Photo by Esther Havens
Two weeks ago I watched South Sudanese refugees from over a dozen different tribes conduct their weekly savings group meeting. This group is called Struggle. By definition, struggle means “to make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction” and there could not be a better word to describe this group. While their country is at war, they’ve chosen peace; and not just peace, but reconciliation and Biblical community. And while the world would tell them refugees can’t, they are proving they can.
After Matthew, the SE Field Officer completed a review of their training, the group participated in a Bible study. Then Harriet, the chairperson and a Ugandan living amongst South Sudanese refugees, conducted the meeting alongside the other group leaders, the savings box at their feet. One by one, each member brought their weekly shares – amounts ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 Ugandan shillings – to save securely in the box. The amounts were recorded in the ledger and their passbooks and that day the group saved 98,000 shillings (almost $30). To date, they’ve saved 1,097,000 UGX or about $305 over the past few months. They calculated the social fund – an amount also collected weekly to support members should an emergency arise – and they calculated and recorded any small loans to be taken or repaid that week.
Every one of them participated and every one of them proved they could. Some, like Harriet, have already had the opportunity to take a loan to grow their business. Others like Flora, are saving and plan to start a business when it’s their turn to receive a loan. And others hope to save to pay for food or school fees.
Abraham, a South Sudanese refugee, told me that he joined the group so he could save enough to pay for school. He’s 25 years old and determined to graduate from primary school and eventually go onto University. How does he have anything to save? He says, “I take the UN food rations, keep half and sell the other half. I eat once a day to save for school fees. I am going to study in the university. I don’t want to depend on anyone else. I want to support myself”.
How does a refugee with no business have anything to save?
As if a group of refugees from all different tribes dedicated to providing for themselves and their families with dignity wasn’t inspiring enough, the love and support that these members provide each other when they need it most is nothing short of incredible.
When we visited Harriet’s shop and asked her why she decided to join a Seed Effect savings group, she said, “For the future of my 5 children and to help the refugees. We want the refugees to be a part of us. We want them to forget their trauma and what we have been facing. We do counseling and help them and give our full support to them.”
Throughout the week, our team visited 10 of the 64 savings groups that Seed Effect has started in the refugee settlements and Ugandan host community. Seed Effect is the only organization bringing sustainable, Christian savings groups to these settlements and member after member shared what these groups mean to them. It’s economic empowerment, yes, but it’s so much more than that. I love the way Mary sums it up:
“All of us in the savings group have decided to ignore the hardship we’ve faced and focus on the good things God is doing for us. It is all because being in a group, when we come together we share, have fun, and forget our sorrows. The collection of the small savings is also so helpful. My group strengthens me.”
You have given them this opportunity. You have brought hope and empowerment to the refugee settlements of South Sudan. And, with your continued support, we’re on track to expand our reach to over 3,000 members this year when they need it most. That’s why we are so excited to announce that we have received a $50,000 challenge grant to multiply your impact for Reinvest | Seed Effect Giving Day on Thursday, September 14th!
Thank you for your commitment to love and serve in the hardest of places.