How Savings Groups Are Creating Hope in the D.R Congo

unlocking strongbox with groups saved money 11598What the average person knows about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is that it is somewhere in central Africa. It might be a stretch to include the word “central,” so let’s take a moment to gain just a bit more understanding.

At one-quarter the size of the U.S., the DRC is the eleventh largest country in the world. It lies on the northeastern border of Angola and, contrary to popular belief, is not landlocked. Its 37 kilometers of coastline is home to the seaport of Banana.

With more than 80 percent of the 77 million people living below the poverty line, the DRC is ranked 184 out of the 189 countries listed in the CIA World Factbook. To further put that into perspective, the DRC’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is $400. In the United States it is $52,800. The average Congolese family survives on about $1 per day.

The Need is Greater Than Most Imagine

What Food for the Hungry (FH) does in the DRC goes beyond feeding, educating and promoting better hygiene and sanitation. If that were all we did, the Congolese we serve would be alive, fed and thankful, but they need much more.

We Are Helping Them to Help Themselves

We offer these desperate, poverty-stricken people the dignity that comes with productivity and financial independence. We are able to do that by facilitating Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA).  Until recently, for people in remote Congolese villages, like Karhrwa, gaining financial independence has been virtually impossible. Every bit earned by meager agrarian efforts is needed for subsistence. When natural disasters destroy their only source of income, the daily struggle for these families becomes even more burdensome.

As is typical in the poorer regions of the world, families must hold fast to every bit of money that they earn from their meager efforts at farming. By establishing Village Savings and Loan Associations and providing education in simple financial principles, we are able to help villagers like Madam Nabintu M’Kalimira, understand that, by pooling resources with other villagers, they are able to develop small, income generating businesses.

An Economy of Scale

RS8125_Justin Barlow2013Justin Barlow2013IMG_5941When we speak of “economy of scale,” it is usually within the context of growing a business to significantly greater proportions of production and distribution. In the DRC, we are talking about micro-businesses, such as the one that Madam M’Kalimira established by borrowing enough from her local VSLA to purchase and sell simple items like matches, soap, pens and candy. That $40 micro-loan (by U.S. standards) has permitted the 40-year-old mother-of-four to generate income that is more than adequate to support her family comfortably and much beyond the previous standard of the community.

“Since I started as member of a VSLA, I am at peace, because I am sure that, if I need money, I have access to loans through the group,” she said. “If I am in a difficult position, group members will help me. I now am able to easily meet the needs of my family, and I am able to support myself.”

The Start of Something Bigger

She added that, “VSLAs have given hope to many people here in our village.” Therein lies the broader impact of Village Savings and Loan Associations. They enable individuals and entire communities to replace poverty and hopelessness with enterprise and self-sufficiency. That is a starting point on the road to a thriving community.

Read More | Help with Income Generation