A Way Forward

A Way Forward

Publication info

Allen Clinton, CARE

Baby Yelfaabasoglo vividly remembers the day three years ago when her children were chased from school because their school fees weren’t paid. It nearly broke her heart. She simply couldn’t afford the cost. Like most families in Brifo Maal village in Ghana’s Upper West region, back then, she and her husband barely grew enough food to eat and didn’t have a nearby clean water source. Baby spent her days doing arduous work. She walked 4 kilometers back and forth to fetch water from the Black Volta River. Back home, she cooked supper and helped her husband farm until well past dark so they could eat the next day. Exhausted, she had very little time for her four children. That was Baby’s never-ending routine. It was a stressful situation that often led to quarrels with her husband, particularly when she mentioned school fees or needing to buy a bar of soap to wash what few clothes they had. But instead of continuing that way of life, Baby embraced new opportunities and empowered herself to create lasting change.

“Any mother wants her children to grow up healthy, educated and contribute to the community,” Baby says, expressing her true motivation.

Making improvements in her daily life

Baby, now 34, was one of the first women in Brifo Maal to join a village savings and loan association (VSLA), established by CARE’s USAID-funded West Africa Water Supply, Sanitation & Hygiene (WA-WASH) program. She learned valuable lessons about money, budgeting and basic business. Baby disciplined herself to save money so that when her family needed funds to buy drought-resistant seeds at the start of a new planting season, she could borrow at low interest against her savings and repay the money after the harvest. Through the VSLA, she and her husband learned improved farming practices so they could grow more despite an ever-shortening rain season.

Recognizing the value of Baby’s contributions and ideas, her husband let her use a quarter-acre parcel to farm whatever she wanted. Baby chose to grow rice because she could get a good price for it at the market. Her other business ventures include selling water filters and aquatabs to ensure families could  protect their kids from diarrhea, and selling Pito, a popular homebrew made of fermented millet. Most recently, she started raising goats and pigs.

In a little more than a year, Baby’s VSLA, appropriately called Nontaa Songtaa or “Help One Another,” collectively has saved 6,000 cedis ($1,570) and provided 900 cedis ($235) in loans to members who didn’t have access to credit before. At weekly meetings, the 29 members discuss more than finance, learning about hygiene, nutrition, and how to care for animals and improve their relationships with their husbands.

WA-WASH isn’t just about getting women like Baby involved in VSLAs, but also about creating a spirit of self-help in 22 villages like Brifo Maal to address unmet water and sanitation needs. Brifo Maal didn’t have a clean water source, and not one of the 51 households had a toilet. CARE helped organize the community to build a borehole with hand pump so women and girls no longer had to walk long distances to collect water from a source shared by animals. Through a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process, people in Brifo Maal realized why the generations-old practice of open defecation had to stop. To improve family health and the environment, every household invested in building their own pit latrine. At Baby’s house, for example, the community helped her dig the 6-foot pit. The husband and wife split the cost for materials, with Baby paying for the roof and door to complete the latrine construction. Also, Baby was selected as a member of the local water and sanitation committee, helping ensure the sustainability of her village’s new assets.

Women in Brifo Maal were once viewed as second-class citizens and had no say in household decisions. Now they are now active participants in helping their families lead healthier lives, grow more crops, generate more money, and most importantly for Baby, “I can now pay my children’s school fees,” she says.