Fatmata and her siblings live with hunger and starvation constantly invading their lives.Fatmata was always hungry, tired and losing concentration in class. There was a day when she came back from school and there was no food. She slept on an empty stomach that night. Holding her stomach and crying, she asked her mother why they were suffering in this way.
Fatmata’s mother, Amie, lost her husband a few years ago. “Ever since my husband died, life has become unbearable for me and my three children. I carry the burden alone on my shoulders. My husband, even when he was alive, struggled to make ends meet. It was better when he was alive because we matched the little resources we had, with my petty trade. We have really suffered,” says Amie.
WELD (Women Empowered for Leadership and Development) is a three-year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). WELD works with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, to contribute to Pillar 8 of the Government’s Agenda for Prosperity.
The WELD Project has the overall goal of increasing women’s social, political and economic rights in Sierra Leone. The Savings Group (SG) is an approach used by the project, to improve the economic rights of women.
“Before the establishment of SGs in communities, there were thrift societies (osusu), but these were not as organized as the SGs. The SGs are well organized, with rules and regulations guiding us. We all comply with the rules and when the rules are broken, we are fined, so, everybody behaves. The SG is the place I run to whenever I am in need, and I am never disappointed,” says Amie.
Amie is the recorder of her group and she explains how she has learned a lot of things over the past one year. “I dropped out of school at grade seven. It is unfortunate I couldn’t further my studies, but I am learning a lot, in terms of calculating money and taking inventory of all that happens in the group. Every Friday, when we meet for contributions, my duties are to call people by their numbers to buy their shares, explain what is in the Social Fund, what was collected in the previous meeting and open the floor for new contributions. This has helped me to be more transparent and reliable,” she explains. Transparency in recording helps reassure the group that its deliberations are being proficiently reflected in the notes.
Fatmata is a Junior Secondary School 1 (JSS 1) pupil at Every Nation Academy in Lowoma. A year ago, Fatmata was in grade six, one of the most important stages in a child’s life, a time in which they transition to secondary school. This is a time parents proudly prepare for their children’s transition to secondary school. According to Amie, the SG helped her prepare for her children’s transition to secondary school. Her first loan went to buying books, bags, uniforms and other school materials. She was also able to save a little money for their fees.
“Since the establishment of my mother’s SG and the gains she is making from it, I don’t remember going to bed on an empty stomach. Before then, we reserved a portion of what had been cooked and that became our meal the next day. This became a normal routine for us. Even when we were not full, we still reserved food, so we could have something to eat in the morning,” recalls Fatmata. “Now I eat left overs by choice. My mum gives me some money to buy food of my choice in school.”
Amie dropped out of school, but has sworn her children will never be dropouts. “Because I was a dropout doesn’t mean my children should be dropouts. I will do my best to give them the best education in life and the SG is helping me to do that,” says Amie. “I have continued to advocate for functional literacy and numeracy among SG members. I see this as a fundamental pillar in our empowerment. Women now display good business management skills, can express themselves and show a high sense of responsibility in being good leaders. Loans are at my disposal, and my little business is flourishing, with the current skill I have received from the WELD project,’’ she concludes.