So on Wednesday I got a chance to travel with the Jjaja coordinator to visit a bi-weekly meeting of the Jjajas in a village called Buziika. There are eleven such groups currently around the catchment area that St. Francis supports, averaging about 25 members each. The meetings are opportunities to discuss issues and ideas, and also to collect dues and input money into the village savings and loan program. We were met by the chairperson of the group who greeted us very warmly and invited us to observe the meeting.
Besides mutual support and friendship, the Jjajas group works together to build savings through a mutual Village Savings and Loans (VSL) program that they themselves run. You see each member of the group can buy a share for 500 sh each. They can buy up to a maximum of 8 shares at a time. There is also a social fund collection of 200 sh for each meeting. In addition, fines are imposed for showing up late or talking during the accounting process. These funds are then pooled and lent out according to the various needs of the members. There is a governing body that reviews the loan applications and decides on the amount. This is based on the need of one of the members and also by the number of shares that the member has contributed. Once the loan is given, payment plan is arranged with interest charged. Also, the funds can be pooled together to fund a group project to generate revenue. Once a year then, the revenue is then split between members based on their contributions. Each member keeps their own “bank book” which they annotate with symbols for each share paid into the program. For instance, one book I saw had the meeting dates and then stars for the number of shares bought. This is to avoid people reading the book and thinking that the person has money. They also are assigned their own numbers instead of names – kind’ve like a PIN number. The funds are kept in a metal strongbox with 3 compartments – one for Social Funds, one for Fines, and one for Shares. The box is kept by one Jjaja and the keys are kept with other Jjajas to avoid any temptations by any one person.
At this meeing, they discussed several issues and received some guidance from the Jjaja coordinator, Grace. One was to announce a big event in August where the Jjajas were to rally in Jinja and to hold a day to advocate on their own behalfs to the media and others on the plight that they face raising orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) alone.
I was very impressed and moved by the dedication of these older women. They really believed in what they were doing and had faith in the system that they are a part of. The issues they face are staggering. Many have multiple children to care for and there is no real social security system here in Uganda. So if they run out of money or the ability to work, they will probably die and so may their children.