Tea with Money
Imagine a savings group that won’t allow people over forty years old to join. Think this unfair? Well, the condition of member age is a requirement that homespun groups in Kabul, Afghanistan, have decreed in their bylaws. No member may be over forty. Says the founder of one group, our “decision to leave the people over age of forty out of the group was exactly addressing the idea that old people are “kuhna fekr,” old minded. They do not see the big picture. They try to dig into the past and argue about things that happened 20 years ago. Dadbakhsh and people like him want to look into the future, ” writes Qiamaddin Amiry in this gem of a paper, “Chai wa Paisa” (Tea with Money).
Dadbakhsh is an Ismaili, a sect of Shi’a, separated from the religious mainstream of Islam. He is also a member of the Hazara people, an ethnic group separated from the tribal mainstream of Afghanistan. Called mouse-eaters and load-carrying-donkeys, Dadbaksh and his extended family fled Afghansitan during the Civil Ware to return home in the 90s, confident of overcoming a seemingly endless struggle with poverty, marginalization and homelessness.
Upon his family’s homecoming, Dadbakhsh the protagonist of Amiry’s paper, “went to his friend Leqauddin with an idea to create an association for the Ghurbandak qaum. It was simple. Every member would make a monthly deposit. Those who needed money could borrow and pay interest. Leqauddin, an amateur poet and social activist, liked the idea. Leqauddin and Dadbakhsh went way back. During the Taliban regime they bought recycled metals and used batteries, and sold them in big quantities. They understood each other. They were both under 40 years of age, and represented the younger generation in their qaum.
In the first meeting Dadbakhsh and Leqauddin gave each other an assignment: find two more people. The criteria for recruiting four new members were: the individuals must be open-minded, from the Ghurbandak qaum, under age of 40, and somewhat socially active. Four members became six members and each was to recruit two more. Their first actual meeting was held when the association had 24 people.
The result? Dadbakhsh’s group has accumulated more than $90,000 in five years. Members have used loans to build houses, hold weddings, and start shops. They have also borrowed to fund medical treatments, which require expensive transport to and from Pakistan.
Inspired by the “Ghurbandak qaum” (the name of this particular savings group) eleven other tribes have started their own groups. Women are now being admitted as members. The future of these self-started itehadia is promising, thanks in large part to Dadbakhsh. Let us hope his advancing age - he must be approaching forty - does not exclude him from group membership and even if it does, we might agree that he has sparked a “savings revolution.”