Debbie’s Position at BSHDC Part 6: Women’s Self Help Groups

The focus of this blog post will be the Self Help Group (SHG) Concept/Approach, which is a program under the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission’s (BSHDC’s) Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) program area.  Please be advised that it is an overview of the approach and the way in which it is carried out at BSHDC, but in no way do I assume to be covering all that is involved.  For more on the Self Help Group Concept/Approach, you may go to:  http://www.self-help-approach.com/Index.aspx by Kindernothilfe (KNH) in Germany.

Self Help Groups (SHGs) have shown to be very successful in promoting the social and financial empowerment of women in many countries.  Its beneficiaries are the poorest women in a community who are able to come together as a homogeneous group to improve their economic situation, while also providing mutual support and solutions to their problems. For an article on the impact of SHGs in India, you may go to UNICEF’s site: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/india_65352.html.

There is a clear procedure to follow with a series of steps before a SHG is formed in a community.  Some of these steps include: 1) Identifying a target community, 2) Sensitizing the local leadership and raising community awareness on the SHG Concept, 3) Visiting a number of households in the community to build rapport and determine causes of poverty in that community, 4) Doing an appraisal of the community to determine existing families, current community structures, potential SHG beneficiaries, etc., 5) Group formulation process (15-20 members in each group) 6) Training of various people at many different levels such as BSHDC staff, SHG Community Facilitators who will train SHG members, etc. on SHG concept, business management, record keeping, etc.

Having recognized how effective the SHG approach has been for women and in turn, their families and communities, BSHDC, through its OVC program, followed the steps needed and established its first SHG, named Chitsanzo, in Mbayani Township in Blantyre on June 2, 2010.  Since that time, BSHDC has been working at integrating the SHG approach across all of its program areas.  To date, over 50 SHGs have been formed in a number of townships in Blantyre.  At BSHDC, there is a Project Officer of the OVC Program whose main responsibility is to coordinate and oversee all the SHGs.

Women at Titukulane SHG in Bangwe

SHGs can have between 15 and 20 members.  Once a SHG is formed, it is closed to new members.  All decisions within each SHG are made by the members of the SHG, not by outside people.  There are two book writers for each SHG that keep track of all of the records which include a minute book of proceedings, an individual passbook for each SHG member and a main record book with all records of savings, loans issued, repayments and penalties.  There is a moderator for each week’s meeting.  The moderator position rotates every week.

Record Books at Titukulane SHG in Bangwe

Self Help Groups (SHGs) follow a general format.  First, they make sure they have quorum of 50% of group members.  Once quorum is established, the women open with prayer.  Then they take attendance to confirm who is present.  Attendance is recorded in their individual passbook and the main record book.  Following the taking of attendance, there is time for teaching and information sharing.  Some topics covered include: 1) Health issues such as: a) Encouraging women to do self breast exams and go for check-ups with their doctor. b) Different types of cancer, risk factors and symptoms.  c) How to prevent mosquitos from getting into your home. 2) Food and Nutrition such as: a) Various types of food and their health benefits, b) Healthy and affordable recipes; and 3) Business ideas, training and income generating activities.

Record Keeping at Titandizane SHG in Bangwe

The remainder of the meeting is dedicated to finances.  There are usually three separate plates and the amounts for each plate are decided by the group. The plates are 1) The Savings Plate, 2) The Welfare Plate (for emergencies such as illness/funerals), and 3) the Loan Recovery/Repayment Plate.  Some groups use this third plate for penalty fees for members who are not repaying their loans on a timely basis, whereas other SHGs have a separate fourth plate for penalties.  Each member pays her weekly savings, welfare amounts, loan repayment and any applicable penalty fees.  Once the amounts are entered in the two record books, every member signs her individual passbook and the main book.  Once all of the money has been counted, the totals are announced and members can request a loan.  SHG members decide which loans are granted, then they distribute them.  The goal is to ensure that the majority of the money is distributed each week.  If there is a lot of money left over, it indicates that the group is unable to issue new loans since members are not repaying their loans on time.

Counting Money at Titandizane SHG in Bangwe

When I visited Chitsanzo SHG in Mbayani, I asked the women if they had any questions for me.  They immediately said “Yes, could we share some of our testimonies of the difference the Self-Help Group has made for us?”  Well, I of course was more than pleased to hear their stories.  I wish to share testimonies from two different members of the SHG. The first woman said “I have benefited a lot from this Self-Help Group…I was able to mould bricks, build a house and rent it out for income”.  The second woman said “I am a widow, my husband died when our son was in Standard [Grade] 8, now he is in Form 3 [3rd Year of Secondary School]…Thanks to the SHG, I have been able to pay for his school fees, and provide for my family’s basic needs, sugar, etc.”  Each and every time I visit an SHG, I am overwhelmed by the hope and the success I see.  They take women from hopelessness to empowerment…they are truly a gift from God.

As the Self Help Groups (SHGs) do not need or receive direct funding, PWS&D does not provide specific funds to BSHDC’s SHGs.  However, as PWS&D provides funding for many of BSHDC’s programs, and they are working at integrating SHGs across their programs, PWS&D is indirectly supporting SHGs.  For information on work that Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) in Canada is doing to assist people in different parts of the world, including Malawi, with small business, savings and loans, please go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/programs/smallbusiness/.   To learn how to donate to PWS&D in general or to specific programs, go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/donate/.

28Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  29He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  30Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. 

Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

One thought on “Debbie’s Position at BSHDC Part 6: Women’s Self Help Groups

  1. Matt Brough

    This is such an important initiative. BSHDC have amazing innovators working on the ground. They are truly changing lives on incredibly limited budgets. Keep up the great work. We will keep praying and sending our support through PWS&D

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