Savings for Life

Thank God for Women — A Conversation with Courtney O'Connell

Courtney O'Connell

Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.


After living and working in South Africa and Zambia, Courtney O’Connell came to World Relief in 2011. With a master’s degree in International Development from Eastern University, Courtney took on the role of Savings for Life (SFL) Senior Program Advisor, supporting program staff in the nine countries where World Relief implements SFL. She loves living in Rwanda, close to where Savings for Life is being implemented, and when she's not working, Courtney can be found running and biking throughout Rwanda's beautiful countryside. Recently, Cassidy Stratton, World Relief’s Marketing Coordinator, had an opportunity to catch up with Courtney to hear how she’s seen World Relief’s Savings for Life program empower women around the world:

Cassidy Stratton: You noted that you had already lived in Africa for 3 years. How did you specifically get connected to World Relief?

Courtney O’Connell: When I was job searching, I knew I wanted to do economic development in Africa with a Christian organization, and so I just went to some of the big names that I could immediately think of. World Relief actually had my current position posted, so without even thinking, or even proofreading, I submitted my resume. And, by the grace of God, I got it.

In my previous work overseas, I had seen organizations that claimed to be Christian on the website, and when I went to the field to see their programs, there was actually nothing Christian about them. And I was not sure if World Relief was like that since I had not seen them overseas. So I reached out to a professor of mine who was writing a book for which Stephen Bauman, the president of World Relief at that time, was submitting a chapter. She forwarded me Stephen’s chapter, which was all about working with the church and the heart and soul of what World Relief is about. As I read it, I said “Man, that sounds really good! And if they are who they say they are then I would totally be in..”

As I left the U.S., I thought, “I’m not selling my car until they prove that they are who they say they are.” Not that my car was nice; it was my Grandma’s hand-me-down Buick. Well, I moved to Rwanda in July of 2011. And I immediately, I fell in love with the way we do our work. Everything Stephen wrote about was true. There truly is a partnership with the local church, and the desire is to see the local church shine, not the organization. And to really infuse and integrate biblical beliefs into programs. To me, that was so unique. I was, and still am, thrilled to be a part of an organization that cares for the vulnerable in the way we do.



CS: Can you tell me more about your current position?

CO: I am the Savings for Life Senior Program Advisor—a program that forms community-based savings groups, where people pool their own money together in order to give loans to each other, charging interest. And after a set period of time—approximately 9 - 12 months—everyone takes back the savings they had put in, plus the portion of interest that they earned. So then it’s a very useful amount of money that a family can use to pay for school fees, invest in their farm, start a business, repair their house and the like. The best thing is that it is all their own money. It’s not like a loan from a bank. And when they go home at the end of this cycle for savings, they have in their hands probably the most amount of money that they’ve ever had at one time. It’s such an empowering program, and it’s great to be a part of it.

World Relief is running this program in 10 countries, and my role is to work alongside the program managers and field staff that are actually running the program. My role is to support them, help set strategies, prepare proposals, and make sure they have all of the tools to run a successful program. It’s cool for me because I get to be pretty close to the action, and I get to walk alongside the staff, the real heroes who are doing the work. Sometimes I feel like a cheerleader, cheering the programs along and helping teams to see what’s possible.



CS: What role have you seen women play in the Savings for Life Program?

CO: In most of the context where we’re working, the women are the glue of the society. They are the strong one’s in the family who make things happen. Unfortunately in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional gender roles are that the men are the ones who make all of the important household financial decisions and are the controllers of the money. The women are the ones who are tasked to provide for the family on a daily basis, yet they don’t have a lot of authority or even their own money to make things happen.

We hear a lot of testimonies from women saying that it’s embarrassing because they have to go and—they use the word “beg”—their husband in order to get money to buy salt, buy oil, etc. in order to prepare food. If she can’t prepare food then she is not doing her gender role. But in order to do her role within the family, she actually has to ask her husband for help. So it’s this huge power dynamic struggle.

