In 2011, a year after Haiti’s most devastating earthquake, Monique Lewis bought 500 baby chicks and launched her own chicken farm. Since then, this mother of three has transformed her small start-up into a booming poultry operation where she raises, processes and sells thousands of chickens each year.
After years of violent warfare, a fragile peace shrouds the beauty of the Democratic Republic of Congo – but this peace is often shattered as conflicts continue to flare up. Over 2 million Congolese women, men and children have been forced to flee across their country, and more than 400,000 have sought refuge in countries like the United States. Both here and there, World Relief is committed to walking with the Congolese people as they rebuild their lives alongside local churches. When fighting broke out in Christine’s village in eastern DR Congo, her family had no choice but to flee into an overcrowded camp. Here, food shortages threatened Christine and her five children every day. And when they finally returned home, hunger came with them. Everything they’d owned was gone.
But Christine’s hope began to grow when she joined a World Relief farmers’ association. Here, she was trained in the latest agricultural techniques and studied God’s word with other farmers. And after the sale of her first harvest, Christine’s profits changed her whole family: for the first time, they were able to eat three meals a day. Her two daughters attended school. Christine purchased a new roof to cover their home and saved up seeds for next season. After years of chaos, stability slowly returned to their lives.
“For all of these things, we praise God for his blessings,” Christine said.
Phenias and Jacques’ journey began much like Christine’s – violence forced them across the border into a refugee camp in Rwanda. Here, they raised their eight children, but the tent they lived in was not home. When they were resettled into the US by World Relief, Phenias and Jacques looked forward to living in a place of stability and opportunity – but they’d also face great difficulty. Once again, they’d leave home and adjust to a brand new language, culture and lifestyle.
After several years of living in a refugee camp and 35 hours of flights, volunteers from churches near and far welcomed this Congolese family in their own language. When they reached their new apartment, Phenias and Jacques got down on their knees and sang a song of praise to God. He had fulfilled his promises to them, and at last, they were safe. They joined a community of fellow Christians and refugees who would walk with them through the challenging transitions ahead. Now, Phenias and Jacques await the day when they can warmly welcome other refugees into their new homes.
In the US, DR Congo and beyond, World Relief works alongside the local church to provide trauma healing to survivors of war, prevent conflict, reconcile relationships and restore livelihoods. The love and justice of God have no borders – and that’s why we’re standing with the most vulnerable both here and there. To learn more about how you can welcome refugees from countries like the DR Congo, get in touch with one of our US offices.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is one of the poorest places in the world. In a country where more than 70% of the population live below the national poverty line and war has led to over 5 million deaths, hope can seem lost. But resilient Congolese women, men and children are working for hope. And Eperance Kayitesi is one of them.
A widow living in eastern DR Congo, Eperance is a mother using what she has to prepare for a better future. Since the conflict erupted in the region almost 20 years ago, life has been hard for her family. With no help from relatives, she singlehandedly supports five children in her home, but can’t afford to send them to school.
Joining the Amani (“Peace”) Savings for Life Group in her village has empowered Eperance to fight the overwhelming odds of poverty. This small group of mostly women subsistence farmers meets together regularly to save, give small loans and make sure each member has what they need.
As a savings group member, Eperance took a small loan to purchase potato and bean seeds, which she planted in her small field. Eperance says that God blessed her yield and her family was able to grow nutritional food to eat.
More than just benefitting from the loan, Eperance was also able to save money. She used the savings to buy two goats for the family – generating income as well as providing nutrition for her family. Eperance considers this a miracle, saying, “I was saving only the small amount that I could, but I received so much. My life is improving because of savings, something I didn’t understand in the past. I praise God for this.”
This month, we’ve discovered the incredibly powerful meaning Savings for Life has for women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. And you can be a part of this - stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
Poverty runs deep in Rwanda. Even though this country has made signifiant social and economic progress over the last decade, the vast majority of Rwandans live in rural areas and struggle with severe financial hardships. Of the 87% of Rwandans who do not live in cities, 48.7% live below the national poverty line. Living in this stark reality in northwest Rwanda, Odette Hakuzayezu found herself miserable and hopeless. Invited to join a Savings for Life group by a World Relief trained volunteer, she agreed and had little idea of what it would bring. Group members meet regularly, pool their money together in savings accounts and create an emergency fund that can be used by someone in the group with unexpected, urgent needs. Saving what little she had over time added up and before Odette knew it, she was able to buy a sewing machine.
