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“My children can go to school and make us proud”

04th June 2024

Beneath the shade of a tree, a group of women are gathered around a table. Brightly dressed and patiently waiting, catching a moment’s rest from the heat of the afternoon. Meeting in the shade like this isn’t out of the ordinary for women in Ghana. But today, the women are meeting for something radical – the women-only village savings and loans scheme (VSLA).

Across African drylands, gender discrimination is present in laws and customs that often prevent women from accessing or being in control of finance. And because many rural women live below the poverty line, earning only enough money to make ends meet means nothing to lean on in times of emergency.

The VSLAs are turning this on its head. Coming together to pool their savings, women are offering one another a financial safety net that helps them plan for the future, expand their businesses, and catch them if they fall.  

Below, we meet one of these incredible women. This is Elizabeth’s story.

Elizabeth's story: "My children can go to school and make us proud" 

Elizabeth wearing a blue dress, standing in front of tree and smiling

Elizabeth Atanga is a farmer from northern Ghana. A mother and grandmother, she earns her living from harvesting shea nuts, which she processes to make shea butter that can be sold at market. At age 55, she’s also now the head of her local VSLA group. 

“Before the project life was very difficult because it was not easy to come by money to take care of my home. It was difficult to get help from my neighbours. It was very difficult and I used to think about it a lot”.

Since joining the group, Elizabeth has been able to grow her business by taking out a small loan to pay for labour and farming equipment. The money is drawn from the collective pot, which is paid into by all of the women in the VSLA. This kind of support provides an alternative form of support that is often unavailable for rural women, who are are often prevented from accessing traditional forms of finance. With the right training around budgeting and the support of the VSLA, Elizabeth has seen her income grow. 

A woman handing her savings to the VSLA group around a table

“This is because I am involved in the savings scheme, which gives me the opportunity to get a loan.”

“I have learnt a lot in the project. It has brought all of the women together. We are able to support each other a lot, especially with finances. There are a lot of benefits. I cannot mention all. Training I have received has made it so my children can go to school and makes us proud of ourselves.”

Standing in the shade of a shea tree, Elizabeth smiles. The significance of the women's group isn't just monetary, she explains. 

“It has also made me confident. I used to feel shy talking around other people, but now I speak confidently."

You came and saw us working together, singing and dancing. We are together and do everything in common.

Women supporting women

Elizabeth handing her savings into the VSLA group

In rural African drylands, trees offer communities a solid and sustainable income source. Harvesting fruit, nuts and leaves offers many women a steady stream of money, which can be relied upon even during the dry months when very little grows. But for women like Elizabeth, forming the VSLA has benefits that extend beyond financial gain. Friendship, sisterhood, and strong bonds are formed. 

“We didn’t know each other. But because of the project, we have come together and we are working together. It has made us united and also support each other. You saw us working together, singing and dancing. Three different communities from three different areas, we are together and do everything in common.”

For the women involved in the VSLA, the support has been transformational. But the work is not done. With the right support, we can make sure more women are empowered to thrive through the power of trees.

“We are aware that you don’t know us from anywhere, but because of the love you have for humanity, you are supporting us.”

Make a difference for women in Africa's drylands

single donation

A donation of £10 today could grow one tree in Africa’s drylands, so people can live from them for years to come.

£20 could buy seeds to help women grow trees on their land so they can produce fruit and nuts to eat and sell

A donation of £30 today could grow three trees in Africa’s drylands, so people can live from them for years to come.

£40 today could grow four trees in Africa’s drylands, so people can live from them for years to come.

A donation of £50 today could provide tree skills training that will help women learn sustainable tree techniques.