God’s Children United Savings Club

Every time I come to Liberia I learn something new.

Food:

A woman sitting in front of her market stall tried to describe some of the items that were unfamiliar to me. Each item is in a small plastic bag about the size of 2 tablespoons.

From left to right in this photo:

1) Country Soda: a natural acid for making Tobbogi. It looks like small pieces of rock but they’re used in cooking to create foam.

2) Pawtah: white clay that people eat. Literally eating dirt.

3) Benison: small sesame-seed-like spice cooked with sugar, many times uses to make baby food, and also used in soup to put over fufu.

Marriage:

Yesterday I noticed Annie’s husband, Emmet, overseeing construction of a mud block home in the middle of Deanville. I thought it was odd because they had just moved into a new house that was completed this past year across the highway on the outskirts of the Green Farm area. I wondered how they had enough money to build another home. I asked Amelia about it and her answer was not what I expected.

According to custom, when a man takes a woman from her home village and they become an unmarried couple (“married without a ring”) living on his family land, the man must then build a home for her on land in her home village. This is a contingency home should the couple break up, thus the woman has a place to go if she is kicked out. If things go along fine or they get officially married, they can rent the place.

Money:

Late this afternoon I ran into Tumamee as I was finishing some community surveys near the checkpoint. He reminded me that I had expressed interest in visiting one of his business savings club meetings and he was on his way to this week’s gathering. I agreed to follow as he led the way on his motorbike. The meeting took place on the porch of someone’s home in Gbarnga. About 9 or 10 people had come together, mostly women. All have a small business of some sort. The group calls themselves “God’s Children United Savings Club”. Tumamee shared a copy of the bylaws (or as the document actually states: “by Laws and Constitution”).

Tumamee (left) paying his savings club dues.

Each Saturday they gather, share an opening prayer, pay dues, and place money into a savings fund locked in a steel box. Detailed records are made in a ledger book following a series of checks and rechecks to confirm accuracy of the stacks of money — 1,200LD (about $6 USD) for this person, 4,000LD for the next. The chair lady and the appointed counter sit on the floor, rifling through neatly rubber banded bundles, placing them in a small plastic bowl when completed. Increments of 200LD are considered 1 “share” and no partial shares are allowed. After all dues and the week’s savings contributions are recorded by shares, a separate ledger is pulled out to account for loan transactions.

Members are allowed to take loans up to the limit of their total accumulated shares. New club members may borrow less until they prove trustworthiness. Interest is a hefty 10% monthly based on the original loan amount. Thus a 10,000LD loan paid off in 3 months would cost 3,000 in interest. This is considered a good deal relative to personal savings groups common in Liberia called “susu” that often charge 15-25% per month. Interest payments along with club dues accumulate through the year. In December, this excess cash is distributed proportionally to members based on the number of shares each has invested. That means there’s an incentive to save more — raising the number of shares you have — so your interest/dues payout will be larger just in time for Christmas.

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