Teenage mothers save every penny to return to school
Posted Friday, October 11 2013 at 01:00
Lira- It is not a common practice in Uganda that a teenage mother will think of returning to school having dropped out.
The story is, however, different in Lira District with scores of teenage mothers saving money by pooling resources together with the agenda of going back to school. The girls do not only save money for their own education but that of their children as well.
In Icika village, Agweng Sub-county in Lira District is a group of 25 girls, all teenage mothers, who have gathered for their weekly village Saving and Loan Association appraisal meeting. The savings group in Langi language is Orib cing, meaning “Let’s join our hands”.
The group comprises 30 members with a complete organisational structure of chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and the key keepers, who are three in number. They keep money in a secure metallic safe which can only be opened when all the three key keepers are around.
The share value of the group ranges from Shs500 to Shs2,500 and each month, the girls save not less than Shs300,000. The amount varies depending on the performance of individual members’ business activities, and also the ability to pay back the loans borrowed with interest.
“We can save more or less than that. We encourage our members to work hard so that we get to have enough savings in our safe which can help us in our day to day business activities,” says 17-year-old Suzan Ayo, a teenage mother of three and the group’s chairperson.
Ayo says that the loans attract 10 per cent interest, which is not on the high side as compared to the killer interest rates of the microfinance centres in Lira Town. The other benefit is that the members do not have to present their valuable property as collateral.
“Here in Orib Cing, our collateral security is the trustworthiness of the members and their ability to pay. We are young girls and as such, don’t have property we call ours. We even don’t have land or bicycles which the established microfinance centres would ask for,” says Ayo.
The group members are mainly taking on farming as individuals, while others are in business such as tailoring in Agweng Trading Centre. Ayo says it is difficult for them to do collective farming enterprises because each cultivates on her family land.
However, during the harvest season, they collect all their produce into the same stores and sell it off at once as singular stock then share the money in accordance with the quantity and value of each member’s produce. The girls mainly grow maize, beans, soya beans, ground nuts, upland rice, cassava, red pepper, and most recently bananas.
After selling the harvest, the girls are encouraged to save at least 50 per cent of the profits in the group’s safe. The remaining part of the money is used to support their young children and their families.
Part of the profits are also injected back to buy improved seeds and planting material, herbicides, paying labour and among other expenses. Group members are also advised to deposit personal savings in banks or microfinance deposit-taking institutions.
Making personal savings, as Ayo explains, is in line with the aspirations of the group members to further their education, and support their children’s schooling.
“We are doing all this because most of us would want to go back to school, and also support our children in school. That’s why we would encourage members to work hard and save money, but save for a purpose,” she says.
Interestingly, most of the members say they would rather save in form of goats, chicken, turkeys, cows, pigs as opposed to saving liquid cash in banks. The idea is that this kind of business grows fast and animals or poultry can easily be sold off.
Asked if they wanted to rejoin formal schooling, most of them said they would prefer going to vocational training. They cited receiving training in tailoring, salon and hair dressing, carpentry, professional catering in hotels, with a few saying they wanted to go for building courses in technical colleges.
The girls, in unison, say that from the time they dropped out of school, their parents and caretakers declined paying their fees most especially after giving birth.
Defying all odds
Some of them have had to put up with abuses and insults, being labelled ‘prostitutes’ by the public because they started producing children while in school, never mind most of them got children while living in Internally Displaced People’s camps at the time of the LRA insurgency.
The group also operates a welfare account for their members with capitalisation from the main savings and loans account.
“What the members collect goes into the savings accounts for businesses and matters of welfare for the members.
“In case a member comes with a problem such as a child falling sick, buying pads, losing a loved one, we look into our welfare account and give them some money,” explains Ayo, adding that members do not get the same amount of benefits from the welfare account, but all depends on how much an individual saves.
“A person who saves Shs50,000 a month, for instance, can’t get the same amount of money with one who saves Shs5,000 a month,” she says.