Mohamed Jabbie is an aspiring money manager with a vision. This quietly confident five-year-old is developing his mother’s timber sales business with a loan from Destiny—the first children’s savings group in his community. Mohamed is a proud member.
Mohamed, a World Vision sponsored child, and 24 of his young friends made history when they set up Destiny in Korigbondo, a small community of mud-walled homes in south eastern Sierra Leone. They not only launched a pioneer project, but they did it during the height of Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis.
They not only launched a pioneer project, but they did it during the height of Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis.
“The children and their parents came up with the idea of setting up a savings group in December 2014,” says Michaela Tucker, Manager of World Vision’s Jaiama Bongor Area Development Program, which includes Korigbondo. “We just helped them with advice on how to go about it.”
At that time, up to 400 people per week were dying of Ebola across the country, according to World Health Organization records. To date, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,600 Sierra Leoneans. Some 8,600 children have lost one or both parents to the disease. Thankfully, no one died of Ebola in Korigbondo, although the broader Bo District registered 231 deaths.
Even before the Ebola crisis, Sierra Leone was among the world’s poorest countries.
Even before the Ebola crisis, Sierra Leone was among the world’s poorest countries. The 2014 UN Development Program’s Human Development Index, which ranks countries, based on income, life expectancy, education and quality of life, placed Sierra Leone 183 out of 187 countries.
In Korigbondo, most people earn their living by subsistence farming, petty trading and processing foods, such as palm oil and cassava. Other activities include firewood collection, charcoal production, stone mining, and motorbike taxi businesses.
Economically, the Ebola outbreak hit Korigbondo and other small rural communities hard. When the Government of Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency in July 2014, public gatherings, including weekly farmers’ markets, were banned to help contain the virus. Farmers’ unsold produce rotted in storehouses and families’ incomes fell.
Economically, the Ebola outbreak hit Korigbondo and other small rural communities hard...Farmers’ unsold produce rotted in storehouses and families’ incomes fell.
Schools also closed for nine months during the crisis, leaving youth with little or nothing to do except worry about their future. Concerned about their children’s disrupted education, a group of Korigbondo parents asked World Vision to help the children start a savings group while out of class. The parents all belong to adult savings groups supported by World Vision, and wanted their children to reap some of the same benefits and develop new skills.
As so Destiny was born.
“We called ourselves Destiny Savings Group (DSG), because we know that education determines our destiny,” says Kadiatu Foray, Chair. “And the savings group contributes to our education. We can take loans from this group for our school supplies. Our savings group is like keeping your money in the bank, which can be accessed at any time.”
“We called ourselves Destiny Savings Group (DSG), because we know that education determines our destiny,”
Korigbondo does not have a bank, let alone an ATM machine. Savings groups like Destiny are simple, transparent, locally run systems that address the need for a safe, convenient means to save money and have ready access to small loans.
Kadiatu and her fellow savers take their membership in Destiny seriously. The group is governed by a constitution and run by an executive committee. Cash savings are safeguarded in a heavy wooden box equipped with a substantial padlock. Its three keys are held by three members to ensure security.
“We formed this group so we can help our parents by contributing to our own education,” says keyholder Fatmata Tucker.
The children, from five to 18 years of age, save together and can borrow small loans from the pooled funds. DSG members contribute 1,000 leones (USD0.20) weekly, which they receive from their parents. The children also invest any small cash gifts from relatives into the group’s coffers. As of May 2015, they had saved 1.2 million leones (USD$240), as well as an emergency fund of 150,000 leones (USD$35). This is a substantial nest egg in a country where most people earn less than $2.00 per day, according to United Nations Development Program statistics.
“I borrowed 50,000 leones and gave it to my mother to invest in her fruit and firewood trade, so she can buy me books, pencils, uniforms and a bag from her profits,”
Mohamed was the first DSG member to take a loan. “I borrowed 50,000 leones and gave it to my mother to invest in her fruit and firewood trade, so she can buy me books, pencils, uniforms and a bag from her profits,” he says.
Mohamed’s mother, Bintu, is proud of her young entrepreneur, who is a Grade I pupil at Ahmadiyya Primary School in Korigbondo. ‘”It is really a good thing that the children are doing,” says Bintu, who, like all parents of Destiny members, belongs to one of 540 adult savings groups supported by World Vision across southern and eastern Sierra Leone.
“Being part of Destiny will help them grow up to be responsible and prepare them to be good leaders, decision makers and even savings group coordinators in the future,’’ she says.
Bintu believes that learning about saving and money management at a young age is important. However, traditionally African children are not taught this at home or in school. Culturally, parents fear that exposing them to money will distract children from their studies. As a result, children often grow up not knowing how to balance their meager incomes and basic expenses, which can perpetuate poverty from generation to generation. But Destiny is gradually changing that dynamic.
‘’These children are agents of change in their communities,’’ says Michaela, who attends Destiny meetings regularly to support the group. “Instilling a culture of saving in the heart and minds of children is helping to build a culture of leadership and planning. The children are learning to manage and use resources in the best way possible to address issues affecting them.”
‘’These children are agents of change in their communities.’’
Destiny members are learning more than just money management, adds Michaela. “Participating in the group has empowered them to make good decisions, communicate ideas, and manage their emotions,” she says. “They have also developed the skills to talk in public and take on leadership roles. Destiny has given them a sense of belonging and concern for one another, too. We want to start more savings groups for children because of the impact they are starting to have.”
Impressed by DSG’s success, children in Jaiama Bongor recently launched two more savings groups. Combined, they have already tucked away more than 1 million leones (USD$200).
History will not be silent about their children’s innovation and achievements in the Ebola era.
In Sierra Leone, the war on Ebola continues. However, long after the disease is eradicated, Koribongo residents will no doubt remember Destiny’s launch during the crisis as a turning point in their community. History will not be silent about their children’s innovation and achievements in the Ebola era.