The sun was setting as we gathered in the shade of Amina’s huts in Korr. Kura had arranged for me to meet with the Bayo Savings Group and I recognized many faces. Over steaming cups of sweetened goat milk tea, we shared stories and laughed. The women poked fun at Omar and teased me with questions about my husband and children. I noticed that they all looked healthy—their eyes were bright; their skin glowed. All of their clothes were new–bright, colorful fabrics wrapped around waists, draped over shoulders and wound around beautiful faces.
It was hard to imagine, in this peaceful setting, that the community was again recovering from the twin shocks of drought and inflation. While the REAP business groups had managed their income and savings with a great deal of success, we were concerned that they were being pressured to lend money and sell goods on credit when their fellow community members were most in need. Because the businesses hold substantial sums of money and there are no banks in the region, we wanted to provide better options for keeping their savings in a more committed, secure location. So earlier in the year, after a four-month pilot program, we had launched a micro-savings program. It provides a framework and training program for the establishment of savings associations made up of three to eight REAP business groups. The associations not only hold the savings, but lend it with interest as a way to build their revenues. The program also provides each savings group with a three-lock metal box, which means the cash can’t be accessed without group approval.
Guthaso Guyo told me, “When you have cash with you it is tempting. With the lockbox we cannot reach the money and that is good. We did not believe that we could have over 100,000 shillings and now we have that amount. Now all we want to do is see our money grow.”
“What will you do with the money?” I asked.
“Before, we tried to save money in a small way but it did not work. Now we can sit down and think about our plan. We want to grow this money and not touch it for a while. Then we want to build a building for butchery. We can use it to slaughter our own animals. Or we can rent out the building to others. It will help us earn more money.”
Three years ago, these women were the community beggars. If they were lucky, they might get occasional jobs collecting firewood or hauling water for others. Now they are business owners and quasi-bankers, as REAP businesses are often the only source of goods, cash and loans in the village. For the first time, these women held capital—both financial and social. They have gone from being beggars to lenders, immediately elevating their status in the community.
I asked a few more questions about the savings group, but the women were tired of talking about business. They wanted to talk about Omar.
“It is time to find him a wife,” his sister told me. “We must pay some money and buy him a wife.”
“What do you think, Omar?”
“Mama Rungu, this is okay. I want to get married. I don’t want to stay like this alone.”
So the next day, I bought Omar a wife.