Sierra Leone: A livelihood savings and loan scheme, known as ‘Better Together Savings and Loans Association,’ an initiative of Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to Brussels, France and the Vatican, Ambassador Samuel Musa, has embarked on a self-reliance livelihood journey targeting Kono District.
The association was launched on 23rd January 2021 in Njaiama Nimikoro Chiefdom by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development with an initial membership of 300. But since then to date, their number has swelled to close to 2,000 in less than five chiefdoms, and attracting more sponsorship.
The Programme Lead Facilitator in Njaiama Nimikoro, Abdul Karim Kamara, said since the official launch of the programme three months ago to date, they have attracted more sponsors from stakeholders in that part of the country. He said the programme was initially designed by Ambassador Samuel Musa to help women and communities in Njaiama Nimikoro to be self-reliant, profitable service providers through engaging in a personal savings and loans scheme per community in a sustainable manner.
Kamara said in each group, members, mostly women, after training agreed on the amount of money they will contribute as a way of building confidence in themselves for a period of 6-8 months, before the founder and other sponsors would inject their contributions, used as seed money for the members.
The lead facilitator highlighted that since the launch of the programme they have received requests from five more chiefdoms in the district for extension of the scheme to their respective chiefdoms. He said to become a member of the group is absolutely free, just that they require members to be confident, honest, transparent and accountable to their group members as all initial savings of the group must come from what members agreed as contributions, and whenever a member needed a loan, the group would approve and disburse it with a minimum of one percent interest, which goes to all the members in the group.
Kamara maintained that the pilot phase of the programme was one year, but before commencement of the programme in any chiefdom, the Paramount Chief of that chiefdom should approve and become a member of the group for transparency, accountability, and chiefdom ownership. He said the programme has brought more people together on a common ground as they work towards the self-reliance of women in the entire Kono District.
The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Tamba Lamina, three months after the launch of the programme, has expressed interest in the expansion of the savings and loans programme to his chiefdom in Kono. He said the programme seeks to benefit and empower vulnerable women in communities across the district, against which background he requested for an extension to his chiefdom.
He said the fact that the programme’s beneficiaries are raising money for themselves to embark on much bigger businesses, and to also assist in taking care of their homes and children, is the more reason they came together to take the programme across the district.
He said their role will be that of supporting the groups in terms of challenges thereby serving as a reference point to provide seed money to help them circulate it among themselves in the form of loans. He said though they are also searching for other sponsors, he warned that the programme is not about politics but focused on individuals.
The Former Minister of Higher and Technical Education, Professor Aiah Kpakima, described Ambassador Musa’s idea as “unique” targeting the people of Njaiama Nimikoro, for which he was happy to join and requested for an expansion to his chiefdom, Ngorama Chiefdom in Kono District. He revealed his happiness and willingness to support the formation of his chiefdom’s Better Together Savings and Loans Association with seed capital to assist mostly women.
He said the design of the programme is such that the people are contributing their money, revolve it among themselves in the form of loans, hence “they are championing the programme.” He said their roles will be that of guiding the process going forward, and at the end, ensure more women in particular are empowered in the entire district as much as possible.
Sahr Mossay and Sallay Brewah have just concluded a two-day facilitation training in Njaiama Nimikoro. Both expressed gratitude for the programme saying the group had in the past helped them grow more crops on their farms with good seeds, and were able to pay more labourers to farm the bigger plots. They hoped that their contributions are properly utilised through loans to take care of medical bills, extra school charges, running their family homes, among other. They confirmed their realisation of how loans from banks are burdened with high interest rates, but that with their groups, the interest is also shared among themselves.
Director General of Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) Abu Brima said the programme is an opportunity to ensure women are economically empowered in an assertive developmental manner. He said from the looks of things, the programme has enabled more women to be independent and autonomous in improving their lives in their respective communities, against which backdrop he requested to contribute to the venture via “technical support, be with them and support with some resources to boost their activities” and to take the programme to his chiefdom as well.
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