No longer feeling poor
I visited some groups in CARE’s program in Western Kenya last week and was struck by the way the members talked about the impact of their groups on poverty. They spoke as if it is obvious that group members are getting out of poverty. They would say things like, “We need to reach out and form new groups, since many citizens are still living in poverty.” Huh? Do they really think that these groups, where people typically save a dollar or two a week – often even less – are pulling people out of poverty? Well, apparently they do.
Maybe this is because of the power of savings discipline in helping members meet ambitious goals. Once in West Nile – the very poor part of Uganda sandwiched between the Congo and Sudan – my colleague asked a woman member of a savings group what difference the group had made in her life. She said, “I got 1500 shillings last year at share-out. I had always thought I would die without ever even holding a thousand shillings note, and I had more than that that belonged to me.”
Now, a thousand Uganda shillings is about fifty US cents, but in that remote barely monetized economy, it is still a lot of money for some people. From that lady’s point of view, she had been poor and a thousand shillings was unimaginable - when she held the money in her hands she no longer felt poor.
I suspect that in the minds of many group members, anyone who is regularly setting and reach savings goals isn’t poor. It’s not the amount of ones assets that determines poverty – it’s the direction in which ones finances are moving, it’s the conviction that one is getting ahead, that the future will be better than the past, that means that one no longer is living in poverty. It’s the wonder of having saved a thousand shillings, of having achieved the impossible.
Reader Comments (1)
Amen Paul...well said. It reminds me of something Grace (forget her last name) from CARE Uganda once told me. She was defending the VSLA concept to someone who was dubious that such small amounts of money could make a difference. Her reply to this 'doubting thomas' was "don't put your shoes on other people's feet! It may seem small to you, but it is huge to them!"
It also reminds me of the rhetorical question posed by David Hulme in one of his impact assessment papers....... "Whose Reality Counts?
Sat, September 10, 2011 | Jill Thompson
Note: This article was originally published in September of 2011, however the date was changed to move it up higher on our feed, because we really think it's worth a read.