The Savings for Life program worldwide is 80% women. And we see that women are the ones that benefit from this. They say now they do not have to beg their husbands because they can provide for themselves. They have this glow about them—this empowerment, this hope—because they feel like they are now doing the role that they are designed to do. Not only that, but they are also starting new businesses and paying school fees for their children, all things that had only been a dream before.



CS: Can you recall a specific success story of a Savings for Life group?

CO: I remember visiting a savings group at the beginning of their savings cycle, and they said to me, “We’re just poor people and can’t save, so can you give us money?” And then I actually went to visit that same group 9 months later when they were having the day of distribution. They literally had a table mounted with money. You could just see the joy, the hope, the empowerment, the confidence beaming out of them. And they were able to say, “This is our money, and no one helped us do this.” To me, this is what we’re here for. That’s the success. When people say that we can set our own goals and no one else has to do it for us.


CS: Is there a specific woman that has impacted your work?

CO: Another story I want to tell you about is about a woman named Adele. She lives in Burundi, one of the poorest countries where we work. It’s a beautiful country and has a lot of resources, but it also has a lot of poverty and corruption. Adele lives way out in the middle of a village, and Savings for Life comes that way, and she decides that she is going to join. During her first cycle of savings, she was able to buy a goat. This was the very first goat that her family owned. A goat out in the village is first a huge status and second a long-term savings. She was so happy to buy this goat. And by the second cycle of the savings program, she was able to buy a cow. Her family was able to use this cow to plow their fields. The savings group was impacting multiple areas of her life.

A few years after she joined the savings group, the community staff member approached her and asked if she could be a volunteer for Savings for Life, and she accepted. She got trained on how to be a volunteer village agent, and then she went out and started other training groups. Now she’s working in her own community and neighboring communities, helping to teach other people about this program that has been so impacting for her.



CS: How have you seen the savings groups also serve as support groups?

CO: The social aspect of the groups really help. There was a woman in a savings group that became a widow. She ended up moving back to her family, but she had a lot of relational problems and it wasn’t healthy for her stay in the household that she grew up in. And so her savings group actually built her a house. It was their own initiative. World Relief was not part of it at all. It was that this group of women cared for each other so much that they saw their sister in need and did something about it.

To me that is just really powerful how the social aspect of the savings group helps the women walk alongside each other to achieve their goals financially. And to just have social capital and strength. It helps relationships go way deeper.



CS: Have there been any women in your life that have influenced your work and the way you engage with women around the world?

CO: The small group that I’m a part of. There are women here in Rwanda that we meet on a weekly basis to walk through life together. There are challenges of living abroad, and being away from your home culture, and sometimes there are just frustration of life, and to be with other people who you know want the best for you and care about you and ask how they can help you. I have been impacted by that and have found a lot of solidarity and strength from these women.

I liken that to the solidarity and strength other women can get from their Savings for Life group.
  


CS: Why do you Thank God for Women?

CO: I thank God for women because I see the strength that they provide for their families and the hope that they provide for their children. Women are the ones in the family that are able to change course. Their family might have been living in poverty for generations and generations, but if a woman has hope, and has the confidence and the empowerment, then she can change that course for the generations to come.

And I think the real strength in rural communities, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are the women who are holding everything together, making changes for their families and their kids. I think women are the changemakers in our world.

 

Give today to create a better world for women. 

Savings is HOPE

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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.

Savings is RESTORATION

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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.

Savings is STRONG MARRIAGES

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.

Savings is _______

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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.

Feb 2 blog pic_Lana
Feb 2 blog pic_Lana

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.

Empower a Hero: Jocelyn in Rwanda

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“Before I joined the savings groups I was alone. I used to walk alone in the fields every day and I didn’t belong,” said Jocelyn, a business owner and mother from Rwanda. But since joining a Savings for Life group, Jocelyn has grown into a confident entrepreneur and member of a supportive community of women. Now, she goes to the market each day to sell her vegetables. The money she earns allows her to provide her eight children with medical insurance – and lend to other women who want to break free from poverty. In Rwanda, Savings for Life groups grow out of partnerships with the local church. Church leaders and volunteers create opportunities that help the most vulnerable develop economic stability in their families and communities. As pastors discover their church’s role in addressing the root causes of poverty, they are motivated to invite their most vulnerable neighbors into groups like Jocelyn’s.

