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VSLA in rural Bonthe boost community unity

By Mohamed Konneh

It is very a cool and quiet evening here at the Gbongboma community, a two and half mile on a dusty sandy road from Bonthe Town. The community is part of the Bonthe Municipality, separated by stretch of bushes along its path. Tweet sounds from sun birds is the song that drives through the ears, while green leaves waves to either greet or say goodbye as one enters or leave the community. This beautiful community is home to energetic young people, whose activities are mainly fishing and farming.

Alieu and Madam Fatmata in Gbongboma community giving their contributions

Inhabitants and members of the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) scheme have just gathered to give their weekly contributions as part of effort to support members or contributors to the scheme. The village savings and loan scheme remains the community savings that gives out loans to its members that wants to go into business, petty trading and to also solve other immediate problems.

“The VSLA is one of the best thing that has happen to us here in this community and we are happy that we now have this knowledge to save our money”, say Keine Alieu, Secretary General to the scheme in Gbonbgoma.

“With this VSLA I was able to buy school bags, my uniform and shoe to go to school without my parent going out to borrow money which is sometimes embarrassing. Before the advent of the scheme we find it difficult to save money and to also have enough money for the things we needed or problems we might want to solved. Thanks to WA BiCC for the training and sensitization they gave to us when they entered our community, Alieu said.

Mamdam Gassama in Kega, community displaying the savings box

The West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) with support from USAID work to improve conservation and climate resilient, low emission growth across West Africa. The aim is to reduce deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss. The programme engaged communities along coastal lines through training and sensitization on alternative livelihood activities.

The people of Gbongboma community before this time had no knowledge that they have money within the community to do all what they are doing today. Money to do trading and small scale business was like impossibility until they were exposed to the VSLA and how to go about it.

WA BiCC had to provide the savings box with three padlocks and key of different kinds, a ledger to records names of members and what they contribute and pens for taking records. Community people meet here ones every week and its done every Thursday of the week.

Musa Lahai, a member of the scheme also a community elder explains that they have been in this scheme for almost two years and that the scheme is helping members greatly.

“We have been trained and educated about saving our money and using this model. This scheme has help a good number of community members since we started and we no longer go out to loan from other villages to solve our problem. The scheme has also brought unity among us which was lacking in this community. Husbands and wives use to quarrel a lot but this is now a thing of the pass” Musa said.

We also planning to have a community farm the sooner the money grows to an amount that will enable us to go into that kind of venture”, he said.

The same also from Fatama Salieu, one among contributors to the scheme who have now scale up her business after taking a loan of Three Hundred Thousand Leones (Le 300,000) approximately Thirty Five United States Dollars (US$35).

Madam Fatama is an elderly woman at Gbongboma Community and trades in rubbers and dishes. Her business was challenging as she had no money to scale up the business. Today, this woman can boast of having money to do her business with ease without difficulties.

“I used to go outside of this community to borrow money from people and sometimes it comes with very high interest and cost. Sometimes you will give almost half of your farm plantation just to repay loans and this affects us badly.

Marie Davies-Head Teacher and Member of VSLA in Momaya

But with the VSLA that was introduced by WA BiCC to our community we now have peace of mind and one can now go about his or her business quietly without any quarrel or confusion. This VSLA is a life saver. Even the problem between us and our husbands have now reduced. Both of us contribute to the scheme and we use the proceeds to attend to our children, solve their school problems and take care of other domestics activities”, she said.

The Village Savings and Loan scheme remains an attractive scheme introduced by WA BiCC to communities along this end. Kega is another community along this end and most of the women including men are part of the scheme. Kega is fairly a big community along the Sherbro River Estuary. It is an hour ride on a speed boat from Bonthe Island. The community main occupation is farming and fishing and most of the young men and women are either in rice or cassava farming or fishing along the coast.

Kega community’s VSLA group comprises Twenty Five (25) members some of whom contribute around Five Thousand Leones (less than one dollar) and others Ten Thousand Leones approximately One dollar, every week. Members meet four times per month to discuss and make their weekly contribution and to also plan what they want to do when the money grows.

Madam Mariama Gassama, is a member of the scheme who is held with the responsibility of keeping the savings box. Like Gbongboma, members of the VSLA in Kega also meet every Thursday of every week to make their contributions.

“I have benefited a lot from this box and it is helping other members in the community. I have my kids in Bonthe that are going to schools and from this box I am able to solve their schooling problem with ease. I took a loan of five Hundred Thousand Leones (Le 500,000) approximately Fifty Dollars (US$50) that was used to buy uniforms, books and other school materials for my kids,” Madam Mariama said.

She said before this time “I will take money from my business to solve my children school problem while i will be left with nothing except after the planting season when I would have sold some of my produce. This is the only time I will get money re-start my business again. Now, I can do my business and solve my problems at the same time without scratching my head or wondering where to get money. I can now loan with small interest and this is helping my family especially my children up keep. The VSLA is a blessing that was introduced by WA BiCC to this community and it is helping our community greatly.

Like Madam Gassama, so also is Marie Davies, Head Teacher and resident in Momaya community, a small island with over four hundred inhabitants. Momaya is another community along the Sherbro Estuary. Community people here are reshaping their lives once again. The community is also challenge with destruction of their rice plantation as Manatee is a common visitor that visits and destroys rice plantation in the community. Debris from the sea also ended up in most of the rice farms destroying the farms. This is due to the destruction of mangroves but communities continue to replant mangroves so as to protect plantations and flooding that affects the community most often.

The community used to cut down their mangroves and never knew the mangroves serve as protection for their community and plantation. The VSLA is an alternative livelihood activity introduced in the community. Mrs. Davies used the proceeds from the VSLA to attend to her children school needs.

The scheme she said is also helping other community members and that most of the members are now doing businesses and using the loan facility to attend to other pressing needs.

The West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) programme focuses in promoting best practices in mangroves and inland forest landscape including innovative community based approaches to integrate land use planning. Building the capacity of communities, through training and sensitization remains a core value of the WA BiCC community engagement and this is fundamental to community approaches of sustainability and economic planning and environmental stewardship.

Communities here are now building their own economical sustainability through the VSLA that is putting not only money into the pockets of members but also putting food on the table and taking care of basic domestic needs that were difficult to solve.

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