Five little coffee beans

Five little coffee beans

image of farm women sitting together Each farm woman brought five meager coffee beans to the afternoon gathering at the little yellow-walled clinic. 

These women don’t have much, but they all contributed a little of what they did have, and together they collected 195 beans to make coffee that afternoon. 

It’s a beautiful act of giving that demonstrates, in a small way, how significantly they’ve come alongside one another to impact their lives and their community. 

Steam poured out of the clay jebena as the women sat on the porch and explained the inner workings of their savings and loan self-help group (SHG): the money they’ve saved collectively and personally, the loans they’ve distributed from that saved money, and their plans to improve their future—in fact, their whole community’s future—by investing that money wisely. 

In May 2013, about 40 women divided into two groups—the Feta and Biftu SHGs—each started weekly contributing 5-10 birr ($0.30 – $0.60 CAD) into collective accounts. CH Global formed the groups and provided financial training and oversight, and now these women are on their own, living what they’ve learned. As of February 2015, the two groups had a combined savings of $2,015 CAD.

They wanted to rent land together and grow wheat, but renting just one hectare (about 2.5 acres) costs the better part of $190 a year. So, instead, they loaned themselves money to buy what they needed to plant onions on their individual farms so that after the harvest they could collect and save the profits to rent farmland in the future. 

Rather than taking turns loaning money to group members to pursue individual income-generating initiatives—the standard SHG model—they’ve decided to work together towards one colossal achievement: bringing life-giving water to their community. 

Right now, if a person moves fast, it’s a one-and-a-half-hour walk to get water, one woman explained. Sometimes it takes more than two hours. 

They’ll make the trek at least once a day, but sometimes twice a day. They have to fetch it for their household, as well as for the animals. 

These women are hoping to save enough money to get a water pump installed closer to their homes. It costs 50,000 birr ($3,100 CAD) to drill a well, and at the rate they’re saving they are thinking it will take two to three years. 

If anyone could achieve this, it’s probably these women—and all because they learned the value of working together and saving the equivalent of just 30 to 60 Canadian cents a week. 

The leader of the Feta SHG said that besides learning about sanitation, family planning and receiving a loan, she’s started a personal savings box at home. Her husband has seen positive results from his wife being a part of an SHG and he supports and encourages her when others have not. He tells her to be strong because she is on a good track. 

Etaferaw, the leader of the Biftu group, also said that the women’s husbands and other men in the community discouraged them initially, but after they watched the women receiving loans to buy onion seeds to plant on their farms, they totally changed their minds, she said. 

The concepts learned in the SHG are influencing many more people than just the group members. We can’t wait to see what progress and impact on their community these women have made in another year.