Some say life begins at forty. Eight years ago when Eunice Chimutondo turned forty she never imagined that one day she would be a shining example on how the Internal Savings and Lending Groups (ISALs) are transforming ordinary rural women into business owners in various parts of the country particularly in Chakoma village of Mt Darwin district.
Traditionally, running a business is only for men in Zimbabwe especially in rural areas. The introduction of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training facilitated by the Ensuring Nutrition, Transforming and Empowering Rural Farmers and Promoting Resilience in Zimbabwe (ENTERPRIZE) Project has proved to be a game changer for villagers in Mt Darwin. With these trainings, villagers are spearheading and reviving the internal savings and lending groups as a way of improving access to sustainable and profitable community microfinance services.
Formed in 2014, Chabvondoka is one of the 3,300 savings and lending groups under the project. The 11-member group is composed of eight women and three men. Mrs. Chimutondo is one of the female members who has refused to be cowed by economic challenges. She took advantage of the proceeds from the savings group to venture into milling business dominated by men in the past.
The road to success has not been that easy for her. “It was very difficult for me and many other rural farmers in this ward and even the whole district to access loans from financial institutions for income generating activities since I did not have collateral required by financial institutions to access the loans.
“The GALs trainings helped a lot. At first, I despised these savings and lending groups not knowing that they can bring good things. I farmed and got my little money. I then borrowed US$500 from the group and thought of buying an asset, a diesel powered grinding mill. Since then I realised the importance of savings groups. They have helped us, especially women. Unlike in this past where such businesses were run by men, am now running the business as woman,” she said.
The grinding mill is not only helping her raise school fees for her three children but the entire village because the service is now accessible to the farmers. Using the proceeds from the mill, she is able to pay school fees for her two children in secondary school and one in primary. The mill came as a relief for surrounding villagers who used to travel more than five kilometers to Chakoma shops.
Mrs. Chimutondo charges about US$0.50 to grind a bucket of grain. If villagers do not have the cash, the service is paid for with four kilograms of grain. On a busy day she can grind at least 10 to12 buckets. Ester Chinguruve who is also a member of Chabvondoka savings group benefitted immensely from the group. She was to buy household furniture as well as renovate her homestead.
“In the past we were involved in these savings groups but nothing came out of it. But after acquiring new knowledge from GALS training, I was able to refurbish my homestead. I also bought a ground nut sheller,” said Ester. The availability of the sheller means she will spend less time in the post-harvest process and more time to do other household chores.
One of the most encouraging aspect about the savings group in this area is the involvement of men. Although Hosiah Chinguruve, Ester’s husband is not a member of the group, he provides support by borrowing from the group at a small interest. “I support this savings group because it helps us to save money especially if we use it for a purpose. It has brought progress in our lives. I was able to purchase a motorbike, build a modern house and a toilet in my homestead. I would like to see the savings group grow and continue to support my wife to be part of it”, he said.
Since the introduction of GALS, men are slowly participating in these groups. Romeo Kawusiyo is one of the male member who became part of the Chabvondoka. “This savings group has uplifted us. The pooling of resources has helped the members. For example, I was able to buy an ox-drawn cart. In this farming season am looking forward to borrow money from the group so that I can buy fertilizers for my fields,” said Romeo Kawusiyo.
GALS is a community-led empowerment approach that uses participatory processes and diagram tools, which aim to give women, as well as men more control over their lives as the basis for individual, household, community and organisational development. Indeed a better life has begun for Chakoma villagers who are now implementing some of the knowledge they acquired from ENTERPRIZE initiated projects.