By Laura Hill, CARE Australia’s Media Advisor.
Alice Ronald Phiri dreams of owning a car.
‘I am fascinated by cars and I am so happy when I am riding in one that I want one of my own. I don’t know how much they cost, but I will try to buy one.’
A group of women sitting around Alice nod enthusiastically and smile with encouragement. They are part of a CARE Village Savings and Loan (VS&L) group in Malawi that began in 2004. Each week the women attend a meeting and contribute a small amount of their savings to a fund from which they can eventually borrow.
Had Alice, 56, said her dream out loud seven years ago, she would have been laughed at and made to feel a fool. ‘I was very poor before I joined the VS&L,’ explains Alice. ‘I was having so much difficulty providing for my family. I could not grow enough food to feed my children and I struggled to get access to money.’
‘People pitied us because we couldn’t grow enough food to feed our five children and two grandchildren,’ says Alice. She and her husband have been looking after their two grandchildren since their daughter died of HIV in 2002.
‘Our life was so miserable. Year after year I could not grow enough food for my family. Often we only ate one meal a day, which was usually watered down maize porridge. We could not afford meat or fish and vegetables such as okra and pumpkin leaves were the only option’ says Alice.
Nowadays, her dreams don’t seem so ridiculous. As the chairwoman of her VS&L, Alice is seen by the women in her group as an inspiration. Outside the group Alice is a shining example of how when equipped with the proper skills and resources, women have the power to help their family and community escape poverty.
‘As soon as I joined CARE’s VS&L group I started to benefit. I was taught basic arithmetic and learnt about financial literacy,’ says Alice.
‘I am grateful that my husband supported my involvement in the group,’ adds Alice. ‘Knowledge is power and soon after joining the group I began to know more about money and budgeting than my husband. With his support I started to make household decisions such as what we spent our money on and when. This gave me the confidence to take my first loan.’
Alice took out a $40 loan from the group to buy a bag of fertiliser for her plot of land, which she grew maize and tobacco from. At harvest time Alice realised that for the first time in years, her maize harvest was enough to feed her family for the coming year.
‘At the end of each year, we share out the money saved by the VS&L group,’ explains Alice. ‘By the end of the fourth year I had saved over $110 and when it was time to share out the savings I received another $160. I could hardly believe my eyes.’
‘CARE’s VS&L program has changed my life. I can honestly say that I no longer have any big problems. I am able to feed my family, drink tea with milk, earn an income from selling surplus food and send my children to secondary school,’ adds Alice.
Alice hopes that her eldest son will finish his secondary education. ‘I was hopeless before CARE came to our village, but now I have many hopes and dreams for the future. I want all my children to gain an education so that they don’t have to rely on the land to survive. I also want to build a bigger, better house for my family and set up a shop to sell surplus food I grow from my plot of land.’