Savings group looks forward to a more secure future

_1020682
Saving for the future: the farmers’ group in Chai village, Mozambique. Photo: Paul Salmon

Every two weeks on a Sunday morning, a large group of people from the Chai village farmers’ group – including many who are leprosy-affected – gather under the shade of a large tree to shelter from the sun.

Each member puts 10 Mozambican Meticais (about 10 pence) into an old flag laid out on the ground, before the coins were gathered up and placed in a secure box. This money goes into their community chest, from which anyone can borrow in an emergency.

Next, each household deposits whatever else they can afford into a separate individual savings pot. Security is high, with this secure box placed into another box and then into a third even sturdier box. All three boxes are locked individually with keys held by three different people.

Every two weeks, the farmers’ group get together to do this so they can save up for a very different future for their families.

Farming is the main way of earning a living in this very rural part of northern Mozambique. The majority of the group are mothers like Olencia, who wear their youngest children on their backs while working the land, growing maize, cassava, beans, peanuts and potatoes in small community plots.

untitled-design-23
Olencia, a member of the savings group, who has been putting money away to save in case of a medical emergency.

Olencia told us that the 500 MT she deposited in the savings box that day was for medical emergencies. The mother of four, whose two older girls are married, has a one-year-old and a five-year-old and wants to do the best she can to ensure a better future for them.

Driven by love, the stories of each of the savings group members were similar. Parents who had never had the opportunity to learn were saving up to give their children a better chance in life through education; others were putting money aside simply to ensure that they could pay for treatment should their children become ill.

With no public transport and the nearest bank many miles away, putting money aside for emergencies wasn’t something the farmers living in Mozambique’s remote villages could do in the past. The knock-on effects of unexpected costs – such as a relative’s funeral – could be longlasting and utterly devastating.

Judy Atoni, Programs Manager with Food for the Hungry Association – The Leprosy Mission’s partner organisation in Mozambique, said “When there was, say, a relative’s funeral, they had to sell their grains to get cash. It left them with little food for the rest of the year and resulted in malnutrition.”

p1050375
Adelino counts the money before it is locked away for safekeeping. Photo: Paul Salmon

As a result of the Feet First campaign in summer 2015, more than 60 savings groups have now been set up across Cabo Delgado province by The Leprosy Mission in partnership with Food for the Hungry. These life-changing groups have only been made possible by your overwhelming response to Feet First, where every donation was matched pound for pound by the UK Government.

“As word gets around we are finding that more and more people are getting interested in joining the groups,” said Judy.

Adelino, who is leader of the Chai group, told us: “If there is an emergency – for example, someone is sick and needs to go to hospital – they can borrow money from the community savings pot.

“People can also borrow from the individual savings pot for any needs or purchases. If it is less than the amount they have saved then there is no interest to pay.”

Adelino is a father of four boys and said that the money he put into savings that day was to help pay for his two older sons’ education.

“There is no secondary school in this village. The nearest one is 45 kilometres away,” he said. “I want my sons to get good jobs so they can help improve the lives of people in the village.”

Your amazing generosity means families like Olencia’s and Adelino’s can now rest easier, knowing they have financial security, and that they can plan for the future.

 

Advertisements

Keeping leprosy-affected people and those with disabilities at the heart of development programmes

Momina from Bangladesh
Momina from Bangladesh

It is important to not to view leprosy as an isolated problem in terms of development. It is our desire to see leprosy-affected and disabled people included in mainstream and Neglected Tropical Disease-specific development programmes so that they can reap the same benefits from government aid programmes as their able-bodied counterparts. Yet many NGOs and programmes do not include disability, with claims that it is too expensive, does not offer value for money or due to a lack of expertise.

Recent research carried out by The Leprosy Mission England and Wales with more than 5,000 leprosy-affected people from nine countries across Africa and Asia revealed that although they had seen changes around them, they did not feel they had benefited from the Millennium Development Goals.

The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities states that disabled people have equal rights and must be included in development processes. 2015 brings the global challenge to develop Sustainable Development Goals that will not just halve poverty and reduce associated with it as the Millennium Development Goals attempt but to create goals which will include all to ensure that no one is left behind (United Nations General Assembly 2014).

One billion people globally are disabled, 80 per cent of which live in developing countries (DfID 2014).  We know that permanent disability is a reality for many of the 1.5 billion people living with the consequences of NTDs.

The EC-funded Food Security for the Ultra Poor in Bangladesh was run by a consortium of NGOs is a good example of disability-inclusive development. The Leprosy Mission provided technical expertise and spearheaded the leprosy and disability components of this life-changing project which has seen more than 900 leprosy-affected families (out of a total of 40,000 beneficiaries) benefit from a new source of income. The majority are women-headed families, some as a result of their husbands being unable to work because of leprosy-caused disabilities. Others are leprosy-affected women like Momina desperately needing an income. Disabled women are doubly disadvantaged and subject to high levels of abuse (DfID, 2014).

Coming from the Gaibandha district of Northern Bangladesh, 50-year-old Momina’s husband divorced her on hearing she had leprosy, taking with him their son and three daughters.

