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Happiness in a land of sorrow: See how Saving for Change is making a difference in Darfur
By Elizabeth Stevens
For as little as $1.50 per week, savings groups are transforming the lives of women in war-torn Darfur, Sudan
When a Saving for Change group in Darfur, Sudan, gathers for a meeting, it is hard to remember there are gunmen nearby. Listening to the laughter and easy conversation, you might forget that each of these women and every member of her family lives under threat of hunger, disease, violence, and untimely death. You may find yourself wishing you lived there with them, just to be part of such a group—to know that, no matter what you were going through, a lively gang of women would have your back.
Saving for Change, a program that Oxfam and partners have launched in North and South Darfur, trains groups of women to save money in weekly increments, pool their resources, and invest in one another’s small businesses. Members take out small loans to buy livestock, or goods to sell in the market, or whatever else they think of to generate an income, paying back the money on terms that the group itself has set.
“The Saving for Change group enables us to pay school fees, and buy healthy food and medicines for our children,” says Kubra Ahmed, the president of a savings group in Golo, a village in North Darfur.
Musaya Yahaya, who helps launch new savings groups through the Jebel Marra Charitable Organization, an Oxfam partner, points to a big success in the South Darfur villages where we work: “Every single woman has achieved her financial goal.”
But that’s only the beginning. Becoming a successful breadwinner and an active member of a lending institution can change the way a woman feels about herself.
“Now, we feel confident,” says Ahmed. “Sometimes we think we are stronger than men because we not only have money—we are well organized. We can run a meeting in a professional way. We can solve problems. We think there will come a time when we will be called on to solve the problems of men.”
And there's more.
“Through our savings group, we have built strong relationships,” she says. “If a member has a problem, we try to help. We are like a family.”
It’s that sense of family that is so striking at Saving for Change meetings. The women are at ease, expertly carrying out financial transactions, chatting and joking, and sometimes singing and dancing. They have helped each other through crises, worked side by side on community projects, entrusted each other with their life savings, and celebrated each other’s successes. With their own hands, they have woven a safety net for themselves and their families, and they couldn’t be prouder or happier about it.
“We are seeing important changes in the lives of women in the Saving for Change groups,” says Raja Khalil, who supports savings groups through another partner, the Volunteer Network for Rural Helping and Development. “These women used to dream about what they wanted to do. Now, they have a way of making at least some of those dreams reality.”