I recently traveled to Arba Minch for my first field visit in southern Ethiopia. The main purpose of the trip was to visit clients and collect information to write up briefs for an donor tour that's taking place here in a few weeks. Spending a few days out of the city was refreshing. I especially appreciated meeting various clients, hearing from them personally how they have been positively impacted by the project. I also gained a new appreciation for our field staff in Arba Minch who are vital to the project. They hosted me very well in the midst of their busy schedules.
The highlight of the trip was our first site visit. We went to a village called Chano Dorga to meet with 2 Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups. I'm thankful to have been there for the first 1.5 days with Doris, our country manager. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience in micro-finance and international development. Doris asked the questions and then the clients' responses were translated. I wrote down everything as fast as I could. The members of both VSLA groups were eager to speak and share their successes with us. They were also very thankful to the project, as I often heard "ameseginalehu" which means "thank you".
While Ethiopians living in rural parts of the country have awareness of traditional saving methods, it's still difficult to save. Generally, saving habits are poor due to low levels of income or lack of financial literacy. However, through the project, clients training and education on financial literacy – how to save, budget and access credit. Through this training they can take steps to start improving their household income. When target households experience livelihood improvements, their vulnerability to resorting to child labor decreases. This is huge.
When I first read about E-FACE, I didn't quite understand the connection of why our project was working in the South. Yet I learned that traditional weaving is originally from the South and there is a growing demand for hand-woven textile products. This is why child labor and child trafficking are such big issues in Ethiopia.
The diligence of these savings groups really amazed me. They initially started out saving 5 ETB (25 cents USD) a week, and now they save 10 ETB (50 cents USD). Some members even save two-fold, in which they receive more in dividends. It was humbling to sit with them in their village and hear their stories. Saving a small amount of money each week has opened up opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. This is why the successes and life changes of our E-FACE clients are very inspiring. They save each week for the sake of their families and communities. They also took the knowledge and skills offered through the project and put them into practice to bring positive change to their families and communities.
I don't think the issue of financial illiteracy is isolated to developing countries. In North America, debt is a really big problem. It may be a different strand of financial issues, but perhaps reveals learning about finance and money is needed back at home as well. I personally would like to learn more about personal finances, how to budget and how to save. These are skills and habits that require training, awareness and self-discipline.
It's really exciting to hear about our clients' future plans and aspirations, as they have set goals to save more and expand their business endeavours. I hope to have another opportunity to visit the field, meet more clients and capture more of their success stories to demonstrate the amazing work being done through E-FACE.