By Awa Jacques Chirac and Fru Rita Ngum
The Country Director of Plan International, Programme Manager of Socio Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SEEPD), and Christofell Blind Mission (CBM) Country Representative have been exploring possibilities of extending Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) to persons with disabilities in the Northwest Region. This lofty initiative as the subject of meeting htat held recently in Yaounde.
Since 2009 the SEEPD Programme of the CBCHS has engaged in improving the livelihood of persons with disabilities through the provision of micro loans, vocational training and advocacy for formal employment. These objectives have continued to improve the wellbeing of persons with disabilities and their families. In view of creating more opportunities for financial inclusion of persons with disabilities, the SEEPD Programme has taken a step further to engage VSLA.
In Cameroon, Plan International and the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) are promoting VSLA and have created successful groups in communities in the Northwest region. The meeting was therefore an opportunity for the SEEPD Programme to lobby Plan International to include PWDs in her VSLA initiative.
Also referred to as community-managed savings-led approaches to financial services for the poor, the VSLA has a long and successful history, particularly in India where there are over two million self-help groups (SHGs), serving 30 million members. More recently, community-managed approaches have proliferated in remote, rural regions in Africa and Asia. One such approach, Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), has been pioneered by CARE and has been successfully adapted by other agencies.
VSLAs are self-managed groups that do not receive any external capital and provide people with a safe place to save their money, access small loans, and obtain emergency insurance. The approach is characterized by a focus on savings, asset building, and the provision of credit proportionate to the needs and repayment capacities of the borrowers.
Groups are low-cost, simple to manage and can be seen as a first step for people to reach a more formal and wider array of financial services. VSLAs can dramatically raise the self-respect of individual members and help to build up social capital within communities, particularly among women who represent approximately 70 percent of members.
At the end of the fruitful discussion, the three partners resolved to jointly develop and implement an inclusive model of VSLA for the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Northwest region. Field work and further discussions on the subject were planned to continue in the days ahead in an enlarged forum.
The meeting came on the heels of a visit to the SEEPD Programme by the CBM Livelihood Advisor, Seifert Hubert. The objective of his visit was to support and advise the Programme on setting up and management of Village Savings and Loan Associations (VLSAs). During his stay in the SEEPD Programme, he visited some Associations of persons with disabilities that the programme is working with in Bui Division. He listened to presentations on WINHEECAM loan, vocational training and an overview of the SEEPD Programme. Seifert Hubert who has worked for over 40years shared his rich experience with the SEEPD Programme especially the successes recorded on the VLSA in other countries where it has been implemented.
It is hoped that with his visit and with the decision arrived at by Plan International, SEEPD programme and CBM, the initiation of VLSA in the Northwest Region in the future will be a sustainable strategy of improving on the livelihood of persons with disabilities.