|Salene Austin, Risk Analyst from Export Development Canada is based at the CARE Canada head office in Ottawa. She is responsible for proposing a strategy for cost-effective implementation of Zambia’s Village Savings and Loans programs. The Challenge
Imagine for a minute how you would manage your day-to-day without a credit card or ATM access. This is the reality facing many Zambians, as basic financial services are not available in remote villages. Furthermore, banking fees often put savings accounts out of reach. During my visit to Zambia in early August, I observed that community-based savings and loans groups are proving an effective tool in overcoming this seemingly insurmountable challenge.
Community members form savings groups, comprised of people who are in similar financial positions. Groups receive training in such areas as basic record keeping. Members elect a management committee and develop a constitution to govern the management of their savings and loans. Then members meet regularly and pool their savings. Almost immediately, loans can then be granted to group members, providing capital for very small businesses (e.g. growing and selling vegetables). As groups charge interest on loans, savings provide a means of storing wealth while also earning a return. And not only are basic financial services available, members also learn about finance (how exciting!).
My role through CARE
CARE facilitates a community-based savings and loan program in Zambia. To extend the reach of this initiative, a funding proposal is needed that can be presented to potential donors. That’s where I come in.
After completing a week of orientation in Canada, I departed for Zambia. We wasted no time and immediately visited savings groups. Meeting people with so few resources at their disposal was sometimes shocking. Many savings group members are women, who arrived at meetings barefoot, carrying their babies on their backs. They talked about how they had permission from their husbands to join the savings group, as he is the “head of the household.” Others talked about not having a reliable source of water to grow vegetables.
My personal highs, lows and lessons
One of my “highs” was meeting savings group members in the Chongwe region. With capital from loans, some members are now yielding bigger and more diverse crops. Profits from crop sales are helping improve the quality of life for members and are providing better prospects for their children.
My lowest “low” was when my two-year-old son didn’t respond to my voice on the phone. To my surprise, however, (and perhaps really my displeasure) he coped just fine while I was in Zambia over the two weeks.
I’ve learned that even the very poorest Zambians are resourceful and resilient. I also felt akin to many ladies, seeing them laugh with a friend, or as they watched their children play.
Having returned to Ottawa, I am thankful for the services I have easy access to, for abundant clean water, for my healthy children and for my husband’s respect.
%d bloggers like this: