Volunteers Britta Harman & Lindsay Johnson boost the VSL program in Zandspruit

Lindsay and I arrived in Johannesburg on May 12th and will be working for Project HOPE until June 7th.  We are classmates at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and have been looking forward to coming here since December. 

Britta, Tsholo, and Lindsay

During our first week here we got our feet wet by observing and participated in the many components of this Project HOPE site.  We went door-to-door with community screeners, observed mass screenings in various locations in the township, visited the clinic and pharmacy, and attended information sessions on diabetes and hypertension.   

Britta and Tsholo at a VSL meeting
Despite the overall focus of the HOPE Centre on diabetes and hypertension, our focus for our time here is on economic strengthening and its connection to health.  In order to encourage improved economic stability among community members in Zandspruit, the HOPE Centre has established a Village Savings and Loans (VSL) program.  This program has been implemented in other Project HOPE locations, but only began in Zandspruit in March.  The VSL program brings together small groups of friends and community members to participate in “co-banking”.  Groups usually consist of 6-10 individuals and meetings last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours.  Members save individual amounts of money each week and deposit it into the group bank account after each weekly meeting.  Members may take out loans from the account and are responsible for paying them back with interest in an allotted period of time.  Rules and regulations, such as interest rates and fines, are determined by each individual group and recorded in the group constitution.  At the beginning of the saving cycle, groups elect a chairperson, secretary, treasurer, money counters, and health activist.  Ideally, after nine weeks of meetings with Tsholo, the HOPE Centre field officer in charge of the VSL program, groups will be able to run themselves.  After that point, Tsholo will drop in from time to time, but the group officers will ultimately be responsible for running the meetings.  A saving cycle lasts for one year.  At the end of the cycle, all members receive the sum they have saved plus the shared interest that has accumulated over the year.  
Lindsay conducting a VSL baseline interview.
Corresponding with the HOPE Centre’s focus on healthcare, each VSL group is required to elect at least one health activist.  This member is trained by a HOPE Centre employee on pertinent health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, HIV, maternal health, breast cancer, TB, and nutrition.  Once the health activists are trained, they are responsible for teaching one of these lessons to their VSL group each week.  Lindsay and I will be teaching a 2-day training course to roughly 15 health activists next week.  Additionally, Lindsay and I are preparing pre- and post-cycle surveys to track how the VSL program impacts individual members.  The goal of this is to determine if increased savings helps improve the health of the members.  Eventually the HOPE Centre would like to implement the VSL program among the diabetes and hypertension patients at the clinic. 

 Thus far we have had a fantastic experience and found everyone at the HOPE Centre and Zandspruit to be incredibly welcoming.  
Britta Harman





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