“Water!” She says. Most of the girls in the line quickly step to their left; one steps to her right. To this girl, the training agent says, “Did you understand the word? I said ‘water’! If you think that it is a ‘need’, step to your left. If you think it is a ’want’, step to your right!”
“I understood you!” the lone rebel replied, smiling broadly. “And for me, water is a want. I don’t need it to live. I could drink beer every day and never have water again!” The girls erupt in laughter and quickly challenge her answer.
The scene is a financial education learning session on “distinguishing between wants and needs”; the girls are members of a savings group that CARE has promoted as part of its pioneering Ishaka (“courage for the future”) program. Although CARE is credited with inventing Savings Groups twenty years ago, this is the first time CARE Burundi has tried to introduce the model to teenage girls. Now there are over 600 savings groups and 12,500 girls, aged 14-22, members. In addition to learning how to save regularly and use their pooled savings to make loans, these girls receive financial education. Though often filled with laughter and entertaining moments, these training sessions provide girls a chance to discuss basic but critical financial decisions for which they have never received any guidance.
Targeting girls for financial inclusion under a Nike Foundation grant, CARE sought to not only give them a safe place to save, but teach them how saving can help them and why it is important. Tasked with developing the FE curriculum, Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) drafted modules on four distinct themes, but CARE chose to focus on savings. Why savings, one might ask, when the girls are learning how to save in the context of their savings groups? As members, these girls learn new tools and strategies to save, which maximizes their participation in the groups and gives their savings activities a clear purpose.
CARE used the savings module to train ‘training agents’, group members elected by their peers, to lead the learning sessions with their respective groups. This peer training model was chosen for its low cost and long-term sustainability. Once the groups have “graduated” from CARE’s supervision, the girls should be able to continue saving, borrowing, and discussing the important life lessons contained in the curricula.
After a full year of savings group promotion combined with financial education, MFO staff documented the project, from design through implementation, to capture the thoughts of all program participants about what worked well and what should be changed. Girls articulated the importance of financial education, giving it priority over knowing how to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. As they explained, knowing how to protect themselves is not enough. Having the financial means to have options and say “no” is what has truly made a difference in their ability to be proactive about their health.
Parents and their daughters provided many examples of how life has changed after Ishaka. The program targeted vulnerable teenagers, characterized by their parents as rebellious. But participation in savings groups brought together girls who had been strangers, even as residents of the same neighborhoods. By all reports, they grew more connected, more helpful and polite at home, and certainly more conscientious about their budgeting, spending and saving. Boyfriends and brothers noted that the girls proved how very small savings (just $0.05-0.10 USD per week in most cases) could add up to make a substantial impact. Girls have started their own small businesses, paid for their own school fees, and paid for home repairs.
In addition to the face-to-face training, CARE experimented with different ways to deliver financial education messages. CARE and MFO worked with local organizations Stylemaq and Tubiyage to create comic books featuring a young woman nicknamed ‘Dundumeneke’ (after a very popular type of shoe) on ‘advanced’ financial literacy topics (borrowing, bank services and income generation). Her adventures are documented in a series of four short comic books. The Ishaka girls each received all four to take home and share with friends and family.
Observing these meetings, it is clear that the savings aspect draws these girls in and holds them together, but the financial education is getting them talking about their hopes, their dreams, and their financial futures.