Seventy-two percent of Rwanda’s 20,530 Savings for Life members are women, who are especially vulnerable to economic hardship. But in each meeting, women grow in independence and confidence as they accumulate savings and expand their financial knowledge. They encourage and celebrate one another with each new success.

Jocelyn’s first success came when she opened a produce shop with a loan from her savings group. Now that she can sustainably support her children, she is working to pay it back while lending money to others. “When we come together, we pray, then we open the box which has the money…and collect the social fund for loans,” Jocelyn said. The social fund protects the members from the shock of emergency costs. Small grants are given to cover unexpected medical procedures or home repairs.

Women in Savings for Life grow in deep friendship with one another. As they come out of isolation, they are welcomed into compassionate communities. “This savings group has united us because we pull together and solve problems as one group,” Jocelyn said. Today, Jocelyn is empowered to not only support her own family, but the economic growth and welfare of her entire community.

Check back with us throughout January to meet more heroes like Jocelyn. They’re leading their families and neighbors in the work of justice in some of the most vulnerable countries on earth. You can join the movement today at EmpowerAHero.org!

Serving the Most Vulnerable in South Sudan: Nama's Story

Nama

Nama is a mother of four and a member of a local savings group in South Sudan. She first attended one of the weekly meetings with some of her friends. “We felt challenged to save our money,” she said. “At the moment, we did not see the money to save.”

Nama first believed that a humanitarian organization would provide loans to members of the group. When she and her friends found out that members actually loaned money to one another from within their own pooled resources, several people declined joining. Nama, however, wanted to learn more.

She was sick at the time but could not afford treatment. “One needs about SSP 100-150 to get proper treatment,” she said. That cost is the equivalent of about $30 USD.

“We started saving our income little by little with the hope that we could give assistance to ourselves.” Said Nama. “By this time, we had given up all the initial thinking that we would get any money from the organization.”

When borrowing began, Nama was the second to receive a loan from the group. Two others applied for loans on that day but declined and agreed to wait in order to protect Nama’s health. She was approved to receive SSP 100 for her treatment. In the same time period, she lost a relative and the group gave her SSP 25 as a form of condolences.

Nama has been repaying her loan since January. She says that the group not only gave her access to the resources she needs, but a group of new friends. “The group members kept on visiting me when I was sick,” she said. “They comfort me and I feel I have brothers and sisters.”

When asked about her future plans, Nama said her health will give her new opportunities. She plans on devoting time and energy to her garden and using her savings in eight months to start a kiosk so she can sell goods after farming.

Savings for Life™ - Empowering the Poor in Rwanda

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!

Rwanda SFL

Savings For Life: Financial Opportunity for the World’s Most Vulnerable

Kenya Savings 1

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.

Kenya Savings 2

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

Savings for Life™ is Changing Lives in Burundi

In Burundi, World Relief’s Savings for Life™ program empowers the most vulnerable in communities that lack access to even the most basic financial services. Savings helps the world’s poorest, who have shown tremendous capacity and willingness to save, build and protect their financial assets in climates where financial institutions can’t serve them.One of the members, Judith Niyonzima, shares how the program has affected her and her family's lives:

judith sfl

My name is Judith NIYONZIMA. I am 40 years old and live in Makamba province. I am married and have 6 children. Two of them are in secondary school.

I am currently the president of a village savings and loans association called Tugirumwete to which I joined in April 2011. Before joining the association, we were living in bad conditions. Our house was covered with grass, and our children hardly got school fees. It was also very impossible to get 20,000 BIF [approximately $12 USD] in the house. It was also difficult to have our children treated when sick.

When I joined the group, life became improved. In fact we saved our money, got credit and made a small business. This makes our family happy. If someone (a member) gets a problem, we help him/her with the social fund. We talk together as members of an association and study HIV/AIDS. At the beginning, my husband could not understand because he was not accustomed to seeing a woman supporting the household.

But at the sharing out [of the money], he became very interested and decided himself to join another association of the area. Now, we have built our house covered with iron sheets.

