How Savings and Loan Can Save a Life and a Marriage

How Savings and Loan Can Save a Life and a Marriage

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In Malawi last week, I met Simeon*, an HIV positive man who told me the story of how VSLAs gave him hope and confidence, and stopped the violence in his household. Nothing I can possibly write will capture the power of his own words.

“At first, I didn’t want to join the VSLA, since I thought it was only for women. Since I’m HIV positive, I didn’t think I could save and be a part of the group. Instead, I stayed at home, and was a big burden on my wife. I couldn’t do anything to contribute to the household, so I just let her do all of the work. It was terribly unfair to her. I expected her to join the VSLA and bring the money she made home to me. This caused a lot of violence in my home. Being dependent made me very frustrated, and I took it out on her. I would force her to do things for me, and to give me money.

Working with LIFT II and the HIV support group made me realize that VSLA could be for men, too. It gave me the confidence to go join a group despite my HIV status. Joining the VLSA let me earn some money so that I can contribute to my family. We use the money to buy soap and food for our household. It has changed my life. It makes me feel like I can be the head of the household again. I can take care of my children.

Before, the group gave me a lower rate that I could use to contribute to the savings and loan, because I didn’t have much money to save. Now, I don’t even need the special rates that the VSLA allowed me so I could join. I make enough money that I can be a regular member in the group. I feel like an equal in the process, and I don’t need any special help.”

With a little faith from his peers, some support from his community, and $11 worth of expenses from CARE, Simeon’s life and his marriage changed. He went from being helpless and angry to confident and productive. His story is extremely powerful, and he is not alone. Simeon is one of more than 5,300 people who have benefited from the LIFT II project in the last year.

The LIFT II project that CARE works on in Malawi and the DRC focuses on getting extremely vulnerable people—in this case, mostly HIV positive patients—access to services that can help them live full and productive lives. While many services are targeted to people who have at least a little extra income, LIFT II concentrates on getting access for the poorest of the poor. Village referral volunteers work with community groups so that they accept poorer members into the group, and to make sure that all are welcome. The model focuses on community integration and a bottom-up approach to services, which has been extraordinarily effective for people like Simeon—at least 10 times more effective than traditional top-down referral approaches.

By focusing on getting the poorest people access to basic services, we can help people like Simeon change their lives.  We can move from anger and violence, to productive support.  It’s up to us to make sure that our programs allow even the poorest people to benefit from opportunities in their community.

* Name changed to protect his privacy. 

About the Program: In 2013, with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded LIFT II to a consortium headed by FHI 360. LIFT II’s primary goal is to provide evidence-based, gender-sensitive programming to improve household economic strengthening and food and nutrition security support as a component of a continuum of nutrition and health care and support for vulnerable individuals and families. An essential component of the LIFT II approach is supporting community referral networks that systematically and appropriately link Nutrition Assessment, Counseling and Support (NACS) clients with community-based economic strengthening and food security support.


A lockbox used by of one of the VSLA groups in Malawi. © 2014 Miguel Samper/CARE