“Without a savings group, I would be a dropout without skills, and unemployable. It’s that simple”, says Phylex Atuuhura, a resident of Bulimya Cell, Kiziranfumbi sub-county in Kikuube District, Uganda.
Growing up in a rural village in Western Uganda, Phylex wanted to be a doctor. “Being a medical doctor is really great. You get to help people solve problems every single day. But most importantly, as a medical doctor you get to witness humanity at its very best and very worst”, he says.
In 2015, however, Phylex's dream was cut short. He would not be pursuing his Advanced Level studies to do his favourite subject combination that would usher him into a medical school to pursue his childhood dream.
A fifth child out of nine, born to parents who eked a living as subsistence farmers, Phylex was faced with the same family’s financial predicament as his siblings before him. He prayed and hoped for the situation to be different but nothing changed. “I was in the same quandary as my older siblings”, he says. “I had reached my dead end too.”
Despite the state of uncertainty, Phylex did not lose hope. “As a Christian, I know too well that God knows what’s best for us. When we ask God for help, He may say, ‘I’ve got something even better for you’. So, I ask God for what I want, but I don’t get surprised when He gives me what I really need.”
In an attempt to keep his dream alive, Phylex started working on other people’s farms for a fee at age 17. For months, he moved from one neighbour to the next looking for work on the farm until he saved up just enough to start a business of selling beans and maize. From his labour in farming and business, he started earning UGX400,000 (US$108) monthly. “We often ask God to solve a small problem, but He wants to give us a whole new life and help for all our problems”, says Phylex. “I thank God I didn’t despair. Instead, I let His will be done. I’m a testimony of His providence unfolding before my own eyes.”
In 2016, Phylex’s blessings doubled when World Vision, using the Household Engagement and Accountability approach, came to his community and mobilised and trained households in saving, business skills and entrepreneurship. The approach empowers households to identify their own priorities, resources, and solutions to address issues they face. Household members are encouraged to save regularly, borrow from their group’s revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate.
Excited at the opportunity of finally addressing the root causes of his intergenerational financial woes, Phlyex swiftly mobilised his Tukore Households Cluster members to form a savings group. And with a membership comprising 18 women and 13 men, Kikuube Development Savings for Transformation Group was formed as one component of World Vision’s Resilience and Livelihood programme.
The programme uses the Building Secure Livelihoods project model that involves improving access to finance through Savings for Transformation (S4T), changing behaviour through Empowered World View, and improving production and entrepreneurship through local value chain development and business skills training interventions.
At the end of each saving cycle which runs for 12 months, the money is shared according to respective individual savings, plus interest earned from internal borrowing and penalties. The group strategically schedules the distribution of profits during critical times, such as the onset of the rainy season or the start of the new school term when money is most needed.
Also, each group member is required to pay a welfare amount that can be borrowed without interest. “We do that for members who may have an emergency at home: sickness, for example”, says Phylex. “It’s like supporting each other. At the end when we share out, this money is given to each member.”
After saving consistently for six months, Phylex was able to borrow UGX1.5 million (US$405) to expand his produce business. In a year, his business grew exponentially earning him UGX9 million (US$2,500), enough to make a monthly saving contribution, and to pay to pursue a certificate in laboratory techniques. “I was hungry for this [study opportunity]”, says Phylex. “So, I latched on it, worked hard and graduated.”
In 2018, Phylex started to work at Kikuube Health Centre IV as a laboratory technician. He wants to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor, as the biggest worry for the 27-year-old father of one is no longer school fees. On top of his monthly salary as a laboratory technician, Phylex is still an active member of the savings group he helped found. Likewise, his business continues to grow from strength to strength. “I feel the time is now to end the pause on my dream,” says Phylex. “My destiny could have been delayed, but not anymore. I am confident and ready for medical school [to pursue a degree in medicine].”
Savings groups have become a vital vehicle for improving access to finance, especially for rural households, and making it possible for members to support each other while developing their own businesses, pursuing personal dreams and gaining experience in how to manage money.
Out of a total of 3,200 men and women in 152 savings groups in Kikuube and Hoima districts, 2,028 are women, making up 63% of the membership. At the national level, World Vision has supported the establishment of 10,040 saving groups across its areas of operation, with more than 280,000 members. Women comprise 65% nationwide. As of now, accumulated savings stand at UGX19.2 billion (US$5.3 million), benefiting nearly 800,000 children. Of these, more than 81,000 are children registered under World Vision's sponsorship programme.
Secure livelihoods is when you have different streams of income; build a family house; acquire land for farming, and are able to revive, and pursue your childhood dreams. That is the story of Phylex, a lab technician with a wry sense of humour.
“Life before World Vision was unpredictable”, he concludes. “I feel like we received Jesus. You’re different. You come down. You see. You work with everyone to change their experience. I’m a living testimony.”
Written by Henry Mugisha, Technical Programme Officer (Resilience and Livelihoods) and Fred Ouma – Development Communications Coordinator, World Vision in Uganda