For Odette and many others like her, savings is more than just accumulating money - it’s restoration. Being a part of a Savings for Life group empowered Odette to use what she had in community with others to make a better future for herself and her family. She now has a tailoring business, a regular income and a way to help take care of her family of 5. Odette’s dignity and hope are restored and she’s gained encouraging friends, fellow savings group members, in the process.
In partnership with local churches around the globe, World Relief meets the tangible and spiritual needs of thousands of people like Odette each year through programs like Savings for Life. Simple financial trainings and accompanied Bible teachings lead to a restored life with limitless possibilities.
This month, we’re discovering what Savings for Life means to women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. Check back with us again next week to hear more stories of hope – and stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
Marriage. A sacred bond between a man and a woman. A bringing together of two people who choose to love one another. A divinely instituted covenant. These definitions give a pleasant picture of what marriage can be. But as we all know, relationships of any kind have their challenges. And most married couples will tell you that while marriage can be wonderful, the snapshots of this sacred bond aren’t always picture-perfect.
Finances are one of the main culprits in this strain on relationships, interrupting an otherwise beautiful picture of love. Whether it’s different opinions about how to spend money, lack of finances or a lack of good economic opportunity in the city where you live, couples throughout the world deal with some of these issues on a regular basis.
Beatrice and Joseph are one such couple who know all too well how much finances can impact a marriage. A young Kenyan couple in their 20’s, they have 3 children and live in a country where nearly half of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. Dealing with some of the every-day challenges married couples around the world face, living in an area where the economic opportunities are minimal can exacerbate an already sensitive situation.
After major disagreements about finances that nearly ruined their marriage, Beatrice and Joseph were at a breaking point. But then, hope came in the form of a savings group.
Joining World Relief’s Savings for Life groups, they were able to pool together what little they had with others in their community and rebuild their family. Savings and small loans from the group allowed Joseph and Beatrice to expand their business and pay for expensive healthcare costs. To complete this picture of unity, Beatrice and Joseph’s marriage became stronger, as the economic burden lifted and the savings groups provided good encouragement and accountability.
While Savings for Life groups economically empower the vulnerable, they offer so much more relationally, spiritually and emotionally. Beatrice is grateful not just for the economic opportunities that come with being a part of a savings group like this, but also for the renewed strength of her marriage and family it’s provided, reaching far beyond her pocketbook.
This month, we’re discovering what Savings for Life means to women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. Check back with us each week to hear their stories of hope – and stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
- Proverbs 24:3-4
Savings is more than just money – it’s freedom, empowerment, and community.
And for Lana Sitole, a Kenyan mother of ten, Savings for Life also marks the start of changed lives.
Savings for Life groups open doors of economic opportunity that are too often closed to the most vulnerable, especially women living in rural areas. At weekly meetings, groups of neighbors pool their existing resources – a few dollars at a time – into a group fund. Then they build their savings, broker small loans and study God’s word in community.
In every corner of the world today, savings and loan groups aren’t hard to find – there are an estimated 250,000 savings groups throughout sub-Saharan Africa alone! Lana has tried out several different groups near her home, but she believes Savings for Life stands out from the rest.
At Savings for Life, all of the money exchanged comes only from the pockets of the group members – not outside lenders. To Lana, this is a key difference. It means that the members themselves are casting the vision for transformation in their communities.
Savings for Life members borrow small sums from their group to start businesses or invest in their farms – then use the profit to send their children to school or regularly provide them with protein-rich food. Some groups even set aside some of their savings to care for widows, orphans and neighbors who are sick in their communities.