Learn more how Savings for Life™ is impacting women like Judith Niyonzima. Check out the post on Malawi's Savings for Life™ program by a US Church Partner.

So Much Happening in Twenty-Thirteen...

by Larissa Peters, World Relief Communications Liaison I don’t know about you, but I have an especially good feeling about 2013. I admit, I keep a journal, and on the first of every year, I wonder what will fill its pages. The same is true in managing this blog – what will be the stories, reflections, and prayers that fill this year?

So many things are happening at World Relief, and so many great things we get to be a part of this year as more and more stand for the vulnerable! So I thought I would share 13 of the ones that I’m personally excited about and that others could even join:

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Immigration Reform: From publishing the book Welcoming the Stranger in 2009 to speaking at Willow Creek Church and the G92 Summit, Jenny Yang – Vice President of Advocacy & Policy  and Matt Soerens – US Church Training Specialist are truly affecting change for the immigration system. We believe this is the year for reform. Want to keep up to date on the issue? Follow Jenny and Matt on twitter at:  @JennyYangWR and @MatthewSoerens.
  2. Peace building in the Congo: Village Peace Committees are changing their communities in the DR Congo. Conflict still abounds, but the grassroots movement of the Church is transforming lives. This is something to be a part of!  Follow updates and watch our video.
  3. Our partnership with Pure Charity: if you haven’t checked this organization out and you shop online or use a credit card (which should cover most of you), click here now. Here is a creative way to raise funds: shop and the stores you shop at will give to your charity of choice. World Relief has a few projects of their own there, and you’ll find Pure Charity at the Justice Conference. I already wish I knew about them earlier – I have to admit I’ve become slightly addicted to online shopping.
  4.  Fighting the battle of slavery: more and more people are taking on the cause of anti-trafficking. Currently, there are 14,500 people trafficked into the US each year (this is a low estimate). But our offices in Spokane, Tampa, High Point (and even internationally in Cambodia) are fighting to prevent that number from going up. Follow World Relief’s efforts on twitter and find out how you can promote awareness through races, workshops, or advocacy.
  5.  Church Partnership: Churches around the US have partnered with World Relief with a commitment of investing in a country or program for 3 to 5 years. Building relationships with the field and giving opportunity for long-term sustainable development, partnership is about wholistic mission. More and more churches are signing on, and we are excited about the changes it is bringing! Want your church to be part of this?
  6. Catalog of Hope: This year, our Catalog of Hope has a new section: fair trade items that benefit refugees in the US, empower women in Burundi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, and provide a monster for children in the US. A monster? Yes! See what this is all about.
  7. Stand Together Project: The premise is simple: Empowering women who are heroes in their own communities around the world. Check it out here: www.standtogetherproject.org.
  8. Savings for Life: A woman in Rwanda had never held a 5000 Franc note (worth $8 USD).  For the first time in her life this year, she saved up SIX of them because of her Savings group! How much more exciting can that get? Savings for Life is making credit available to those even the microfinance institutions can’t consider.  Watch a video on what Savings group is here: www.savings-revolution.org .
  9. Reviving and strengthening marriages in India: There is a quiet and unique program in India. One that is saving marriages, helping couples to be faithful to each other, and actually preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Check out the story on India.
  10. Volunteering with refugees in the US: more and more people are asking, “What can I do?” Our US program with refugees provides tangible volunteering. I can promise you that your 2013 will be incredibly enriched by befriending a refugee and welcoming them into your home and life.
  11. Volunteering with refugees in Indonesia: you have to check this unique opportunity out:  living in Indonesia and ministering to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. You can read about some of the volunteers’ experiences here: www.worldreliefindonesia.com .

12   AND 13

Tis the season for conferences! So I’ll have to just wrap them all up into the last two: Churches and organizations are stepping out and bringing awareness to issues of injustice, educating their communities on how to respond. World Relief is privileged to be a part of these conferences with other Justice advocate hall-of-famers:

My hope is that these 13 (and then some) inspire and encourage you.  And may this year be full of all that is more than we can ask or imagine!*

*Ephesians 3:20