On Friday we held the first community meeting to give people an overview of what savings groups are and how they can be part of one. We have selected the commune (district) of Lukonga that is just at the edge of Kananga. My colleague Victorine talked to all the government leaders and local pastors, and people were invited on just a few days notice (which is typical here). I wondered whether anyone would come. I wondered what the response would be. And we prayed together that God would open the right doors and draw the right people.
About 100 women showed up, along with several community leaders and pastors. It was “standing-room-only” in the community hall. They listened attentively as Victorine shared about the importance of savings in our efforts to combat poverty. She described how often people try to do some income-generating activity like selling charcoal or flour, but they end up failing because of a crisis that eats up their capital or because of some bad decisions. But, in a savings group, women can share experiences and advise each other, and collectively make better decisions in the interest of managing their capital. And they also have a ‘safety-net’ of the group in times of crisis. Although it does not amount to large sums of money, having a solidarity fund for times of emergency is a core part of the methodology of savings groups.
Victorine (left) presents the concept of savings groups,
with the support of the local government leader (right)
We learned that in Lukonga, there was recently a scam where someone came posing as an associate of a mobile phone company and offered training in English and computers. They charged $8 for the classes, and collected fees and registrations from many people before absconding with the money and closing up shop. So, local people and government officials are wary of outsiders coming in and claiming to offer a service. We emphasized that we are not planning to keep people’s savings, but are teaching and empowering them to manage their own funds. Congolese people are often wary of each other, especially when it comes to money. In a poor environment like Congo, some people are not afraid to push others out of the way in order to get a little bit ahead.
The women are excited, and eager to get started. Now, the big challenge is keeping up with that enthusiasm! We have wanted to start slow, since this is still new and we know there are ‘kinks’ to work out. Next week Victorine will meet with the women in one of the neighborhoods to confirm the members of the initial groups and start training the first group. We are still scrambling to collect all of the materials needed – metal boxes, member pass-books, sacks for storing money, calculators, etc. Please pray for us as we jump in to this new phase!
The ‘kit’ that a savings group uses. The metal box locks,
and holds money,passbooks, and all of the supplies.