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When it’s hard to save; but that might be okay.

Vestor with the car he bought with a grant and low-interest loan from the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative.

Vestor with the car he bought with a grant and low-interest loan from the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative.

I’ve often read that the importance of women’s savings and loans cooperatives or savings circles in Africa is that they address two challenges:

  1. These women are unable to access formal savings services at banks because of distance, access, or minimum requirements;

  2. Saving at home is difficult, especially when extended family members live nearby. Women who are known to have savings are often expected to loan money to extended family for their needs – whether medical, burial, business, or basic needs.

Savings circles address both of these issues by providing a safe, formal place to store savings and disincentivizing withdrawals outside of the normal schedule. The result is a system that effectively helps  women reach their own savings goals.

This is all very neat and makes a lot of sense. But real life is not always so clear cut.

Recently, a close friend of ours, I’ll call her Hazel, asked to borrow some money. Hazel’s car was on its last leg and she needs this car to take her daughter to daycare and get herself to work. She needed something better right away.

But, Hazel had lent her meager savings to another friend who had needed to replace her totaled car last summer. Neither woman had real access to credit and both were smart enough not to use any usury quick-loans. The loan is being paid back slowly, but Hazel needed the full balance now; so she turned to us with the request. Luckily, we were able to lend her the money, with the understanding that she’ll pay it back with her tax return.

The moral of the story is not as simple as wishing Hazel had been part of a savings circle so that she could’ve saved the money for her own car needs. Though it is important to recognize the need, both here and abroad, for people to be able to save and to access low-interest loans.

Really, this story is about celebrating the fact that when a friend needs help friends reach out to offer what they can. Even when they themselves don’t have much to give.

And it is about recognizing that saving money is hard when we are generous. But that this sharing the gift – even when it’s our savings – is a good thing in the world and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of, in my own life and through Spirit in Action.

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