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Economic Empowerment for Women in Burundi

The Tubunganire Women is a collective of ten savings and loans groups, totally about 300 members, in rural Ryansoro, Burundi. The hill of Ryansoro is far from any bank or financial institution. Before the savings groups, the women would have to go to a neighbor to ask borrow money, and it could be hard to collect the amount needed. Many of the families here don’t have a lot of cash available and lack any sort of credit that so many in the Western world rely on daily. A SIA Grant last year boosted the Tubunganire loan capital so that each group has a bigger pot from which to borrow.

Last week, I saw the process of their weekly meeting. Of all the years SIA has been partnering with savings and loans groups, this was the first time I saw one in action.

How it Works

The women are all illiterate, though they are number literate and have a record book of the money flowing in and out. They each have an ID number and sit in that order each week. First, they collect savings, with most women giving the equivalent of $0.50. For the second round, they contribute any amount they’ve earned from helping each other on their farms. (Group members can pay others to help on their farms for much less than the usual laborer wage and the earnings get added to the loan fund. This is a social time, as much as a money earner for the group.) Finally, they collect for the “rainy day fund,” which is shared with members when they’re in a crisis. After double-counting the funds, members are able to request a loan. They don’t have to give a reason, which gives the borrower a level of privacy and dignity. They pay a small interest rate, which is collected monthly for as long as the funds are borrowed.

woman handing another woman cash
Collecting savings from around the circle

The Impact

During our meeting, Jereni, one of the Tubunganire leaders, shared a testimony. She is a widow and told how the group helped her when her husband fell sick and needed to go to the far-off hospital. She was able to borrow from her savings group to pay the hospital deposit, which is something that never would’ve been possible before the group. When her husband died, she could borrow again to get his body released and bring him home for burial. (It is common for hospitals here to keep the body if a family can’t pay, with the expenses increasing daily until the family can somehow get the money together.) Being able to borrow quickly and easily meant that she could process the illness and death of her husband without the added stress of desperately trying to borrow funds from neighbors.

At the end of the year, the members are given back their savings plus their share of the interest paid on the loans. Then, they are able to buy larger items, like chickens, goats, dresses, or fertilizer for the year. The loan boost from SIA is retained for the next year.

Hearing testimonies from group members

Women and babies gathering front and center - the men and many kids also joined from the side.

Coming together to celebrate women

My visit was a day of celebration. The local mayor attended, and several of the local councilors. Over 200 community members – mostly women – attended the event. They also arranged for the village’s drumming group to perform, and a dance troupe of young women also performed. Drumming is a sacred activity in Burundi, and the deep resonance of the drums, all in unison, touched my soul.

It was such an amazing experience to hear how the savings groups had moved the women into a new place of security and financial independence. Rather than struggling from day to day, they are now wondering how to scale up their collective investment to move the women of Ryansoro to the next level!

*A special thank you to the Friends of Tubunganire! The Friends are young people from Ryansoro who now attend school or work in other districts. Since the women only speak Kirundi and don’t know the written language, the Friends write up the SIA reports so that we can follow along with their progress.

Tanya and Friends of Tubunganire, Esme and Livingstone

1 Comment

Dennis Johnson
Dennis Johnson
Aug 21, 2023

This is very inspiring, Tanya. Thanks so much for the great photos and videos.


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