Saving and Lending, Changing Their Lives

Mary Oldham is a Catholic Relief Services volunteer working in Uganda. Far away from her hometown in Iowa, she is working with village microfinance groups. Her blog is part of a series of personal reflections our volunteers are sharing from their journey and experience overseas.

Now that I am settled into Fort Portal, Uganda, my life has started to be more routine. It is striking how sometimes I remember I am living in Africa. This morning I was sitting on my patio listening to the birds and watching the ants and one of the lizards that share my compound. The clouds seem just like the ones in Iowa that I remember watching pass by while laying on the grass as a child.

There are homes made of mud and sticks – some with thatched roofs and others with tin sheeting, which is very loud in the rain. There are banana plants and half-finished buildings, piles of bricks, stands with produce for sale, the ubiquitous goat tied to a pole or clump of weeds, people walking, women balancing large items on their heads and often a child on their back, huge bunches of bananas tied to the back of a bicycle, brightly painted buildings, hand-painted signs, bamboo fences, the long horns of the Ankole cows, and the beautiful mountains that I am near – always covered with low clouds.

a CRS volunteer in Uganda

Mary Oldham, left, a CRS volunteer in Uganda, is advising Savings and Internal Lending Communities. Photo by CRS staff

One of my favorite things I have been able to do is to meet some of the participants of Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC), the savings-led microfinance project on which I am working. In one particular group, all of the members are widowed. Many make an income by weaving traditional baskets used for storage. Others farm or sell household items or foodstuffs either in small shops, by the roadside, or from their homes. One of the members, Wilfred, said that he was grateful to CRS for the SILC method. Through the loan that he received, he was able to increase his brick-making business and better support his seven children and the other five family members who depend on his income.

This past month I also met Susan and Flora, who live in villages miles away from each other, but share in common a story of personal success. They both joined savings groups about a year ago. Both have bought livestock through their own efforts. Susan bought beans with a loan from her group. After selling the dried beans for a profit, she paid back her loan and bought a goat. After a year of saving, Flora used the shared profits from her group to buy a piglet.

Before I arrived in Uganda I wondered how SILC would work – if there was enough economic activity in the areas for people to make significant changes. I wondered how people would generate more money if the groups were not given any cash to start with. I do not have a degree in economics, so I know the larger forces at play are beyond my current understanding. But I have found that the people are saving, using the loans to handle immediate needs and to generate more income, and making changes in their own lives.

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2 Responses to “Saving and Lending, Changing Their Lives”


    brilliant, am part of the SILC family here in kenya and i can confirm, it works

  2. Muponda Lloyd Says:

    what mechanisms have you put in place to protect savings of the poor in case of defaults by other group members? how effective are they? m having some problems with defaults in Zimbabwe!

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