Life Skills Training
Since it was introduced to 41 groups in the Eastern Cape in March 2010, formal and informal feedback on Life Skills Training modules 1 and 2 has been positive.
According to LST trainer Samella Mdlangathi, group members report a greater sense of confidence around financial matters and wider discussion about financial planning with family members, including their husbands. There is less reported reliance on loan sharks or mashonisas and, as a result, less stress around debt repayments. Samella’s approach to the training is to give as much scope as possible to the daily problems and challenges facing members and build these into the sessions.
SaveAct life skills trainer Samella Mdlangathi takes an SCG through LST modules 1 and 2
SaveAct is currently piloting a new Monitoring and Evaluation framework in the Eastern Cape area, which aims to measure more precisely the impact of the work of the organization at a number of levels. A range of tools has been developed for the framework, which track changes in participants’ living conditions, monitor any change in uses to which loans and share-outs are put, and solicit participants’ views on whether loans and share-outs are meeting needs and contributing towards reducing poverty.
Although the latter tool has not yet been tested, early indications from the first two are that individual SCG members are showing signs of adapting their saving and spending behavior, with positive spin-offs for their personal and household finances.
Reflections of change 1: “No more mashonisas” – Overthrowing the tyranny of loan sharks
A story from Bopanang SCG, Zwelitsha area, Mount Fletcher
by Sharon Dell
“The members of the SCG are patient,” said one woman. “They wait for you to pay back what you owe, not like the mashonisas who come to your house and try to get the money out of you.”
Another participant pointed to a set of gold-rimmed drinking glasses purchased from informal traders for R650. She said it had since been established that they sell in the shops for R450. “So now we are much more careful,” she said.
One participant reported that she had turned away from informal hawkers and traders who offer cash and goods on terms, and now chose to purchase items through the system of lay-bye at formal stores. In the lay-bye system, the item is only handed over to the purchaser once it has been paid for, thereby reducing the likelihood of indebtedness or non-payment. Thus, the LST had given her the wherewithal to explore and understand options around the purchasing of material items.
SCG members consistently reported that the LST training received so far had improved their ability to plan their shopping trips into the town of Matatiele more wisely and improve their discipline once in the town. “When I have lots of money, I can’t seem to budget properly. When I have very little money, I manage to buy everything I need,” explained one participant.
Members reported being distracted by the options presented by cooked and take-away food, clothes, furniture stores or luxury foodstuffs, with the result that they would be embarrassed at the supermarket till because they wouldn’t have enough money to buy their goods.
As a result of the LST, which reflects on the benefits of bulk purchases, members reported that they are now better able to keep food on the table for the entire month.
And there are other signs of more financial stability. A participant who is undergoing training to be a pre-school teacher reported that, owing to better financial planning practices, she no longer needs to borrow money for transport to get her to and from her training sessions.
In what seems to be an indication of the wider positive effects of LST on households, one participant said she felt better able to communicate with her children about the way money was spent in the household, with some pleasing results. Another young participant, whose mother is also in the same SCG, said she and her mother sit down together to plan around expenses. “Now we always have an extra R200 in the household, in case of emergencies,” she said.
When asked how the work of SaveAct could be improved, group member Nomonde Tsoananyana said it was difficult to find fault.
“So far, there’s been nothing wrong with SaveAct,” she said, but added that she wished the organisation “could assist members with small business projects”. Her comments opened the door to others. One woman raised the need for someone to start a feeding scheme in the pre-school, while another expressed her desire to start a business centred around the production of eggs.
Reflections of Change 2: “SaveAct is like a husband” – Extending knowledge into the family.
A story from Bambisanani SCG in KwaSabaSaba near Matatiele
by Sharon Dell
When we arrive in the late afternoon, via a nerve-shattering gravel road, at the homestead of Cecilia Mantsane in KwaSabaSaba, only seven members of the Bambisanani SCG (pictured below) are present.
“The others are still at the pension payout,” explains Mantsane. Earlier in the day, the nearby town of Matatiele had indeed been marked by long queues of people waiting patiently outside the various banking establishments, waiting to draw their monthly grant. Because of repeated robberies, banks have now replaced the government-facilitated pension payouts, explains LST trainer Samella Mdlangathi.
Many of those in the queues are pensioners or disabled people, who currently receive R1 080 (US$140). Others are mothers, waiting for the monthly child support grant of R250.
A return trip to town on one of the local taxi services (usually a bakkie) costs R18. Mdlangathi said it is common for people to return without their pension money owing to the slow pace of the queues. Many will then have to borrow R9 for the return journey.
