In September 2022, the Ngora District Woman MP Stella Apolot Isodo launched through a fundraising drive one hundred fifty five (155) village savings groups under Apolot Stella Isodo Foundation – ASIF across the district.
The launch was attended by various leaders across the country and a total of one hundred million shillings (100,000,000/=) was realized. Two months later TNN’s John Ogulei decided to visit a section of the groups and beneficiaries have testified having changed their livelihoods through ASIF led project.
“Our lives have changed since we started the savings group. For us, it is more than just saving money, it’s an investment, a way of building a better future for ourselves, our families and the community”, says Hellen Amoding Ateme, a group member and head of all savings group in Kapir County.
In villages across Ngora, a majority of people are small-holder farmers and are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. The district is prone to more frequent and longer dry spells and drought, poor rain pattern, lack of transportation and access to farming materials and credit.
The situation gets worse during dry season that always streches from months of November to early April. However to combat these challenges, farmers using ASIF formed groups that now help them to save money to feed their families and pay school fees for their children.
At the end of each saving cycle which runs for about 12 months, according to Amoding, the money is shared according to respective individual savings, plus interest earned from internal borrowing and penalties.
“You can’t depend wholeheartedly on the Government assistance”, says Amoding. “Sometimes the help from the Government comes but too little and too late,” said Amoding.
She also called on farmers to embrace government programs including Emyooga, Parish Development Model, UWEP and others aimed at eradicating poverty and uplifting their livelihoods and standards.
Johnson Odeke head of Ngora County groups says members in his groups (including him) are now able to pay school fees for all thier hildren, which was a big challenge before they joined a savings group.
“Seeing all my children attend and stay at school without being disrupted for lack of school requirements, including school fees, brings me happiness as a father,” said Odeke.
While adding that, “I am very confident that my children can go to school and attain a good education because of the savings group.”
Savings groups are also changing the lives of women farmers. Women who choose to join become better connected socially within their village and are more likely to hold leadership positions. This allows them to make decisions at household and village levels.
Stories told by other members across the district show that savings groups can be an effective and complementary approach to financial inclusion and to other development initiatives that can benefit the community as well as the country as a whole.
Stella Isodo Apolot the Ngora Woman Legislator and head of ASIF says that, once households have been clustered, they are encouraged to start a savings group.
“In their respective household clusters, members have been trained on the savings for development and transformation approach, business skills and entrepreneurship, which helps them to save regularly, borrow from their group’s revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate,” said Apolot.
“This approach is as empowering as it is self-sustaining. Every household cluster is responsible for identifying its own priorities, resources, and solutions to address issues they face,” added Apolot.
Mike Odongo the Ngora District LCV lauds MP Apolot for the initiative noting that it has since been scaled up capacity building in areas of financial literacy and development in the district.
Jorem Otim the Bussiness Manager at Stanbic Bank Uganda Soroti Branch said that, bringing people together to save for their future is a bright idea while adding that the bank is also currently involved specifically in giving financial literacy trainings, cash flow and management of working capital, loan management, managing savings and debt, mentorship, and advisory services.
He says Ugandans, and women in particular need to understand the local market because it is still highly underserved.
He added that the local market can ably support local entrepreneurs, with locally made products while advocating for more communities to take financial literacy seriously, learn to save and invest the little they can get, even before going for loans.
Richard Emanio who is a lead trainer also during the capacity building training held at Ngora High School main Chapel where over 500 group leaders were getting more skills to lead the groups said, Involvement of women is also important because once there is money in their hands, they can ably plan for the families.
He said, the Member of Parliament through ASIF intends to move households in Ngora out of poverty through savings and Agriculture.
“They only need some skills in modern agriculture,” he added.