A safer path
Christina is one of 8,000 tea workers the Ulalo (‘Bridge’) programme has set out to reach by 2024. Created by ETP, Lujeri Tea Estate and Taylors of Harrogate in 2021, one of Ulalo’s aims is to increase women tea workers’ economic resilience by saving money through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs).
A VSLA is an informal, self-managed group of 15-25 people that provides basic and practical financial experience. Members put individual savings into a joint fund, then borrow money from it at an agreed rate of interest.
After 6-12 months, the accumulated savings are distributed back to members, and a new saving cycle begins. Over time, the groups’ profits grow as loan repayments are made.
“When ETP came, they explained to us the benefits of a VSLA,” Christina said. “At this time, I was borrowing excessively from loan sharks, but they advised us against them.
“I embraced the message, and started saving and borrowing through our VSLA instead.”
Christina has found it easier to repay the VSLA loans and is now free of her previous debts. She has also used the scheme to kickstart sustainable small businesses.
“The first time I borrowed money from the VSLA group, I bought a pig and a goat,” she told us. “Then when the pigs bred for the first time, I sold the piglets and used the money to buy iron sheets for my house.”
The pigs’ manure also helped Christina’s farming income. “In previous years, I was only harvesting three or four bags of maize, but this year, my harvest jumped to 15.”
Soon, she was financially secure enough to give back to her community and help others: “When [the pigs] bred again, I started a pass-on initiative so that other people in the village could also own livestock and be happy.”
Reaching the other side
Today, fewer than 1 in 5 participants of Ulalo VSLAs said they would consider taking money from a loan shark again. The groups also provide other new opportunities –such as the social welfare funds members who lost property during Cyclone Freddy could access.
Ulalo is showing that even the lowest income earners can save and thrive, if given the right support and opportunities. For Christina, it has been truly life-changing. “A VSLA transforms a person,” she told us.
“It takes them away from poverty and gives them peace of mind.”