Illiterate Women Create Big Savings

My name is Jason Musgrave. I’m a part of Food for the Hungry’s (FH) Hunger Corps, which means I raise support to work in long-term missions with FH in Guatemala. I train FH field staff and check up on savings groups.

Being in the field, I get to see amazing changes happen. Such as, how do you teach a group of illiterate women how to save, manage and record money?  I recently visited in one of our distant communities in Guatemala to find out.

In this village, I met nine illiterate women who saved between $15 and $50 each, in five months. Now, they have more than $230 in their group fund.

How to Creatively Save

These ladies are setting aside money and keeping records of individual savings. They learned to do this from FH field staff Jeremias, who taught them how to form group rules.

He taught them to think about things like: How much does a member need to save?  How often would they meet? When their saving cycle ended, how would their funds be distributed?

Then he taught them how to keep records, even though they cannot read or recognize their own written name. To overcome this obstacle, Jeremias asked each saving group member to think of an object they could draw as a symbol to represent themselves.

So when Maria deposits her money, she tells them she is the pencil. The treasurer finds the sheet with the pencil drawn on it and records Maria’s savings.

When they record the savings, it’s not in numbers either. It’s in shares. As a group, they decided that each smiley face (or share) represents 10 Quetzales (Guatemalan currency).

So when Maria deposits 50 Quetzales, the treasurer counts the money and reports it. Then the  secretary draws five smiley faces on the row to record Maria’s contribution to that month’s meeting.  This is repeated for each member. Then the total amount is counted and put in the lock-box and reported to the members to remember until the next meeting.

Taking Ownership of the Group

Each of these women had different goals for saving money. Some women planned to use the saved money for  their children’s school supplies or to buy animals for breeding and making a profit (like chickens). Other women simply wanted to have saved money for emergencies.

One of the greatest parts of this savings group is that these women have taken ownership of the group. Although Jeremias usually attends meetings, two months ago, he wasn’t able to attend. The women still met, saved and recorded their savings.

For me, this was a good demonstration that these women are relying on themselves to save money. That the work we are doing is accomplishing sustainability.

Because these women can work together to save, it gives them a financial cushion with resources to find ways out of poverty. We thank God for this great work, and thank you, who partner with us to help end poverty.

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