In this context, SaveAct SCGs have been welcomed by ordinary people, mainly women. The elderly Mantsane, who moved to KwaSabaSaba from Mount Fletcher to get married, is now a widow but as a ward committee member she plays an active role in the life of her community and is chairwoman of her SCG. “SaveAct is like a husband to us,” she said. “It’s helping us to provide for our families; it’s a solution to our problems.”
Mantsane also commented on the strong relationship between group members. “We are like a family,” she said. “And we are solving problems as a group. Often, there’s quarrelling in communities. Others ask us why there’s no quarrelling in our group and they see us doing things well. We know of seven people who want to become SCG members and they are trying to form another group. They’ve seen an improvement in our living conditions and want this in their own lives.”
Members reported now being able to borrow money at reasonable rates to build new houses, plaster existing houses and service their debts. “Life is lighter; it feels like a weight has gone from my shoulders,” said one member.
Some said they borrowed money in order to buy food and clothes, while another said she had used her loan to buy materials to intensify her sewing activities and was interested also in starting a broiler project. Mantsane said she had bought cement and her household was now making blocks to sell to others.
In response to the Life Skills Training, members said they had learnt how to buy in bulk, take advantage of specials and prioritise basic foodstuffs above luxury items. “I’m more strategic about which groceries I buy. The training has been an eye-opener. It’s changed the way I do shopping,” said one woman. Generally, members seem to think more carefully about money as a result of the training, as illustrated by the following: “I now save even the smallest amount. I think before spending even a little bit of money”.
A comment from Mantsane illustrated the value of training in the household. “I’ve managed to talk to the children about how to prioritise our spending. Before, there was no peace in the family. The children were demanding things. Now peace reigns and the children understand. I’m passing on the knowledge. I involve everyone. We didn’t understand before. Now we understand the needs of the family.”
And the thirst for skills and knowledge seems to be strong: “We are looking forward to more training because we want to know more things, be confident. There is light. We can see where we are going,” said a member.
Experience of Partners 1: Masangane HIV & AIDS Programme, interview: June 2010
Nokhanyo Mswewu (pictured below), co-ordinator of the Masangane HIV & Aids Programme, says her organisation has benefited in many ways through its partnership with SaveAct.
“We were very happy to become a part of SaveAct activities. We quickly saw that the savings activities offered a way to get more people into HIV/AIDS support groups.”
“It works so very well. It’s amazing to people because everyone benefits. Also, it’s bringing people together, which is what Masangane means – to embrace.”
The Masangane HIV & AIDS Programme was founded in 1999.The organisation operates through five branches in the Eastern Cape and has three focus areas: treatment for a limited number of critical patients, education and awareness and voluntary counselling and testing (VCT). The organisation is one of the LEAP project’s early partners.Support group members responded well to the introduction of SCGs. By mid June, Masangane had established 45 SCGs, with seven awaiting training. Most of the members are unemployed, so SaveAct helps them to manage their money properly. Mswewu said SaveAct is also helping to boost VCT numbers. - SD.
Experience of Partners 2: Mount Fletcher Advice Centre, Interview: June 2010
Mount Fletcher Advice Centre (MFAC) staff members describe the fledgling relationship with SaveAct as a “fruitful journey”, with a large part of its value being found in helping the MFAC to reach and interact with more communities. At the end of June, MFAC had facilitated membership in SCGs of 215 individuals and demand for the programme is high.
“SaveAct fits into MFAC like a hand into a glove”, said MFAC Co-ordinator Thembinkosi Hlathi. “We try to respond directly to the needs of our communities. Domestic violence is a problem, but SCGs helps here too because the violence often arises out of desperation and frustration at poverty.
Field officer Tebogo Doda said one of the benefits of the SCGs was the fact that they provided MFAC with a “lasting and tangible link” with their communities. Doda said people are saying they are using the SCG loans to avoid indebtedness to micro-lenders, to improve their homes and buy shoes, cement, warm clothes and school uniforms. “Because of SaveAct, people are now starting to know how to live. It gives them tools to put food on the table.”
But Doda also sees much larger benefits.
“This relationship is a foundation for many things. There are enormous possibilities for building trust and facilitating conflict resolution,” he said.
The Mount Fletcher Advice Centre (MFAC) was founded in 1994. It runs various programmes, responding to needs on the ground. At present, these cohere around the themes of access to justice, human rights, gender equality, HIV/AIDS awareness and socio-economic development. In 2009, MFAC launched the Yomela (Be Strong) Victim Empowerment Project (YVEP) in response to high levels of abuse of women and children. The partnership with SaveAct started in February 2010. - SD.