When Lana borrowed a loan from her neighbors to build a new house, her family changed in the process too. As she moved from a house made of mud and grass into a strong, iron-walled home, Lana saw a new side of her husband. Although she typically earns her own money from selling milk or jewelry, he now looks forward to lending to her. He trusts that she’ll bring the money back from the savings group with added interest. Other men in the community are so impressed by their wives’ financial wisdom that they’re joining savings groups of their own!
One shilling, one home, one family at a time, change – powered by community members – is sweeping through Lana’s village. It starts at Savings for Life.
This month, we’re discovering what Savings for Life means to women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. Check back with us to hear their stories of hope – and stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
Rwanda is a small country with one of the highest population densities in Africa (USAID, 2013). It is also one of the poorest countries, but it has made significant progress since the 1994 genocide that killed nearly 800,000 people (USAID, 2013). Poverty has dropped from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 44.9 percent in 2011, a developmental trend worth celebrating (USAID, 2013). Still, Rwanda’s poorest are often excluded from formal financial institutions and basic financial services because of fees and geographic barriers. Less than half of the population is formally banked. Lack of access to savings makes these people more vulnerable to economic shocks and it prevents personal investment for future development. Local churches in Rwanda are well-positioned to address poverty in their communities. They typically respond by providing food and money to the poor, a well-meaning effort that fails to address root causes of poverty. Often, these churches lack the skills and tools to be agents of transformational development, a holistic approach to poverty that involves sustainable changes in attitudes and behaviors. World Relief is responding by empowering the local church to deliver basic financial services and education to Rwanda’s poorest through the Savings for Life™ program, which makes access to savings and loans possible for the most poor and vulnerable. World Relief trains church volunteers who, in turn, train savings and credit groups in the communities. Special emphasis is placed on savings mobilization methods, Biblical stewardship, financial integrity, overcoming poverty, effective asset use and group government and management.
The impact of Savings for Life™ extends beyond economic empowerment as Savings Group members discover that they already have the resources necessary to advance their lives and those of their children. The community becomes more resilient as members help each other set aside money for emergencies. When World Relief concludes its work, these self-sustaining groups continue to meet and holistically transform the lives of members. Groups provide an opportunity for people to work together for a common financial goal and serve as a safe place of social support. World Relief has been implementing Savings for Life in Rwanda since 2010. There are currently 682 groups and 14,535 members across four districts.
Courtney O’Connell is World Relief’s Senior Technical Advisor for the Savings for Life program. She will be speaking at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute of Sustainable Microenterprise Development Program in a class titled “Savings Groups Post-Project: Evolution, Sustainability, Enrichment” Nov. 18-22, 2013 in Arusha, Tanzania. The following interview was conducted on Oct. 28, 2013.
Courtney, what is your history with transformational development, World Relief, and as Senior Technical Advisor for the Savings for Life program?
C: I joined World Relief in 2011 after having already lived in Africa for three years. My earliest work in Africa heightened my understanding of the need for transformational development to be truly holistic. I believe that just focusing on one area of life, physical, for example, ignores so many other areas of a person that need to be addressed: spiritual, social, emotional, financial. Joining World Relief’s Savings for Life team, then was a perfect fit for me as we try to address communities in a holistic way,
In which countries is this program currently being implemented?
C: We started our Savings for Life (SFL) program in Burundi in 2008, then expanded to Kenya and Rwanda in 2008 then to Malawi (2011), Congo (2012) and South Sudan (2013).
To date, do you know the total amount of Savings Groups and members?
C: Currently we have 104,857 members across all 6 countries.
Why does Savings for Life and the Savings Group model work so well? In other words, what about this model is different from other existing financial services and institutions offered either by countries or other NGOs?
C: The essence of the SFL program is this: groups of 10-25 community members come together and save their own money, use that common pool to make loans to each other charging an agreed upon interest rate. Then, after about 9 months, the members get back all the money they saved plus their share of the interest, or profit, the group made. This money that they’ve accumulated, generally $75-140, is usually the most amount of money these community members have ever had in their hands. And, it’s all theirs! The empowerment they take from this method is remarkable. Members are able to put children in school, buy health insurance for the very first time, invest in a business, or make tangible improvements on their homes. It’s such a huge change in a relatively short time.
