Savings groups are transforming lives
With support from Project Concern Internationals GROW program, the Empowerment of Non-State Actors (European Union) and Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Agriculture, HPP have been able to start up 98 savings groups with more than 1100 members.
Savings groups work through fixed contributions of between UD$1-5 per week. Members are able to borrow small amounts from the group to start their own income generation activities, to solve urgent lack of cash in the family or to improve their homestead. Members pay back the money under fair conditions. The groups are encouraged to open bank accounts to safeguard their savings. Members are also advised to develop garden farms, agro-processing, laundries and tuck shops, bakeries and catering businesses, dress-making and knitting projects, hair styling businesses, growing flowers for sale, performing as a dance troop, paper recycling and more. About 52 back yard gardens have been developed as they also help on food security and12 groups started income generating activities and 83 families starting during 2015 alone, which was a good improvement. The groups saved US$14, 000 and members borrowed and paid back up to 50% of the funds.
The HPP staffs encourage local poor and vulnerable women to be part of the development of savings groups in the communities. Most of the groups have between 10-15 members where some include men, and there is some where members consist of only men. The groups have a flat structure where all women learn from taking turns to lead the meetings and make decisions on savings, loans and then actions are taken in the meetings and in agreement of all. Each Child Aid Area Leader is responsible for 5-10 groups and trains the groups in weekly meetings during the first half year. Women learn the art of saving, managing money and being able to collectively and strategically think of better investment opportunities relative to own financial resources. Local Enterprise Authority, various banks and National Food Technology Research Centre have provided trainings. Some of the group members have taken literacy classes.
All saving groups have a social agenda which is discussed at each weekly meeting. So the members also benefit from these trainings. Members or visitors give presentations on child health, positive parenting, sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV, gender based violence and much more. Then the members discuss the subjects, the groups had 3658 health topics during 2015 alone. Therefore, members discuss their family issues and make common plans to take action on them. The women support each other tremendously. HPP assists with knowledge on referral points. The HPP area leaders play an important role to visit the homes and facilitate the family to stick together on the issues.
The Tselakgopo Midterm Review Report 2014 of the impact for the women of the program reveals that the greatest result that has been achieved so far is the building and strengthening of social capital especially among women and girls. The process through training, awareness, and providing opportunities for exposure at community level, is empowering women in decision making, strengthening their self-esteem, ability to speaking out and breaking down negative social-cultural practices that often discriminates and disadvantage women.
Savings groups serve as a social and economical safety net, as members at any time can take small loans for emergencies, school fees and house repairs. This combination of women’s increased social and economic independence have greatly changed the lives of most members and helped them make their way out of domestic violence, poverty, low self-esteem and low status in the community. They are also having big dreams about their future. (“My dream together with the other group members is to see ourselves in 2016 being somewhere at the top. I want to drive my own car which I bought through the help of my savings group”) Depending on the weekly amount of contribution, the financial returns from savings groups are slow and take time given the amount of individual savings. Therefore, HPP also assists groups of women to apply for grants for equipment and production inputs from Department of Gender Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture. Some groups also bid for government tenders and this has yielded good results. HPP will seek to strengthen people’s business skills.