A voice rings out across the table: "Member number 25, $20." The speaker passes the worn paper note to her left, where it is again examined and held up for the group to see. The second woman echoes: "Member number 25, $20." In unison, three loud claps sound around the semicircle of people seated in plastic chairs, and the money is placed in a yellow bowl. The treasurer, Father Moses, in a white polo shirt and black shorts, carefully makes a note in the record book, and then the process begins again. This is the Forau Savings Group, a localised banking system growing in small communities throughout the Solomon Islands. World Vision introduced the concept to the Solomons after it discovered many locals had no form of savings - or if they did, they didn't trust the big banks and would stash the money in their houses, where it would inevitably be stolen or spent. The savings programme also provides a way to give loans to those wanting to start their own small businesses, as more people move away from subsistence living and try agriculture and fishing. "The goal is to reduce poverty by improving the economic capacity in local communities," says George Ganiau, an economic development programme specialist with World Vision. "We do two things. One is the savings programme and the other is the marketing programme, where we train local farmers and link them with buyers." Ganiau has helped set up a number of savings groups. Each one has the same rules, according to a manual, and is run by those in the local community, not World Vision. "We form a group of 25 members, we encourage both genders," says Ganiau. "They save money for one cycle, which is one year, and then at the end they share out the money." Individual members can also take loans and re-invest in the group. Most also donate a small amount each fortnight towards an insurance-type "safety" scheme, which helps if a member has a baby or a family member dies. At Forau, a seaside village in East Malaita, the group meets at the beachfront, around a long wooden table. Behind them is a half-built house, and a pet pig which grunts noisily at each round of clapping. In pride of place on the table is the savings box, a metal container with three padlocks whose keys belong to three different members. When we visit, it is the first meeting for the year and the box is empty, but that doesn't last long. Within half an hour they have $85 Solomon Islands Dollars (SBD) in the safety fund. Most of those in the group are women, who tell us time and time again they joined to save the money their husbands would otherwise spend on beer. Father Moses is one of three men in the Forau group, and was also one of the first to join, in an attempt to set a good example for his congregation. He plans to use his savings to build a house, but he says most people use the savings on school fees. "It has increased the number of children going to school in this catchment," he says. "Now more people want to join because they begin to see the good outcome." Last year, one woman in the Forau group saved SBD$6000 (about $1100), the most of any member. She paid not only for her school fees, but improvements to her home, and is thinking about starting a small business of her own. • Read more: Hidden Pacific: Q&A • Why we're tackling poverty • Women in Solomons struggle to escape male violence • Villagers at mercy of rising sea levels Re-investment is one of World Vision's goals in its bid to help communities become self-supporting, a target that has faced numerous challenges in recent years. Civil unrest in the early 21st century, including a coup in 2000, saw the near collapse of the country's fledgling economy - which relied mainly on the export of timber and fish. Many enterprises were forced to close when infrastructure in Guadalcanal was damaged during riots, alongside disruption to transport, commerce and agriculture. A series of natural disasters caused further setbacks, to the point where the Solomons is now the second-most aid dependent country in the world. Most donations come from Australia, New Zealand and Japan, which give more than $300 million between them a year. "The approach we are taking is that we didn't want to raise the level of dependency by giving [communities] more money," Ganiau says. "We want to increase their knowledge and ability to produce. Basically, empowering them. So when the project leaves the community they can support themselves. We didn't want to start with big money." There is hope the savings groups will also help the communities in other ways - including paying for kindergarten teachers in some places and helping women gain independence in others. In Honiara's Lord Howe settlement, savings group volunteer Doris Saingoa Muliloa says the programme is having a flow-on effect for women's education. "A lot of women here they're not educated, they didn't go to school, they didn't understand what saving was all about," she says. "We use it because they can't go to the big bank, they're too scared to fill out the forms." Doris said the women usually used the money to start small businesses - usually roadside stalls, and then passed any money they made to their daughters for school fees. "Because of the culture, before parents didn't allow their girls to go to school," she says. "That's why the women don't go to the bank because they're not educated, that's why we want to educate the girls now. Now we see it's important for them to go to school." Doris said she was hoping to help set up more groups in her local area. "I feel good about that because you know, like me, I'm educated I know how to read and write because I go to school. It's fair that other girls go too."
Friday the pig brings home the bacon
A dozen members of the Kosakosa village are searching for Friday, the piglet with no luck. They call his name as they peer into the forest behind the seaside village. But when his owner Veronica Nelson arrives, and softly calls "Friday?" he appears from her chicken coop attached to a short rope and runs to her familiar voice. "I bought him on a Friday, and Friday is his name," says Veronica. He was bought with the dividend from the local savings and loans group Veronica belongs to. She invested 100 PNG kina ($46), and at the end of the year received 126 PNGK. A World Vision project, the groups were established to support the growing income in the area and assist with economic need. The group lends money to expanding businesses, people who suffer accidents, and to families to cover school fees. A 100 kina loan must be repaid at 105 kina. There is no outstanding debt. All loans were repaid in the two-month window offered by the group. Veronica plans to sell Friday for 1000 PNGK once he is fully grown. She then plans to buy more pigs, and give some money back to her community. She has previously raised pigs, but these have been used for feeding the community on special occasions, or in times of need when food is scarce. But this time Friday the pig is definitely Veronica's cash cow. Written by Simon Day.
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