Archive | January, 2015

Amy Parker – DR Congo – Picture this

30 Jan

Picture this.

Harvest time is the only time of the year when you have a bit of spare cash. One of your children falls sick, but it is in September before the January potato harvest. You have no money to pay for medical fees. He dies.

Night falls at 6.30pm and the sun rises again at 5.30am year-round. You are in absolute darkness.

Your husband has complete control over you and your family’s life.

You had four children. Three of them died. You’re not sure what of, but they were constantly hungry. Your only surviving daughter is 15 but has never set foot into a school.  

You are bored. There’s nothing to do and no reason to work. You’ll always be poor.

You are a widow with seven children. You are completely isolated from your neighbours who view you and your family as a lost cause.

Over the last eight months we have been running a pilot project with our partners, Eben Ezer Ministry International, on the Uvira mid and high Plateau region of South Kivu, eastern DR Congo. Pamoja (meaning ‘together’ in Kiswahili), is a savings and credit programme that supports groups of 20 – 30 community members to meet regularly, save and then access small sums of money from these savings. These debts are then paid back over three months, with interest, back into the group’s cash box. After 12-months the total amount is shared out amongst members in ratio to the amount they have saved.

I spent time in September last year and last week visiting different groups and talking to members about their experiences and the above scenarios are all real-life testimonies from people I met. They describe major problems encountered by people in this isolated region.

So how is Pamoja helping?

Futina

Futina

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests. Futina, a member of the same group, spoke of how she has used a credit to buy and sell sugar and oil. With some of the profits she has bought torches and batteries so that her family now have light in the long evenings.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save to improve their children’s lives between harvests.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests.

Women from Mandeleo group in Kahololo village told me of the small but significant changes happening in their lives. As members of the saving group, they are now able to contribute money to their families’ affairs and as a result, their husbands are starting to include them in discussions and decisions about the running of their households for the first time.

Rose, a member of Tujenge group, has used credit to pay for school fees for her one remaining daughter to start primary school. She hopes that this will mean her daughter has a brighter future. Members from groups in Butumba and Gitigarawa spoke to me of finally having something to aim for. Before Pamoja, many villagers would sit idly all day long with nothing to do. Having to save every other week means group members are now actively looking for work so that they can go to meetings.

Notiya

Notiya

Cultural expectations in this region require people to be able to provide visitors with tea and food. Neighbours stopped visiting Notiya soon after her husband died as she couldn’t afford any refreshments for them. For years she has been ignored, struggling to keep her children alive. Notiya told me that being a member of her savings group has meant she is now able to receive visitors as she should. Her fellow savers have become her family, she is no longer the poor, shunned widow. She is once again a valued member of society.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families' affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families’ affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

 

Pamoja is an example of what poor communities are capable of with technical and moral support. We have six months left of the current project, and we will continue to work hard with our groups and track progress and challenges. It has made me absolutely determined to ensure that we are able to widen the programme to other communities on the Plateau, as well as staying with these original groups so that they can carry on taking charge of their own and their families’ futures.

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