As part of USAID’s 52nd birthday celebration, USAID/Madagascar shares a story of one woman who has benefited from a food security project.
Sitting in the shade of an old mango tree, a group of villagers is intently listening to a middle-aged woman reading aloud from a booklet in her hands. The woman is Philomène, the ‘Treasurer’ of the local Village Savings and Loans association, and she is making her weekly report to the members.
We heard about Philomène during a field visit to a food security project implemented by our partner CRS. The team was in a small village called Ampasimbola, in eastern Madagascar. Philomène is a farmer and she has been tilling the land for as long as she can remember. She is a single mother of six children, four of which are still in school.
Although Philomène puts a lot of effort into her work, she hardly produced enough food to feed her family. It was a challenge for her to make ends meet; on occasion, her children missed school to stay home and help her do farm work, her only source of income.
When USAID’s food security program started in Ampasimbola in 2010, Philomène did not think twice about joining the Village Savings and Loans association. She even volunteered to keep the books for the group. These village-level savings banks allow members to contribute some amount on a regular basis. They can then request loans with soft repayment terms and conditions. Philomène seized the opportunity to take out a loan and start a small restaurant offering doughnuts, coffee, fish, and even second-hand clothes to increase her income.
With hard work, Philomène’s restaurant quickly thrived. She soon had to choose between continuing farm work that brought home hardly any money, or focusing on a more lucrative and rewarding activity. She decided to drop farming— a savvy decision, because not only did she make substantial profits from the sale of food but she also received payments of interest from investing her savings back into the Village Savings and Loans association.
Philomène’s livelihood has improved and she is now able to send her children to school regularly, and pay for the annual school fees, Ariary 43,000 or about $22 dollars without any problem. The hungry season, which she had earlier coped with eight out of the twelve months per year, is today but a bad dream. Thanks to her contribution to the Village Savings and Loans association, Philomène extended her hut after two years and added a kitchen and a bathroom. She proudly bought new kitchen utensils and other household equipment, and was able to decorate her home.
“I’m no longer alone. In our VSL group, we’re like brothers and sisters. We counsel one another, and we share knowledge and experiences. It’s a real new life for me!” says a proud Philomène. In her spare time, Philomène engages in development and other social activities, and the community seeks her help for advice or assistance when visitors come to the village and seek accommodation for the night. Philomène can help because her hut is now large enough to put up guests. She is now, more than ever, an important member of the community.
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