Monday, February 11, 2013

Financial co-operatives making a difference half a world away

There are more than half a million credit union members in Manitoba. Most join for familiar reasons: they prefer the great rates, friendly, personal service and highly competitive products credit unions have to offer. Half a world away, however, many thousands more are joining credit unions for a much more basic reason: because belonging to a financial co-operative gives them the opportunity to escape poverty and achieve successes they would otherwise never know. In countries like Uganda, fledgling Savings and Co-operative Credit Organizations, or SACCOs, often with the support of the Canadian Co-operative Association — and, by extension, credit union members like yourself — are making a dramatic difference in the lives of their members. People like Boniface Ayo, one of the founding members of Ikwera SACCO in Aduku, a town in the Central Ugandan district of Apac. Ayo, a farmer with five children aged two to 18, said that like many members of the SACCO, he joined to get access to money to pay school fees. "Money is the source of everything. With it, you can send your children to school," Ayo said. "If there is poverty, if there is nothing in your pocket, then there is nothing." The Ugandan school system consists of government-run schools and private schools. The government-run schools are more affordable, but class sizes can be as large as 500 students for one teacher. Private schools offer more reasonable class sizes and higher quality education, but they're also costlier, out of the reach of many rural Ugandans. Through school-fee loans from SACCOs, however, many Ugandans are beginning to be able to send their children to private school. For parents like Ayo, that means the opportunity to see his children reach their full potential. “I would like to struggle very hard so they each can go to school and reach the level they can reach," he said.

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