Mabel Guevara Part 2: The greatest impact
Adaptation and Innovation
Since the first savings group pilot in 2008 and early 2009, the methodology has been constantly improved. Children were interested in saving, but I noticed they were bored in the long adult meetings. I tried starting separate children’s groups with their own meetings and leadership, and the children quickly began to accumulate their own savings.
Children’s savings manuals
Different partner organizations tried forming groups through promoters and directly by the organization. We observed that having promoters form groups was more sustainable: the expertise stayed in the community. There were changes in the promoters as well. Women with only a third grade education and four kids, who had never spoken in public, have formed four savings groups. In the outskirts of Cacaopera, several savings promoters have formed as many as 8 groups.
CRS asked me to standardize what we had learned. Working closely with a team of specialists, Gaye, Jose Angel Cruz and I helped to write a manual on savings. We didn’t write the manual for people who are educated – we wrote it for the promoters and the groups. The manual explains the savings methodology using drawings based on rural Central America culture and living situation. There are promoters now who can’t read and write. They use that manual.
Sacrificing to Save
In rural communities throughout the region members have proved again and again that they are not too poor to save. The sacrifices they make to save are notable. Children will walk 6k to school to save .25 in bus fare. Rural women wake at 4 or 5 AM to grind the corn to flour by hand rather than paying the mill.
The Greatest Impact
In spite of the significant sacrifices women and children make to save, the greatest impacts are not financial. The most important benefit of savings is the personal growth that takes place in members. The women tell me, We like working together, the solidarity. We are all in this together.
Savings groups aren’t just about savings, they are about cultural change. This change happens first at the personal level as participants learn responsibility and begin to plan for the future. They take control of their own lives, and gain trust in their group. Many become leaders their communities. Savings is about breaking the cycle of dependence on outside intervention. Women realize they have a voice. Children learn leadership skills. These women and children become the protagonists of their own future.
Today in San Antonio del Mosco where the first group was formed there are now 40 groups of women, adolescents and youth. In each country there are now technical teams with CRS and its partner organizations dedicated to the work of forming savings groups. This has enabled us to reach so many communities. There are now more than 300 savings groups in Central America, and that number is always growing.
Mabel recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. While there, she led a week-long training in the Dominican Republic to integrate savings groups into all CRS programming in the country. In Haiti, she conducted a diagnostic of the tent cities to see if savings groups could be used to help families to save to rebuild their homes. Her savings manuals are currently being translated into Creole and re-illustrated for the Haitian context.
- This interview has been translated from Spanish.