Empowering women through saving

Esperanza Sabandeja (extreme right), moderator of the self-help group 'Reyna ng Tahanan', opens the box where their weekly savings are kept during their meeting on Dec. 31, 2021. (Photo: Roy Lagarde/Oxfam)

A month ago, Marianne Penido borrowed Php 500 from “Reyna ng Tahanan” (Queen of the Home)—a self-help group (SHeG)—in the coastal town of Dolores in the province of Eastern Samar.

Her family needed the amount to buy food, and there was no one else she could borrow money from during that time. 

The money was enough to buy food that lasted at least two days. After a month, she paid the SHeG with low interest.

“The money was a huge relief for us that day,” said Penido, mother of three.

Their family depends on her husband’s income as a tricycle driver and her Php 1,000 monthly salary as a barangay health worker (BHW).

With money coming and going depending on the season, Penido’s family doesn’t have financial security.

She said life has been difficult for their family, especially amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and when disasters hit.

For the 36-year-old, self-help groups are “lifesavers”.

Penido’s story mirrors the lives of more than a hundred other women in Dolores who are part of SHeGs. Encompassing seven barangays, most of them were formed with the help of Sentro para sa Ikauunlad ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya (SIKAT), Inc and Oxfam Pilipinas under the Strengthening Harmonized Action for DRR, Preparedness and Early Recovery (SHARPER) project.

The project aims to ensure that communities recurrently hit by disasters, specifically the provinces of Eastern Samar and Catanduanes, have enhanced capacities for disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

Corazon Abogado, a 53-year-old member of another SHeG called “Marias”, admitted they did not have savings.

But the group she joined taught her the value of saving money, budgeting, and other financial skills.

“This is really a life-changing experience for me and my family,” said Abogado, who is also a BHW.

How SHeGs work 

SHeGs in Dolores are typically groups of 20 women who meet once a week, usually on Saturdays, to collect money from their members. All the money collected is deposited in a box.

In Reyna ng Tahanan and Marias, each member contributes ₱20 a week and the money can be lent at 2 to 3 percent interest to any member who needs it.

“This is a big help for us because we don’t need to find a collateral usually required when borrowing from a neighbor,” Abogado said. “And this is far better than other lending businesses with high-interest rates.”

The groups also agreed to have special savings for members who have extra money. Unlike the fixed weekly savings, special savings are flexible and dependent on a member’s capacity to deposit an additional amount. The members can withdraw their special savings anytime they want to use the money.

There are three major positions in a SHeG: a key holder, bookkeeper, and moderator who keeps the money pooled for the week in the box under her care. SHeGs also developed their group policies to ensure that all members perform the roles assigned to them.

Leadership rotation is another desirable feature of their SHeGs. Each member has the chance to develop their skills, harness their capacities, and lead the group.

Sense of community 

SHeGs are not only savings and loan associations. They also serve as platforms to discuss women’s issues and other concerns.

Esperanza Sabandeja, the current moderator of Reyna ng Tahanan, said there is a bond among them that goes beyond the group.

She said the members can also gain support from each other, share their feelings and skills with one another, and build up a common vision and mission.

“We share our life experiences and even family matters to each other,” Sabandeja said. “We have been able to open up because we have someone to go to.”

Big difference

SHeGs target to hold saving and lending activities among its members, with the main motives of enhancing their socio-economic status and empowering women.

With only about five months since the groups were created, Penido and the members are seeing their great changes and benefits. SHeGs generate confidence, self-security, self-awareness, and self-reliance.

“There is a big difference with our situation now—from the way we think to the way we act,” she said.

The women groups also lead to socio-economic development, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized populations.

For Penido, she feels that they are heading towards “a more apt and meaningful life”.