In the village of El Bejucal in Palencia, Guatemala, 15 teenage and adult women gather for their ninth Village Savings and Loan (VSL) meeting. They discuss their newfound financial independence and what they’ve accomplished with the loan they took out the month before.
Women in the community were initially nervous about this new program, as they would have to deposit their hard-earned money into a small metal box (protected by three padlocks) and trust a neighbor with its care. The idea of taking out a loan and being responsible for paying it back was particularly frightening for those who have little to no substantial income.
Feed the Children’s VSL program is a small volunteer group that is dedicated to helping community members save money through purchasing shares (the amount deposited into savings). The savings are invested in a loan fund that members can borrow, repaying with a service charge added. The VSL program aims to give access to economic resources that complement the participants livelihoods. Many women who take part in this program have the ability to buy seeds for their home garden to feed their families, start their own businesses, pay for medical emergencies, or buy school supplies for their children. In many communities where Feed the Children works, women lead the charge of this program, learning the financial building blocks necessary to take care of their families.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the VSL program is the economic empowerment that is generated, particularly in women as they don’t typically manage the household finances. Women learn basic bookkeeping skills, improve their organizational skills and maintain financial discipline with their family budget. Perimeters around loan distribution and payment are designed by the group members, encouraging them take ownership of the process. For example, they decide on the share value, the interest rate, an amount to be collected for a community emergency fund, and even whether or not to assign fines for tardiness to the meetings.
In El Bajucal, they have had nine meetings where they’ve purchased their shares and taken out loans. Participating mothers are really excited to close out their first cycle, when they will receive all the money that they have worked so hard to save. For the women who have been active in this program, a lot of trust has been generated among the members. Along with a sense of teamwork, they are eager to continue on with a second cycle of savings.
“I’m grateful for the wonderful idea to create a Village Savings and Loan program in our community,” said Doña Gregoria Gatica, regular VSL member and on the Board of Directors. “I am able to plant green beans with [the] loan that I was given, and with the income that came with the sale of the produce, I am making money to cover the expenses that I have at home.”
With her loan money, Gregoria purchased green bean seeds to establish a garden where she can harvest green beans for commercial sale.
With the money that the harvests have generated, she has not only paid off her loans, but she is also supplementing her family income to help offset her regular household expenses. Gregoria says that she will increase her savings and responsibly pay back her loans to establish trust within her VSL group members.
Feed the Children is a proud supporter of International Women’s Day, advocating for women to be the change they want to see in their communities. The nonprofit works closely with mothers and caregivers to help them make healthy decisions about what they are feeding their children and train them in low-cost solutions.
It’s more important than ever to find ways to help women thrive. An equal world is a world where all people have the ability to achieve their greatest potential. One way to help women today is by taking action to end food insecurity.