In the village of Bandafassi, just outside the larger town of Kedougou in eastern Senegal, women have established a weekly market as a result of a new business-training program. The training program is part of Saving for Change, an Oxfam initiative that helps poor people in Mali, Senegal, El Salvador, Guatemala and Cambodia improve their livelihoods and build a better future by increasing their access to financial services.

For many families in developing countries, obtaining a small loan can be a huge stepping-stone in lifting themselves out of poverty. In regions where access to banks and credit unions is scarce, Oxfam provides a savings and lending service to those who need them most.

Working on the community finance or “microfinance” model, Saving for Change helps villages come together to form groups of about 20 people; the members save money, makes loans, and pay each other interest that grows the group fund. Members can use their loans to start or grow small businesses, purchase seeds, buy medicines for sick family members, or pay school fees for their children.

The weekly markets play a central role for small-scale traders in villages such as Bandafassi; even the simplest infrastructure to present market goods signifies opportunity for the women there. In order to start the market, the women had to meet with local authorities, including the village leader and the mayor, to seek permission, and to find an appropriate public space.

They then had to raise enough money from the Saving for Change group members; 69 group members contributed 250 francs each, or about 50 cents, to construct the first set of shops. The new market represents the skills and knowledge these women have acquired from the Saving for Change program and its respective business training; it is empowering them to trade and prosper in their own communities.

“We’ve always thought that with good business training, women will open up their eyes and see a new vision of the world, and their place in it,” said Paul Ahouissoussi, Oxfam’s Saving for Change coordinator in West Africa. “The training is really about how to diversify their small commercial enterprises, but it’s also about finding the courage to try new things.”

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: Oxfam America, Freedom from Hunger
Photo: CIPE