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Savings in Action

By Jenny Dunn

When a family begins to earn an income from their business, they need somewhere safe to keep it. For many of us in the UK we would naturally use a savings account but, with no alternatives, many families living in poverty hide what little money or assets they do have under their mattress, in a hole in the ground or in livestock.  Here, their hard-earned income can be stolen or destroyed – a devastating loss for a family just starting to get on their feet.

Opportunity International uses innovative technology to make secure savings more accessible to people in poverty-stricken, hard to reach rural areas.  Our saving accounts offer families’ security and the opportunity to manage their money – no matter how small the amount.  Instead of living in fear, people can plan for the future and save for a rainy day. 

And never has that saying been so true for our clients in Southern Malawi and Northern Mozambique. In January 2015 the region experienced its worst flooding in more than 50 years.  Homes and livestock were washed away, precious crops were damaged and lives were lost.   It is estimated that 200 people died, with 200,000 Malawians and 50,000 people in Mozambique displaced.

With so many in the region reliant on agriculture and crops to feed their family and provide income, thousands lost everything – their homes, their livelihoods, their hope for a better future. 

Thankfully, many had a savings account with Opportunity International.  We are the largest provider of financial services in Malawi and over 630,000 individuals have a savings account.  A third of these men and women are in the Southern region and many were badly affected by the floods. 

It will take a long time to recover from this natural disaster but their savings will enable our clients to rebuild their businesses and lives.  The devastating effects of the flooding in January illustrate the fragility of the communities we work with.  For many of our clients, like Chrissie, their savings have provided not just a safety net but a lifeline to continue their path out of poverty. 

Remains of Chrissie's entire belongings.

Chrissie Chisale lives in the Mangochi district, just a few 100 yards from Lake Malawi.  Chrissie used to sell fish from the lake at the local market, a business she took on when her husband died.  The floods demolished Chrissie’s house and washed away all her dried fish stock - the photo above shows the remains of Chrissie's belongings. Chrissie and her family have temporarily relocated to a nearby church with only a few possessions remaining.   Thankfully there is hope.  With Chrissie’s first Opportunity International Loan, she also opened a savings account, which she can draw on to re-establish her life.  It’s amazing to see the power of savings in action. 

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