A Participatory Party in Mozambique

Description

Laura talks about how savings and credit groups have been impacting people in Mozambique.

Well, it wasn’t a party, but it felt like one. I had been invited to an event organized by one of our savings and credit group volunteers, Pastor Rui. In the front of the room there was a paper with the letters “PCR,” the initials for “savings and credit group” in Portuguese, and the verse: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another,” Hebrews 10:25.

To see these words and to feel the energy in this meeting made me want to party. There was so much enthusiasm in the room! The leaders of the event presented some songs about PCR, which included such lyrics as “God bless PCR, God lead and guide PCR. It is for the grace of God we have PCR. God bless PCR and Africa.” To fully understand the significance of all of this, please read on.

For the past several years I have been working with Food for the Hungry Mozambique (FH-Moz) to start savings and credit associations, which are like really simple credit unions. Poor people do not have access to banks, so they do not have a way to store their savings or to borrow money. These savings and credit associations can be lifesavers, enabling the poor to access lump sums of money for small business investments, emergencies, or life cycle needs such as weddings or funerals. The group meetings can also be a great place for ministering to people’s spiritual needs.

A month before Pastor Rui’s event, the funding had ended for FH-Moz’s savings and credit program. I had been concerned about how the existing savings and credit groups would continue without the support of our staff. Would they survive without us? Would the local people show the initiative to keep this ministry going without external funding? A lot was at stake, for through FH-Moz’s program 101 savings and credit groups consisting of 1,788 low-income people had been started in four districts. I was concerned about whether these groups would be able to continue functioning after program termination.

From the beginning, FH-Moz used a highly participatory process to start these savings and credit associations. Our staff used bi-monthly training and shadowing to equip 37 community volunteers to serve as community level “experts” in the savings and credit group methodology. Hence, instead of the FH-Moz staff running the associations, the community level volunteers were trained to start, run, and manage these savings and credit associations in their communities. And when these volunteers went to their communities, they did not impose the project upon the people in a cookie-cutter fashion. Rather, a participatory process was used in which each group chose its own leaders and decided on its own policies.

Pastor Rui is one of the community level volunteers. I recently visited the first savings and credit association that was formed in Pastor Rui’s community. They were planning a celebration for August to commemorate the end of their third savings and loan cycle and distribution. The president of the association said, “August 16 is a holiday for us, and we are not going to be working that day. That is the day that savings groups entered our community and gave us life.” This savings and credit association was planning to invite people from the other savings and credit associations to celebrate and mark this day, a day which has much significance for them. The plan for the future is for this savings and credit group to split into two groups for the next cycle, meaning that the groups are multiplying on their own accord.

In another community called Tazaronda, a community level volunteer named Señor Gonde led a group of 40 members through their first savings and loan cycle in July. This group was difficult and unruly at times, but Señor Gonde led this group through their first cycle with little outside assistance. A particularly challenging part of running these groups is closing the books at the end of a savings and loan cycle. Each member’s savings and loan records must add up, the groups’ profits must be calculated, and each member’s share of those profits must be determined. A year ago, an FH-Moz staff member helped Señor Gonde with these calculations, but this year Señor Gonde and the group leaders were able to handle this on their own! The group members told me that they were eager to keep the savings and credit association going, saying, “We will continue and start our second cycle! We won’t stop now.” It was evident that Señor Gonde had done a great job in working with this group, and I left the meeting with the utmost respect for him.

Another community level volunteer has initiated his own idea. Pastor Bonde from Tambarare has organized exchange visits between the savings and credit groups in his community so that they can learn from each other. It is great to see this initiative coming from the community and the volunteers who have caught the vision of savings groups and want them to continue. They are feeling the impact of savings and credit groups in the short time they have been in operation.

But let’s get back to the “party” that I mentioned at the start of this story. The event had been organized by Pastor Rui because he wanted to create a commission to help the savings and credit groups with any problems that might arise. In the past, FH-Moz staff could do the troubleshooting for groups, but with the end of our funding, this would no longer be possible. Each savings and credit group sent their president, secretary, treasurer, and money controllers to this planning meeting. They took a vote and four people were selected to form the commission. They also discussed and resolved problems together and agreed to communicate their solutions to their groups.

The most exciting thing about this whole event was it was initiated by the volunteers and paid for by the savings and credit group members. They contributed the equivalent to a day’s wage or $2.00, and together contributed $50 to pay for the midmorning snack and lunch, which consisted of a goat, rice, and cokes. I was thrilled at the investment the groups made and what it represented. It was ALL their initiative. I was just an invitee and had NOTHING to do with the idea or planning.

These initiatives are encouraging. It gives hope to see how communities have grasped on the vision with such fervor. They are feeling the positive impact that the savings and credit groups are having on their communities and families. FH-Moz introduced this program, and it met a felt need. Through participatory training and encouragement, community members and group leaders have been able to take their groups forward on their own even when the outside program funding is ending. And as they do so, they see the savings and credit groups becoming a normal part of life in their community.

This post was written by Laura Hunter.

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