Interview with Mabel Guevara, Part I: Convincing the Skeptics
Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 6:42PM
Suzanne Andrews in Catholic Relief Services, Central America, Introduction, Mabel Guevara, promoters, skeptics, teaching

Mabel leading the Savings Promoter Regional Conference, July 2010Mabel is the regional advisor on savings groups for CRS Central America, and has facilitated the integration of the savings groups methodology into diverse projects throughout Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  I had the opportunity to work with Mabel on the Catholic Relief Services Agriculture for Basic Needs project last summer, and was inspired by her vision, drive and the personal touch that she brings to her work.  This morning I asked Mabel to share her story about bringing savings groups to rural communities in Central America.

These are her words:

Bringing Savings Groups to Central America

I was first introduced to savings groups in July 2008 at a training taught by Dr. Gaye Burpee and Kim Wilson.  They trained 30 tecnicos, but most of the other tecnicos were skeptical that savings groups would work in Central America.  The other tecnicos commented: The poor can’t save. We at NGOs are work to help the poor – the poor need tangible benefits.

Later that month, I visited several groups formed by Oxfam.  The groups were saving, but I still had doubts.  CRS insisted that I lead the savings group project.  I had no experience with savings.  I needed to see how a savings group would work in my own life.  My father has always told me - If you want to teach something, you have to do it first. 

I started talking to my neighbors and family and formed one savings group of 14 neighbors and another with my family in August 2008.  We all had our own goals: one woman planned to save for Christmas dinner, another wanted to buy a new bed cover, and the children wanted new clothes.   I bought two bright blue lock boxes at the local department store out with my own money and we began to save.  We didn’t have registers, just notebooks that we used to keep track of the date and how much each person had saved.  It was among family and friends, so we didn’t make loans.

In October 2008, I took my first trip to San Antonio de Mosco, a remote town at the Northernmost tip of San Miguel to introduce savings groups.  When I arrived, it was mostly men – maybe 14 and seven women.  The project team was skeptical about the value of savings.  The communities where they worked were extremely poor.  The priest challenged me immediately:  How did it occur to you to talk about savings when people often don’t have enough to eat?  The men repeated his doubts insisting - We are poor.  How can we save if we don’t have money  and asked, what benefits will this project bring?  The women were silent.  It seemed that everyone was against me.

Somehow it occurred to me to ask the crowd if they owned a cell phone.  Everyone nodded, many in the audience had two phones.  I asked to speak to the women separately.  The women told me: We think we can save.  We would like to try. 

When I returned to the community, the seven women had convened a total of 120 women interested in savings in two rural communities in the rocky foothills an hour’s walk from town.  The communities elected five women to receive a training to become promoters, and by the end of the year the five promoters had formed ten savings groups in their communities.

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