Got up to leave the house by 6:45, but had to change a flat tire first – one of the ones that went flat on our trip to Tete. Still got away before 7:00. Went to Lars’ house in Chimoio, picked up 4 high school students visiting from Sweden along with a local brother, and then 50km to Msika to visit a Savings Club. (The local brother promotes, organizes, and trains Savings Clubs over a wide part of central Mozambique. He is an employee of Alfalit, (http://english.alfalit.org/) an international ministry working to eliminate human suffering caused by illiteracy. Lars is also a part of Alfalit.)
The Savings Clubs are locally promoted, organized, and operated. They promote self-reliance and independence within the cultural context of community life. They are usually composed of women, many of whom are widows, although some groups allow men to participate. The men usually do not want to participate – they are not focused or disciplined enough to stay with it.
When the group is formed, the women each deposit with the group whatever money they can afford to put into savings. They elect a president, a secretary, a treasurer and two controllers. They money goes into a metal box with three padlocks. The treasurer and controllers each have a key to one lock. The treasurer keeps the box. The secretary keeps the records. The controllers and treasurer together add or remove money from the box at the weekly meetings.
The group meets each week and each person adds money to her account as able. Anyone in the group who needs a loan can borrow from the saved money. (The loan can be for any reason – business, death in the family, sickness, repair of the house, or anything else.) The loan comes due in six months, with 10% interest. If they cannot repay when due, they have one month’s grace. Because of social pressure, there is virtually no chance of default. After one year one can take her money out and leave the group, but seldom would someone want to leave.
Each group is community-based. To be admitted to the group a person must be voted on and accepted by the group as being of good repute, diligent and honorable. Some groups require that a person be recommended by her church; some do not have that requirement.
When the groups meet each week, they also have literacy classes, with teachers provided by the government. With literacy among Mozambiquan women at about 35%, this is a welcomed opportunity for the women. The group teaches money management skills, and literacy provides peer support, and opens opportunities (especially for the widows) that they would never have otherwise. (Literacy alone opens new worlds for these women.)
The group we visited has been in operation for two years. These women were among the poorest in their community when each of them joined the group, but this year, from their savings, they bought building materials, hired masons and carpenters, and built themselves a nice building to meet in (about 20′ x 40′). They share the building with the community as a community center.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson they learn is self-reliance (within the African context of community – American individualism is frowned upon). They come to the group with only pennies to their names and no hope of a better life, and within a couple of years have learned that by putting their resources together they can better themselves and the lives of their families. They gain confidence and hope and give the glory to God.