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news | September 01, 2017 | South Sudan | Rehabilitation

A story of resilience: Taking the gamble of joining Village Savings and Loan Associations in South Sudan

ACTED implements FSL programming in 6 out of the 10 states of South Sudan

His story is a story of resilience: Adam is one of the beneficiaries supported under the UNHCR-funded project that ACTED is implementing in refugee camps in Maban, Upper Nile State (South Sudan).

Rebuilding a life away from home

In 2011, with the conflict in the Blue Nile State of Sudan, tens of thousands of people fled their home in a search for safety. Adam was one of them. Conflict has been raging since and to date, more than 140,000 Sudanese are living in the four refugee camps that counts Maban county in the northeastern part of South Sudan (Doro, Kaya, Gendrassa and Yusuf Batil camps). The youngest nation in the world is itself no stranger to conflict as an ongoing civil war has crippled the country economy, with 4 million people out of their homes. As a result, one in two South Sudanese (6 million people) are facing emergency levels of food insecurity.

With the support of UNHCR, ACTED is implementing a multi-sectoral project in Kaya, Gendrassa and Doro refugee camps in Maban. As part of this programme, ACTED seeks to enhance livelihoods to accompany refugees towards self-reliance and support them in improving their lives. One of these activities has consisted in the establishment of Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) – 15 groups have been created in 2016, 20 more in 2017, each of them comprising of 30 members. A VSLA is a group of people joining efforts to save together and take small loans from those savings. Its purpose is to introduce simple saving and loans facilities in communities - such as the refugee community in Maban - that do not have access to formal financial services. A very simple system for a powerful result.

Back in the Blue Nile, before the conflict

Adam is 45 and a father of five children. Back home, in Blue Nile, he owned a retail business which he describes as a “very big shop, like the room we are sitting in”. Amongst other things, tea, onions, salt, washing powder or coffee could have been found in his shop. He also used to sell to other smaller retail shops and with the profits from his business, he would hire people to work on a piece of land that he owned. His income was enough to cover his family’s needs and he mentions that they were “doing pretty well back in Blue Nile”.

But in 2011, war began and Adam took his family to flee the fighting. When he left, he only had time to grab a weighing scale, “nothing else”, he says.He first arrived in Jamam camp before moving to Gendrassa camp in 2012.

Joining VSLA in Gendrassa refugee camp

As most refugees in the camps, Adam and his family heavily depend on the monthly food distribution conducted by ACTED (with the support of WFP) to eat. In 2016, he was part of ACTED’s Farmer Field school (FFS) program throughout which he was given a small piece of land outside the camp which he still cultivates. The sorghum and okra he grows there helps complementing the food ration he receives for his household at the distribution (representing 15 days of food per month). He also mentions that he learned a lot from the FFS programme and that he keeps sharing his knowledge with other community members who are also interested in cultivation.

Adam joined a VSLA group in 2016 when ACTED started the programme in Gendrassa camp. He first borrowed 3,000 South Sudanese Pounds (20$) to buy sorghum and start a small business. The business is very small – it is only a small table with a few items to sale on it. But it helped him repay to the VSLA group up to an amount of 3,600 SSPs (24$) and still keeps some of the money to grow his business and support his family’s needs. In July, he borrowed again 2,000 SSP (13$) and already repaid 2,400 SSP (16$) keeping 100 SSP (0.6$) to invest in the business. He outlines that he never had to sell any assets to be able to repay his loan – all came from the profit he managed to make. Whilst at the moment the profit is still too small for a bigger expansion, Adam is confident that as the programme goes, he will be able to grow his business.

Other community members were amazed with the fact that he managed to start a small business all over again. It even encouraged others to join the VSLA group. Adam advised them to organise themselves in a group similar to the one he had joined. As a result, his neighbors have established two VSLA groups of 20 members each. Adam shares the knowledge and experience he acquired in his group with them. He hopes that, thanks to the training received from ACTED, he will be able to support other community members and he is looking forward to the end of the VSLA programme to look at the profit made from all those months.