Life has been challenging for Dusu Conteh, a 50-year-old widow, who struggled to feed her eight children and pay their school fees. Dusu lives in Koromasilaya, a farming community in northern Sierra Leone, where most people live in poverty. It is difficult for people in Koromasilaya to borrow money as there are no banks. Prior to the USAID Food for Peace Sustainable Nutrition and Agricultural Promotion (SNAP) program, she recalls she “was straining to provide for her family.”

SNAP is improving the savings and loan system for people in Sierra Leone by helping communities start Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs). As VSLA members, people in a community save money together and take small loans from those savings with low interest. Group activities follow nine or twelve month cycles, after which the VSLA distributes the accumulated savings and loan profits back to the members. This eases the burden for people like Dusu who do not have access to formal financial services. In Dusu’s home District, Koinadugu, ACDI/VOCA supports 2,130 people to participate in VSLAs.

VSLAs also offer leadership roles to community members.  Dusu didn’t hesitate to become the head of her VSLA. SNAP trained Dusu and other group members on money-saving techniques, recordkeeping and on how to start a small business.

With Savings, Dusu’s Group Bought a Truck for Easy Transport

One of the group’s greatest successes was its purchase of a $10,000 truck by using the group’s savings and accessing a bank loan. The truck has solved their transportation needs. Previously, the farmers struggled to transport their crops to Freetown for sale.

“I’m encouraging other people to use this system, especially women because it is safe and because I was able to save money,” Dusu Conteh, project participant.

Now, Dusu can see a promising future for herself and fellow group members.

“With the help of the VSLA introduced by SNAP, I can now provide my children with food and other basic amenities.”

Though SNAP is closing in December 2016, Dusu’s VSLA group remains strong. Overall, SNAP has helped form 170 VSLAs across the country, which benefit over 5,100 people.