Only in Africa would economics be enjoyed through the medium of dance – though perhaps Mr Osborne would curry some much-needed favour with the press if he busted the occasional move on the steps of Number 10.
A group of women I met in Malawi (on my recent trip to visit a number of Tearfund projects) didn’t hold back from dancing at their finance meetings. One woman said ‘when we dance it feels like we are all the children of one family.’ And that’s the crucial bit about this amazing group of women: they’re all from different villages, but they have come together for mutual benefit by working on a savings and loans scheme. It’s small scale economics – or microfinance – but it’s making a big difference.
The group started meeting when they were working on a river dyke project. Everyone who worked on building the dyke was paid 300 Kwachas per day for their labour, and representatives from every family in the affected villages had to be involved. So this meant a spread of people being paid in cash for work, additional to their subsistence agricultural livelihoods. At the time, saving any extra income was a rather foreign concept.
Now the group meets weekly to pool their savings, and operates a sophisticated system of short-term loans and repayments. Transparency is crucial; the amount everyone puts in and takes out of the group is announced and recorded, so they can hold each other to account.
It has enabled them to have dreams for the future and realise them. In the months they aren’t working in the fields to grow crops, they are able to run small businesses to buy food. They can fund their children’s education, provide for their families and think about moving forward.
They all had incredible stories and among the challenges they face, many were providing for and raising their children with absent husbands. The insurance of a group like that isn’t just in the 20 Kwachas they put in the pot for the ‘social fund’ but it’s in the relationships that are brimming with life.
I could have stayed there all day, apart from the fact that I was only ever going to be an outsider. Even so, I felt truly welcomed. And when I joined in their dancing (or attempted to with a pathetically British hip wiggle) they roared with laughter. As we laughed together I felt we understood one another despite the language barrier. It reminded me of something another woman had said to me: if we hadn’t had a translator, we would have just conversed with our eyes. I loved that.
Lucinda Borkett-Jones is editorial intern on Christianity magazine.