Gina Alpha is 53 years old and lives in Gbeka. She has never had any formal education – she hasn’t been inside a classroom or even held a pencil. Gina is married with eight children. Her oldest four have moved out of the house and are married with their own families. Her younger four children are high school aged. Gina, like most women in Sierra Leone, was brought up to be ‘at the back of the house’ — not speaking up and just doing what they are told. Her and her husband did not have good communication and would never do things together.
Gina’s main source of income is from farming. From June to September in Sierra Leone, which is known as the rainy or hungry season, food is hard to come by. Gina and her family struggle to find food and normally do not think about the upcoming costs of sending her children to school on time.
The closest secondary school to Gina’s family is just under an hour away. This means in order to go to school, Gina also has to pay for lodging on top of the school fees for her children. Due to these large expenses and the fact that may children do not graduate for a variety of reasons, school is not seen as a priority for most families but rather a risky investment. Especially when keeping children at home to help out on the farm could provide more immediate returns. Gina once said that the day school was to start was the day she started to prepare for her children to go to school. They would show up weeks late if she was able to get everything ready.
Not only does she have eight of her own children, but she is also taking care of two of her grandchildren. Cleaning, cooking, fetching water and getting her grandkids ready for school before she heads off to her family farm only to return in the evening to start it all over again. Although she might earn small amount of money the main income is from her husband’s higher income jobs. Even if they both work on the farm together, it is the man who keeps and controls their finances. Needless to say, Gina has a large family with a lot to manage. So, how can she mange her time and money so she might be able to put food on the table and make sure all of her children have the chance to go to school?
Most of us would want to put together a budget or at least a way to manage our household finances. Typically, the main things we would include are income, expenses, and savings. So how would someone like Gina, who has never even held a pencil before make a budget? How would you track what you earn or even try to open a bank account if you could not read or write or recognize numbers? Gina, like many others, rely on the colour of the bills to make purchases since she cannot read the numbers. OneVillage Partners, by working closely with communities, recognized this gap and developed an entirely picture based curriculum to help women and families like Gina reach their financial goals.
Gina, wasn’t sure what to expect, but she attended a community meeting to find out about the Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) program. She heard that this program would help her take care of her family, so she volunteered to join. Gina had the idea that she wanted to be ‘at the front of the house.’ Gina, was one of 98 women who were selected by her community to join NOW program in January 2016.
One of the first things Gina did in NOW was develop a vision of what she wanted her future to look like, and then she picked a goal that she would work on throughout the program. Even though Gina has never held a pencil before, she was able to record her goal by making one simple mark in her completely picture based workbook. Her goal, like many other women in Sierra Leone, was to send her children to school. But that was just the first step. In order to reach her goal, she needed to create a household budget.
She took her goal of sending her children to school and divided that goal into manageable steps. The next task was establishing a cost for her goals. Then came learning how to save. Gina completed even more hands on activities with the idea that no matter how much income you have there is always a way to be able to save even a small amount. But it is not enough to just save. Gina, learned about various areas where unexpected expenses might occur, and she started to set aside money for emergencies.
Combining all of these new skillsets, Gina made a full calendar year budget. For the first time, Gina was able to plan ahead. But this wasn’t all.
Gina, cannot reach her goals on her own. She needs support from her entire family. Her husband Gbessay attended multiple family sessions. The family sessions are a chance for her and Gbessay to build communication skills through various interactive activities and to share knowledge about what is happening in the program. This way he also saw the benefits of the program and encouraged Gina to attend.
When Gina started NOW she filled out a progress chart to track her progress towards her goal. When Gina started she reported that she had very little confidence, but by the end of the program she had confidence in saving, planning, using a budget, making good financial decisions, and most importantly, using her voice. Not only did Gina meet her goal of sending all four of her children and two of her grandchildren to school on time last year, she has also been able to send her children to school on time once again this year!
To put Gina’s progress in perspective, 60% of Sierra Leoneans live on less than $1.25 a day. Throughout the NOW program, Gina saved approximately $47, her and her husband communicate about how they can make sure their children get an education, and they make decisions about their farm and income together. She said that the rainy season is still hard, but they always have food to eat and are able ensure their children make it to school.