Today is World Humanitarian Day. It’s a day upon which we honor humanitarian workers around the globe, and a day on which we seek to reflect on how we, as global citizens, might respond better, smarter and more effectively to the hundreds of humanitarian crises around our world.
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.
“Without an end to the violence that plagues so many in slums, labor camps, brothels, villages, and neighborhoods, our work to end extreme poverty, stop senseless disease among children, and create sustainable economic solutions could erode and even altogether unravel.” –Stephan Bauman, President & CEO of World Relief
As World Relief empowers the local Church to serve the most vulnerable, we come face to face every day with the reality that poor people are extremely vulnerable to violence. Many of the countries in which we operate are war-torn and lack a just rule of law. Around the world, nearly 30 million children, women and men are held as forced labor slaves. One in 5 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape – and sexual violence makes everyday activities like going to school, gathering water, using a communal restroom or taking public transport dangerous.
At World Relief, we see firsthand that those without protection often lack access to the opportunities, services and materials required to meet their most basic needs. In fact, four billion people – most of the world’s poorest people – live in places where their justice systems do not or cannot protect them from these crippling forms of violence. To advocate for the impoverished, we must also be advocates of peace and protection.
We are joining hands with our friends at International Justice Mission to address the violence directly contributing to poverty around the world. Today, IJM President Gary Haugan and co-author Victor Boutros are releasing their new book, The Locust Effect, to explain why the end of poverty requires the end of violence.
Learn more about The Locust Effect and ways to get involved with the fight for peace. Don’t miss IJM’s unforgettable new video showing what the world is up against as we work together to help the most vulnerable.
In Burundi, approximately 58 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Malnutrition is associated with serious medical issues later in life as well as lower education attainment, lower earnings and more prevalent violence. It is a result of poor nutritional practices, limited access to food, minimal dietary diversity and chronic illness. Because 80 percent of Burundians live on less than $1.25 per day and have limited access to the most basic financial services, poverty compounds these vulnerabilities and contributes to a cycle of malnutrition in households. World Relief is empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable in Burundi and meet the holistic physical, spiritual and relational needs that exist. World Relief provides long-term training and supervision of staff and government officials, who in turn train Health Workers and mothers to promote better health practices in the community through behavioral transformation. Concurrently, World Relief works with the Ministry of Agriculture to train Community Health Workers on the operation and development of small gardens for women to grow food and improve household nutrition and dietary diversity. World Relief also works in partnership with church network Dutabarane to provide crucial financial instruments to the poor through Village Savings and Loans Associations.
Marasmus is a form of severe malnutrition caused by a deficiency in calories and energy.Félicité Havyarimana, a young woman from the central province of Gitega, had witnessed the effects of the disease in the life of her son, Alfred, ever since he was one year old. She said, “I was sad and desperate, not knowing what to do. In my despair, I turned to traditional healers, convinced that someone had cast a curse on my child.”
When a volunteer from World Relief’s Child Survival Program visited Félicité and examined her son, she explained that Alfred was suffering from malnutrition and that it could be cured. “I didn’t believe her, of course,” said Félicité. “Nevertheless, since nothing had worked so far, I started to follow her advice on health and nutrition, even if I wasn’t really convinced”.
A month later, Alfred began gaining weight and his health began improving. Encouraged, Félicité began participating in World Relief’s cooking workshops, where she learned about the components and preparation of well-balanced meals. “The lessons were really helpful to my children, especially to Alfred who was totally cured and went back to his normal weight,” said Félicité.
Almost three years old, Alfred is now a healthy child who, like many of his peers in the province, has benefited from World Relief’s Maternal & Child Health program. Félicité said that the program opened her eyes to the mistakes she did not know she was making when it came to the nutrition and health of her children. “Now,” she said, “I try as much as possible to keep them on a healthy and well-balanced diet, and I take them to the hospital to see a doctor at the first sign of illness, instead of seeking advice from traditional healers.”
At the root of the program is the long-term goal of Integral transformation of not only behavior, but beliefs, values and attitudes that bring Burundians to a place where they can experience the kind of life Jesus came to bring – life to the full (John 10:10).
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!
In the United States, where about 91 percent of children are covered under some form of health insurance (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) and have access to health and social services, it can be difficult to acknowledge the stark, contrasting conditions for children in countries like Malawi. There, poverty, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS prevalence and weak social service capacity have led to child abuse, neglect and exploitation. The needs of Malawian children are physical, spiritual, emotional and social. However, care is limited: only six percent of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi receive medical support, four percent receive psychosocial support, nine percent receive material support and six percent receive educational support (UNICEF, 2011).
Community-based child care centers serve as vital spaces for children to play, receive nutrition and hygiene education and access clean water. They are viable solutions for Malawian communities, yet only 30 percent of Malawian children have access to them. Local churches, in collaboration with key stakeholders, have the capacity to increase the provision of child protection and development initiatives in their communities through the establishment of more centers.
World Relief in Malawi is responding to God’s heart for justice, particularly for children. World Relief in Malawi is empowering local churches to create sustainable programs that promote self-efficacy, self-worth and hope for the future of 500 children between 3 and 18 years of age, most of whom are from HIV-affected, rural communities. Through the formation of 10 church-run, community-based childcare centers and the renovation of four existing centers, children will have better access to cutting edge, holistic services. At centers, volunteer caregivers provide children with nutritious food, facilitate games, assist with homework and provide life and psychosocial skill services. As an integral aspect of meeting the holistic needs of these children, caregivers also help children memorize Scripture and gain a better understanding of Jesus Christ.
Recently, World Relief staff shared its mission and vision for Malawian childcare improvement with Salima district’s traditional leaders, including Chief Khombedza. The Chinkhali Presbyterian Church decided to reopen its childcare center, which closed in December 2012 from a lack of resources, training and community involvement. “We did not know recommended ways of handling children at a childcare center,” said Paulina Katoma, one of the church’s volunteer caregivers. “We just did it anyhow.”
Now, through its partnership with World Relief, Chinkhali Presbyterian has access to the resources, training and empowerment necessary for meeting vulnerable children’s physical, spiritual, social and emotional needs. In word and deed, the church is able to share the transforming power of Jesus Christ with Malawi’s orphans and vulnerable children.
“In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:14