Development finance and non-governmental organisation, Rural Focus Africa (RUFA), has rolled out a new initiative to provide sustainable livelihood support to cured lepers and inmates of leprosaria across the country through its village savings and loans scheme project.
Under the project, the cured lepers and dependents form savings groups in which members save as little as between GH₵3 and GH₵10 per week, keep in their group savings boxes, and receive a lump sum at the end of the year. From this savings, they are able to secure a loan to take care of their personal needs and other livelihood support activities at any time.
The initiative is being run in partnership with Surrender 365, a non-profit organisation based in the United States with the vision to empower marginalised people around the world, to secure their livelihoods in a sustainable manner. It is being piloted at the Ankaful Leprosarium in the Central Region and the Weija Leprosarium in Accra.
“Our motivation to partner with RUFA’s micro-lending initiative to cured lepers in Ghana is born out of our desire to empower this group to accrue savings, and improve their financial standing by engaging in livelihood support activities.
We partnered with RUFA so we can teach them [lepers] how to make and use their money sustainably, and to help them access micro-loans with which they can fund their own businesses,” Co-Founder and Executive Director of Surrender 365, Dr. Celeste Owens, told journalists after leading a seven-member delegation to Ghana to familiarise itself with scheme members at the Ankaful Leprosarium.
The village savings and loans scheme is a form of financial inclusion that targets persons at the very base of the financial pyramid, especially the marginalised in society with little chance of accessing funds for both upkeep and setting up a business.
Dr. Owens said she was highly impressed with the level of success of the project so far: “I’m so impressed with what RUFA has done in terms of how the people are organized, and how the money has been utilised with proper book-keeping; and we’re glad to have witnessed the payout/share-out session with members of various groups getting paid from their savings”.
With increasing community interest in the initiative, promoters of the project have indicated their willingness to scale up the programme to empower as many beneficiaries as possible.
“We want to scale this up; and we want more members to join. We also want our partnership with RUFA to grow so we can collectively help more people in various project centres in Ankaful, Weija and other parts of Ghana,” Dr. Owens noted.
She added: “Our work is in the interest of the marginalised, and we want to offer them economic empowerment. We believe that God has a purpose for everyone and he gives us the opportunity to build wealth; and as His assistants, we are just helping people to build wealth”.
Mary Pokua, a petty trader and member of the Onuado Savings Group, has been part of this savings scheme for the past two years, and shares that as a single mother of four, the creation of the scheme has been very impactful to herself and her dependents.
“I contribute GH₵10 every week, and an extra GH₵1 for ‘collection/welfare fund’. I’m able to make between GH₵600 to GH₵700 by the end of the year. The loan that I’m able to take as a member of the savings group has also been very helpful.
“I’ve been able to build a washroom for myself, while I’m gradually piling up blocks with the hope of putting up my own house,” she indicated.
Mary believes that the sustenance of this scheme will help her raise some money to take care of the home, and to acquire other personal needs.
The Executive Director of RUFA, Ishmael Kwesi Otchere, expressed his appreciation to Surrender 365 for partnering with RUFA, and for the support from Ghana Lepers Aid Committee to pilot the project.
He said VSLA is one of the effective financial inclusion mechanisms that can bring the marginalised groups in the informal sector like ‘cured lepers’ and ‘disabled’ into the financial inclusion eco-system.
He said the success of the pilot project was largely due to the inclusion of financial literacy, entrepreneurship training, and linkage of the VSLA groups to financial institutions as part of the project design.
“It should also be noted that members of the Ankaful leprosarium community who participated in the project demonstrated tremendous zeal, eagerness to learn and incredible diligence in bringing the project to fruition.
“Without their enthusiasm and steadfast commitment, the project would not have been as successful as it was,” Mr. Otchere added.
He was optimistic that the success of the pilot project will be a motivation to scale up to cover all the leprosaria in Ghana and beyond.