On Tuesday of last week I finished Swahili school. Since then, I have been visiting with Tanzanians in preparation for the launch of our first group, which will be toward the end of this month or the beginning of the next. One of these friends, Masudi, is a leader of the Mwanza churches. Masudi and I rode together on the 18 hour bus ride to the big city of Dar es Salaam for the Tanzania Annual Conference of Methodist Church, another place where I was thankful to meet many Tanzanians.
After returning, I was thankful to meet Azteria and visit her small sewing business. She has been helped by the Savings and Loan plan (called “Pamoja”, the Swahili word for “together”) which we will be using in starting our groups. I really appreciated that she was willing to answer some questions:
Me: Why does Pamoja work better than the other savings and loan options?
Azteria: The interest rate is lower, and it helps with spiritual development in addition to economic development.
Me: What is a common mistake you have seen, which we should avoid?
Azteria: I have seen groups fail when the professions of the different members were too different from each other. Groups do better when it’s a group of businesspeople, or a groups of farmers, etc. They do even better when they are in the same business, or farm the same thing, etc.
Me: How much do the members normally save each week?
Azteria: Each member saves 10,000 shillings (roughly $5).
Me: How many weeks should they save together before they begin loaning?
Azteria: They should save for 12 weeks before the first loan.
Me: Did Pamoja enable you to start a business, or to expand one you already had going?
Azteria: It enabled me to expand my business.
Me: Is there ever a problem with the church leadership trying to have too much control over the groups?
Azteria: The groups normally do best when they branch out and draw in members of the community who do not go the same church and may not even be followers of Jesus. This gives the groups a life of their own.