25 years of VSLAs: Putting power in women’s hands

Members of a Village Savings and Loan Association in Kagadama in rural Niger

In 1991 in Niger, west Africa, CARE set up the first Village Savings and Loan Associations – a safe way for people, particularly women, to save money and get access to loans. But VSLAs are about more than just the money...

Zeinabou, a woman in Niger holding a cash box

Twenty-five years ago, Zeinabou (above), of Kagadama village near Maradi City in Niger, borrowed money to buy 20 kilograms of nuts that she would grind into oil to sell. It was the start of a profitable peanut oil business, through which she paid for her children’s weddings and otherwise made ends meet for her family. “Everything turned from negative to positive,” she says. She calls her group’s lockbox “the box of ingenuity”...

It’s a symbol of happiness, because when it’s open, people take loans and start businesses. There’s freedom in that.

Portrait of Alissa Abdoulkarim

Alissa Abdoulkarim (above), of Dan Gado village near Maradi City, is a VSLA village agent who trains groups in the mechanics of savings and loan groups. She is currently (June 2016) training 24 groups in three villages. She says she’s proud to do the training, because VSLAs show women and girls how to make money for themselves, and that brings them independence:

It’s a way for women to fight for themselves, to get out of poverty.

Portrait of Kanai Garba holding a cash box

Kanai Garba (above), of Danja village near Maradi City, was a member of one of the first CARE Village Savings and Loan Associations. Through her businesses selling peanut oil and corn and breeding animals, she has bought her own home and built financial freedom for herself and her family. She has taken on leadership roles, including chairwoman of the agricultural regional chamber and president of a federation composed of eight VSLA groups. She says:

If other women don’t know how to do VSLA, tell them to come see me and I will show them!

Through her involvement in the VSLA program – and the businesses she operates as a result – she is paying for 13 grandchildren to get an education.

Portrait of Abdou Hamani

Abdou Hamani (above), mayor of a community of villages outside Niger’s capital Niamey, credits a cereal bank in Fada, created and managed by the local CARE VSLA groups, for saving the people when their crops failed in 2011 because of extreme drought. He says the success of women VSLA members has inspired the men of Fada to get involved by starting gardens like the one pictured, where they grow millet and moringa leaves. He says that the VSLA groups empower women:

They no longer depend on men for anything; they’re self-reliant. It opens minds to new opportunities and to more peaceful relations between husbands and wives, neighbours and other villages.

Portrait of Habsou Moussa

Habsou Moussa (above), of Karazomé village near Maradi City, is president of her VSLA group. She has been in the group for 10 years, following her mother’s steps toward financial independence. Her mother was a member of the first VSLA. She says VSLAs allow women “to stand on their own two feet.” She said before the VSLA programme, she was “in the darkness” and didn’t know how to get out. Since joining her local VSLA group, her group has bought a cereal bank, paid for the weddings of members, bought land to farm, started businesses and otherwise improved life for the members and for Karazomé village as a whole.

Portrait of Amina Salaou

Amina Salaou (above), of Dan Gado village near Maradi City, says before she joined the first VSLA, there was nothing to do in her village. After joining, she started businesses selling potatoes, and making and selling peanut oil and doughnuts. That gave her purpose, she says, and enabled her to pay for her daughters’ weddings. She says she wants her youngest daughter who is still in school to be able to choose her own future:

My kids are enlightened, and because of that, it’s a way for me to be enlightened, too. I won’t impose any future on my daughter, but want her to choose the future she wants.

Portrait of Roukaya

Roukaya (above), 18, of Kagadama village near Maradi City, is the daughter of one of the original VSLA members. As of June 2016, she had just finished eighth grade and will continue on to high school. Her favourite subject is science, and she says education opens doors that she would not have otherwise. Her dream is to become a doctor.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.