Do you feel like life is moving forward? That maybe the UK can start thinking about things other than Coronavirus? It looks positive, right? You can go to a wedding with more than 30 people, stadiums are filling up, and lots of us are fortunate to have had our first vaccination against Covid-19. But the story is very different for the hundreds of thousands of the people we work with across Africa.
Our clients in Uganda are in the middle of a strict six-week lockdown that was imposed so quickly people couldn’t prepare for it. Lockdowns affect those living in poverty the most. People who depend on day labouring wages, or selling their products at market can’t work from home - there’s no furlough option. Our clients with disabilities face an even tougher set of challenges. Public transport has stopped, and the use of private vehicles is prohibited. They can’t travel to receive healthcare, can’t get to work, and can’t deposit their money safely: their health, jobs and finances are all at an increased risk.
My biggest concern for our clients living with disabilities is the restriction on movement. Restrictions that mean they can’t access healthcare. Restrictions mean that most will lose over 50% of their income; won’t be able to afford food in the short term and in the longer term pay for the healthcare they need."
The challenges facing our clients in Uganda who have disabilities are scary. The little Covid-19 support that is available is insufficient and in most cases inaccessible to those who need it the most.
- Melissa Bell, Programme Manager
No one saw Covid-19 coming. Our work building the resilience of our clients, increasing people’s capacity for saving and introducing digital financial services is being put to the test. Thankfully, it’s producing good results.
The government may have locked-down the country, but it can’t lock down the innovation of our partners, their products and our entrepreneurial clients.
TECHNOLOGY – A LIFE LINE FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE
Our financial inclusion officers, who usually deliver training in person, are able to check-in with our clients via mobile phones. They work closely with individuals and savings groups to ensure that they are supported as much as possible during these difficult times. This contact is essential, not only for financial inclusion but for building relationships, trust and reminding persons with disabilities that they haven’t been forgotten.
One of the products that Opportunity Bank Uganda Limited had implemented before the pandemic was interactive voice response and SMS messages on mobile phones. Pre-recorded messages sent out to clients offers advice on covid-19 safety, short refreshers on key aspects of financial literacy, guidance on banking procedures and enables clients to get their financial questions answered.
Clients are empowered to keep saving and developing their financial literacy despite not being able to visit a bank branch. The messages are listened to in the savings groups increasing awareness and togetherness. The inclusive method of communication has increased the trust of clients so that even with a lockdown they are more likely to use the banks products.
Working with local experts, we’re creating Television Episodes that will air nationwide across Uganda aimed at encouraging people with disabilities to engage with their local bank. Short serialised episodes will give financial literacy lessons and share advice on why saving money is important. Continuing to build on lessons learned through group training and voice messages. By engaging people through television we can also share health messages and guidance to people living with disabilities across the whole of Uganda.
As of June 2021 a total of 4,010 persons with disabilities had accessed financial literacy training to boost their skills and knowledge. 485 groups have opened savings accounts and 1073 members from those groups have opened individual savings accounts to start saving for their future.
I’m confident in the resilience of our clients to continue planning, saving and learning. But I’m really concerned about the impact that Covid-19 and lockdown is having on them. We need the help of our supporters more than ever so that we can reach more people living with disabilities in increasingly difficult situations.