Maybe We Can Teach You...

Maybe We Can Teach You...

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Georgena*, an HIV positive woman in a Malawian health clinic asked me, “What do you do to help poor people in your country? Do you have village savings and loan associations there?” When I answered, no the VSLA is a model that we don’t really use at home she said, “Well, we know how to do it. We can come to America and teach people who need it how to save in groups. It has worked for us, and we would be happy to share what we know.”

This is a woman, who by any definition of your average American—and frankly your average Malawian—is in bad shape. She has HIV, her husband is long gone, she has to take care of the children and household alone, and last year she had almost no money. She couldn’t even buy soap to keep herself clean, much less the food she needed to stay healthy on her ART regimen to control the HIV. But that doesn’t matter. Her first impulse, on hearing that someone else is suffering, and is missing a critical tool to change their life, it to reach out and help them.

Georgena is part of the LIFT II program, that works to help HIV positive people access social services, including VSLA, that can help them live healthy and productive lives despite the challenges and stigma of HIV.  So far, the project has worked with over 4,000 people to connect them to opportunities.  A lot of the success depends on existing savings and loans groups accepting poorer and disadvantaged members into the group.  You would think that groups of women and men who are just starting to make ends meet would not be willing to take a risk and accommodate people who might not be able to pay back, and who have the social stigma of HIV.  But not one single group has refused to make concessions to make sure that the people in need can get opportunities.

And the system works. After a year in a savings association, Georgena is able to send her children to school, buy clothes and food, and soap to keep herself clean. She feels that she is better off than most of her community members, even those without the challenges of HIV to face. The VSLA members feel better off, too, since Georgena is paying her dues and is raising the rates of return for the whole association.

It’s a pattern I’ve seen over and over in the communities where CARE works. We think that we are coming to help them, and their generosity and commitment humbles me. They not only work to help each other, but they want to come to America, so they can help us, too. This solidarity is the backbone of success in most of the places where we work.  Supporting communities, and giving them the tools to help each other, is the way we will end poverty. Georgena is ready to make it happen, so let’s do our part.

* Name has been changed to protect her 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.