicks, feed and other supplies to start the new venture.
Posted by: CARE at 2:38PM EST on August 28, 2008
I watched a woman named Rhoshida harvest her groundnuts – you might recognize them as peanuts – as the sun sank behind mountains south of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. It was a beautiful scene for a couple of reasons. First, the setting was spectacular. More importantly, there before me was a woman who was harvesting the fruits of her labor, part of a plentiful growing season that would feed her family throughout the year.... (more)
Posted by: CARE at 5:28PM EST on August 21, 2008
Photographer Phil Borges traveled for two weeks in May to
A village savings and loan association is a group of 10-20 members – usually women – who save small sums of money each week to create a fund from which they can access loans. The loans are used to start or expand small businesses, and are repaid with interest. With the income from interest and their individual enterprises, women are able to improve the health, education and well-being of their families.