All photos: Klaus Bo

Savings and Loan Groups gives refugees a future

One of the biggest challenges for refugees is finding work in order to support themselves. At the same time it is almost impossible to get a loan in a bank to start your own business. Savings and Loans Groups builds social networks among refugees and provides the opportunity for them to create their own business.
 
 

They meet in the local, Congolese church. No one has room enough at home for all of them. Most of them live in small one-room apartments or homemade houses almost falling down. The Savings and Loans Group Msingi - meaning foundation - consists of 27 people, most with a Congolese background. They meet every week to save together. Msingi is the key to their future.

They have only been at it for two months, so not much money has been saved so far. Each person adds 100 schilling a week and once all of them have contributed, the pot of money is lent to those of them with the best plans for how to invest the loan. It is possible to borrow up to three times the amount, you have saved and the majority use the money to start or expand their small businesses.

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"These groups really have the power to change peoples lives," says Jane Njuguna, who is the Community Based Trainer for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

She guides and counsels the groups. During her one and a half your with DRC she has so far trained 63 groups. With somewhere between 20 and 30 people in each group, that is around 1500 refugees, that has had the opportunity to save and loan.

"Because of these groups they don't have to sit and wait for organizations to help them, they can act themselves and create their own future," says Jane, and adds: 

"I love my job."

Design studio in a one room apartment 

In the other end of the church room another group is meeting. This group has existed for more than a year. Here many of the members are doing well with their businesses. One of them is 53 year old Joseph Ruragi, who - like most other people in these two groups - hails from DR Congo. In March he loaned 10.000 shillings to start a business, where he buys textiles and his wife and another woman, Clementine pictured below, makes them into colorful, traditional dresses, they then sell in the market.

The sowing room is in their one room apartment, where they live with their seven children.

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"I bought ten pieces of fabric to begin with. Now I have enough money for 30 pieces of fabric. My business is doing well, but there is not enough money. I need to expand the business more," Joseph says.

He only has 2.000 shilling left before the loan is paid back in full and he looks forward to that being done, so he can loan once more and expand the business.

"Before I joined the group, I had many problems. We were very poor and I could not afford school fees for my children. But since I got help to start the business, I pay rent every month and all my children go to school," he says.

The banks are not a possibility

One of the major obstacles for refugees in Nairobi is the lack of access to the banks. For most it is not possible to open a bank account let alone get a loan.

Danish Refugee Council has worked a great deal on advocacy towards banks in the last years in order to let refugees open accounts. But without money or property to put up as collateral, it is more or less impossible to get a loan. Therefore for many the Saving and Loans Groups are their only opportunity to create a better future for themselves and their families. 

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The 45 year old widow Jean Nyamugisha has seized this opportunity.

"The group has given me the opportunity to start my own business. I buy fabric in the city market for 1.000 shilling and I sell them here locally for 1.500. Before I opened my business, I only hawked in the street just to survive. But today I am financially stable and I can pay both rent and school fees for my five children."

"In a year, I would like to have a stand in the market, so I can sell my fabric in bulk," Jean says.