Despite being shunned by villagers, her brother gave her a place to stay. Her feet are numb as a result of leprosy-caused nerve damage and she cannot walk far without developing ulcers that, if they become infected, could result in her lower legs being amputated. This greatly limits her earning capacity. But Momina wants to work, not least to repay the debt she feels she owes her brother.

As part of the Food Security for the Ultra-Poor project, Momina was given 10 chickens, a goat and a cow. The chickens have produced 12 chicks and the goat two kids. She is able to sell eggs and milk and says she is “able to hold her head high” in the community. She is also benefiting from the camaraderie of being part of a 26-member women’s support group. She even has 600 Taka (around £5) worth of personal savings as part of a self-help group cooperative, enough to support her when she next hits tough times.

As well as livelihood activities, the project provided rehabilitation services including physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and the provision of assistive devices including protective footwear, wheelchair and crutches. A total of 70 per cent of people who received these services noticed positive changes in their ability to perform livelihood activities. Crucially many women stopped begging as a result and disabled women stated that working was empowering and meant they were more respected by their family as they were able to contribute to the family income. Many disabled women took on leadership roles within their group and 251 disabled women were included as members of federation committees.

Jenny’s Nepal blog: Final reflections

Blue mountains, Nepal
Blue mountains, Nepal

Saturday 22 November

God is alive and well and living in Nepal.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not being flippant. We were in church this morning and the presence of God was so strong. Apparently the Nepalese church is one of the fastest growing in the world at present. The church was filled with passionate, worshipping people.

The language is different but the people are the same. The culture and the clothes are different but the Spirit is the same. Some of the songs we recognise, some are different – but hands are raised and the Spirit is the same.

A widow just stood up and thanked the church for paying all the medical bills for her husband when he was ill. His death left her with mounting debt but the church paid it in full.

Love in action: that is what we are seeing on a daily basis, and I know it doesn’t just happen here. Mike Griffin says that he feels Anandaban is a ‘thin place’, a place where heaven meets earth. If there is a reason for that, it has to be, in my opinion, because there are so many people here ‘being Jesus’ to the people around them, and the air is filled with their prayers.

Sunday 23 November

My husband is reading a book called When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor…and yourself. A strange title but reading it has changed my perspective on how to make giving and helping the poor more effective in the long term.

As far as I understand it, the book suggests there are three ways of helping the poor. Firstly, relief, in response to an obvious crisis – like giving food, clothes and blankets. Essential, and possibly the easiest one for us as individuals to participate in.

Secondly, rehabilitation, which takes the needs of the person one step further, taking them back to where they were before the crisis by working together with them.

Thirdly, development, where the potential and the desires of the person are developed and they regain control of their lives, much like the self help groups we have seen. This type of help is relational and takes much longer to achieve as changes within communities comes very slowly and at a price to those involved.

The book also suggests that it is difficult for one organisation to achieve all three types of help. From what I have seen, The Leprosy Mission does all three very successfully.

The relief work – the first aid treatment, if you like, at Patan Hospital. The rehabilitation via reconstructive surgery at Anandaban, and the physiotherapists working to teach people how to use their hands, teaching self care, and taking control of their lives again. The development work of the self help groups which grow into cooperatives, income generating loans, scholarships for education…whatever the individual wants for their life.

The fact that The Leprosy Mission does all three may be a miracle but it is envisioned by those willing to step out and take a risk, and it is worked out over the years with patience, diplomacy and love.

What a testimony to the love of God and the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit.

Flower in the grounds of Anandaban
Flower spotted in the grounds of Anandaban Hospital

Monday 24 November

We are nearly home and I wonder how things will be different for me after such a trip. It’s a question that has been asked by all of us in the group during the last few days. Whatever the change is, will it last, and will it benefit others?

I hope so. I don’t know what the future will bring for any of us but I know my perspective on life, and what matters, has changed. Things have been brought into sharper focus whilst other things seem strangely far less important. The journal I have been writing this blog in has this phrase on the front cover: ‘Be the change’.

I guess that is the message I am taking home with me today. Whatever my or your circumstances, we can ‘be the change’ where we live and work, and across the world. Yesterday by sheer coincidence was the 57th anniversary of Anandaban Hospital opening. We had a celebratory service, and one of the staff shared a bit of the history of the place. Apparently someone in the Nepalese army had a son who had leprosy. He instigated help from the Mission so that his son could be treated. To cut a long story short, the work was founded in the forest a few miles away from Kathmandu, and they called it ‘ the forest of joy’. It all began with one man’s need. One man’s request.

Everything starts with one person. A small idea mushrooms into something large that influences millions across the world. We just don’t know what God can do with us when we are willing.

Be the change and see what He can do.

You can purchase Jenny’s paintings from her trip to Nepal, created as part of her ‘Painting A Day’ project. They’re priced at £26 plus £5 postage. Go to Jenny’s Facebook page to find out which paintings are still available and simply comment to say you would like to buy one. Proceeds go to support our work.