The women in four hamlets of Rarumana village in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands had heard that, thanks to savings clubs the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM) began offering last year through the Mothers’ Union, women in neighbouring villages had been able to pay their children’s school fees and purchase small home items such as kitchenware or furnishings.
“A major concern for them was keeping their children in school,” says Tagolyn Kabekabe, Anglican Alliance Pacific Facilitator, explaining that many families struggled to pay school fees.
The women were also interested in saving for items such as fishing nets that could be used to establish small businesses to bolster their families’ incomes.
In August 2015, the women formed the Ubutu (orchid) Savings Group. With Tagolyn’s guidance they drafted a constitution and agreed a framework for regular deposits. Each of the 12 members committed to participating actively in the scheme by being present at every meeting and taking responsibility to speak for herself.
A cornerstone is accountability to the group, Tagolyn notes.
Decisions are made by majority vote. Leadership is shared between a chairperson, a secretary and a treasurer, along with a keeper of the cash box that holds the members’ deposits. The cash box is opened in front of everyone using keys held by three members of the group aside from the manager of the cash box. Deposits are made in a transparent manner and openly recorded in a passbook.
This backdrop of group accountability strengthened the women’s commitment to making a deposit every 10 days during the six months of the first savings round – with impressive results.
“One member whose goal was to pay school fees saved [SBD] 1000 dollars*, more than enough to pay the fees. She was able to use the extra money to buy new uniforms and other needed school supplies,” Tagolyn reports.
Another woman who committed to saving SBD 600 to buy vinyl covering for her home’s basic wooden floors ended up depositing double this amount during the first round of savings.
Tagolyn notes that this is remarkable given that Melanesia does not have a “savings mentality”.
“Here, people earn money and they spend it. The savings club is helping the women to think financially and be money-minded. They are gaining basic financial literacy.”
She notes that the club members are integrating skills learned from the savings group – such as budgeting and setting goals – into their daily lives. This has translated into the women taking a more active role in financial decision-making at home.
Family Finance Managers
Tagolyn tells of one family with four children who had to carry over fees from one school year to the next.
“Last October the husband had said if there were outstanding fees [again] they would need to think about whether their youngest, a little girl, would even be able to start school,” she recalls.
However, his wife is a member of the savings club. “I have the money for the fees,” she told her astonished husband when it came time to pay for the next term.
He is so convinced now by the new skills his wife has learned through the savings club that he gives her the income he earns and lets her manage their household finances – including determining how much money is available for him to purchase cigarettes.
“What you have introduced in this village is really, really good. My wife has saved enough money for my children to go to school,” he told Tagolyn recently.
Together the women are also transforming what they are able to contribute to their communities.
For the second round of the project, the women decided to introduce a communal savings fund. In addition to the money they are saving towards personal goals, the club members make a regular deposit into a “social savings” pot. They aim to provide loans for members to buy supplies for baking, fishing and other income-generating initiatives.
Ultimately, the savings club hopes to raise funds for a community building that can be used as an entrepreneurial training centre where women can learn skills such as cooking, sewing or flower arranging to launch small businesses.
“The women want to share their learning,” Tagolyn remarks and this includes less tangible areas like leadership. The members made a conscious decision to rotate the officer and core task roles in the club to give each woman a chance to be in a leadership position.
This has empowered some of its members who tended to remain in the background to become more assertive, the Alliance Pacific regional facilitator notes. “It has brought out leadership [in some of the quieter women] and they are becoming more influential.”
The group, the first to be registered with the ACoM Diocese of Ysabel continues to grow both in members – now 20 – and capital. Bishop-elect Ellison Quity has given his full support to the club.
Currently, Tagolyn is reflecting with the ACoM’s project officer how the Ubutu Savings Group’s success could inform the wider savings club programme. Other dioceses are looking to start savings groups, she reports.
The Ubutu Savings Group is an inspiring story of changing lives by empowering women and a real-life example of the Sustainable Development Goals in action, according to the Revd Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance Co-Executive Director.
“Sharing good practices of promoting equality with the Communion is important at any time but particularly today on International Women’s Day. The Alliance hopes that the club could serve as a model for other churches in the Anglican family,” Rachel adds.
Photo: The Ubutu Savings Group meets to set up its constitution and guidelines. Credit: Tagolyn Kabekabe/Anglican Alliance