Haiti - Village Savings and Loans

CARE savings groups help women build their own futures outside Haiti's camps

Yves Francois Constant and Mackintosh Legagneur, VSLA field staff, sing with a group of women in a camp in Léogâne where CARE is implementing Village Savings and Loans Associations. (Photo: Mildrede Beliard/CARE)

Like so many places in Haiti, idyllic natural beauty and the harsh reality of deep poverty collide in Tiawa.

Perched atop a mountain in Léogâne, Tiawa affords an extraordinary view of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, much of that vista is scarred by destruction. Haiti’s devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake destroyed 80 to 90 per cent of the buildings in Léogâne, according to official estimates. It was the area hardest hit by the quake.

Integral to CARE’s five-year program to help Haitians rebuild their country are initiatives to help them develop economic opportunities after they’ve moved out of camps. In the fall, CARE launched the first Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in Tiawa. VSLAs are self-managed savings groups. CARE teaches participants, the majority of whom are women, to save and loan money in small groups.

Members borrow money from the savings fund to pay household expenses and to start small businesses. The loans are repaid with interest which is then shared among the group members. Participants earn a greater rate of return on their savings than they would in a bank, while building bonds with their neighbors. VSLA loan repayment rates are near 100 percent.

Crucially, VSLAs elevate the status of women in their communities by demonstrating how the economic empowerment of women helps not just women, but everyone around them, including men and boys.

The Tiawa VSLA groups grew out of a gender-based violence counseling and support group CARE launched after the earthquake. After helping women survivors cope with the aftermath of gender-based violence, CARE is helping them take the next step by offering a VSLA program as a way to help the women weave their own economic safety nets. CARE’s objective is to help women, and therefore their families, gain autonomy.

Although all of the money in a VSLA comes from the participants, CARE is facilitating VSLA growth in Tiawa and elsewhere in Haiti by fostering connections with responsible local businesses. Through CARE, VSLAs will soon team with Haiti-based Earthspark International to market green and clean energy products in Haitian communities. Conservation and better environmental stewardship are essential to Haiti’s long-term recovery.

And to make sure their growing savings are stored safely, CARE will partner with a local mobile phone provider to develop a mobile wallet designed specifically for VSLAs. It will allow VSLA members to securely store and transfer money electronically, eliminating the need for group members to guard large stores of cash.

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