Our approach is different from most other NGOs who do savings programs. First, we strive to deliver a high quality, technically sound savings program. It improves upon the indigenous forms of savings that have been present in rural communities for generations and generations. Most importantly, however, World Relief is working in and through the local church. Our desire is to see the church own this program and, towards that end, have volunteers from the church that help to form and train new savings groups. Groups pray with each other and support each other in times of need. We also have a Bible Study the groups can do to supplement their savings activities. In all these ways we’re trying to address the spiritual and the financial lives of the members.
Can you share a recent story from the Savings for Life program in Rwanda?
C: In the Nayamasheke district, Savings for Life empowered the Tuzamurane Savings Group (below) with the ability to address other areas of need in their lives. The members identified that each one needed a mattress at their house, as some were still sleeping on dirt floors. So they took turns buying mattresses from their collective savings until everyone had one. They were so proud of what they did, they bought matching ‘uniforms’ so that the entire community would know that they were empowered and could do fantastic things!
The world’s poorest have a tremendous capacity and willingness to save and protect assets when financial institutions cannot serve them. They save to meet social obligations, to prepare for emergencies, to start or expand small businesses and to respond to seasonal changes in cash flow. However, the lack of banks in rural areas often leads to high fees and unattainable minimum balance requirements, leaving savings vulnerable to loss and theft.
Since piloting the Savings for Life program in 2008, World Relief has empowered more than 100 thousand participants across six countries through the facilitation of effective and impactful community-based savings and credit groups. After years of testing and expanding, World Relief has developed a program that offers safe and reliable financial services to people who are otherwise excluded from formal banking institutions. Through regular savings and access to appropriately sized loans, group members can meet daily household needs and establish their own income-generating activities.
The Savings for Life program, like other World Relief initiatives, is also one of spiritual transformation. It is integral to the fulfillment of World Relief’s mission to “empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.” Churches are the point of contact in communities where World Relief is present and pastors work to identify the most vulnerable within those communities. Church volunteers serve as field agents to mobilize and train the savings groups. Finally, World Relief promotes Savings groups because of its commitment to the holistic Gospel of Jesus Christ, a message that leads to transformation in every area of life.
Often, World Relief implements the Savings for Life program alongside other interventions. In Burundi, care group volunteers who bring life-saving health messages to more than 30 thousand mothers every month are invited to participate in Savings for Life groups. In Rwanda, Savings for Life is combined with leadership training so that church and community members can take initiative to meet the needs of vulnerable neighbors with their own resources. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, farmer group members involved in Savings for Life can buy better seeds and fertilizer with their own resources to produce greater yields.
Some of the most vulnerable in Kenya have also benefited from Savings for Life. Compared to other countries in East Africa, Kenya enjoys the largest, most diversified economy (USAID, 2013). Because of its location, the country serves as a place of transport and therefore plays a vital role for much of sub-Saharan Africa. However, decades of unjust governance have stunted economic development. About 60 percent of Kenyans live on US$2 or less per day (USAID, 2013). Kenyans facing poverty often lack access to the most basic financial services. Supplementing the life-impacting work of economic development, Savings for Life groups in Kenya educate members in managing their own savings. As savings accumulate, group members have access to appropriately-sized loans with which they can finance business or personal needs.
In 2011, a women’s group registered with World Relief in Kenya and Fadhili Trust to participate in a village savings and loan association in Ongata Rongai in Kajiado North. Group members save and lend their funds among themselves and also contribute to a social fund to assist with emergencies. When the group began to grow, the women registered with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development to be recognized by other institutions and gain negotiation power for development. Now, they plan to begin using savings to purchase land for various group members. In the last two and a half years, not one of the members has defaulted on a loan or payment. This is the story of just one of several groups operating in seven regions across Kenya.
The groups also provide discipleship for members through regular Bible studies. World Relief believes that God’s restorative plan for mankind includes, among many things, character development with regard to stewardship, personal finance and attitude towards work. The goal is not wealth, but worship – pointing the most vulnerable to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and empowering them to live in a way that brings Him glory.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10