Happiness in a land of sorrow: See how Saving for Change is making a difference in Darfur

Saving for Change women in the village of Shagra, near El Fasher, share a laugh. Oxfam and our partners have helped launch more than 470 savings groups in Darfur. Many of the women contribute around $1.50 of savings per week. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

For as little as $1.50 per week, savings groups are transforming the lives of women in war-torn Darfur, Sudan

When a Saving for Change group in Darfur, Sudan, gathers for a meeting, it is hard to remember there are gunmen nearby. Listening to the laughter and easy conversation, you might forget that each of these women and every member of her family lives under threat of hunger, disease, violence, and untimely death. You may find yourself wishing you lived there with them, just to be part of such a group—to know that, no matter what you were going through, a lively gang of women would have your back.

Saving for Change, a program that Oxfam and partners have launched in North and South Darfur, trains groups of women to save money in weekly increments, pool their resources, and invest in one another’s small businesses. Members take out small loans to buy livestock, or goods to sell in the market, or whatever else they think of to generate an income, paying back the money on terms that the group itself has set. 

The Saving for Change group enables us to pay school fees, and buy healthy food and medicines for our children,” says Kubra Ahmed, the president of a savings group in Golo, a village in North Darfur.

Musaya Yahaya, who helps launch new savings groups through the Jebel Marra Charitable Organization, an Oxfam partner, points to a big success in the South Darfur villages where we work: “Every single woman has achieved her financial goal.”

But that’s only the beginning. Becoming a successful breadwinner and an active member of a lending institution can change the way a woman feels about herself.

“Now, we feel confident,” says Ahmed. “Sometimes we think we are stronger than men because we not only have money—we are well organized. We can run a meeting in a professional way. We can solve problems. We think there will come a time when we will be called on to solve the problems of men.”

And there's more.

“Through our savings group, we have built strong relationships,” she says. “If a member has a problem, we try to help. We are like a family.”

It’s that sense of family that is so striking at Saving for Change meetings. The women are at ease, expertly carrying out financial transactions, chatting and joking, and sometimes singing and dancing. They have helped each other through crises, worked side by side on community projects, entrusted each other with their life savings, and celebrated each other’s successes. With their own hands, they have woven a safety net for themselves and their families, and they couldn’t be prouder or happier about it.

“We are seeing important changes in the lives of women in the Saving for Change groups,” says Raja Khalil, who supports savings groups through another partner, the Volunteer Network for Rural Helping and Development. “These women used to dream about what they wanted to do. Now, they have a way of making at least some of those dreams reality.”

Kaltoum Mohamed, a midwife in Golo village, took out a small loan to purchase medicines and equipment. To earn money, she adds a 10 percent surcharge to the medicines, but it is still cheaper and more convenient for people to buy them here in the village than in the capital city six miles away. Now, she makes a big contribution to her children’s school fees, and her family eats three times a day instead of two. Their diet—which was once primarily sorghum porridge – includes more fruits, vegetables, and meat. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Egbal Adam is a widow and single mother. With an initial loan of 1,000 Sudanese pounds (around $150), she became a vegetable trader. She buys produce from local farmers and sells it six miles away in the capital city of El Fasher. The profits have enabled her to send one child to university; her second eldest son, Hamza Moustafa (right), will enter college next year.

“Lack of education prevents people from getting good jobs, and it can force families to separate," says Adam. "There is a saying: ‘Illiteracy destroys the dignity of the home.’ That is not what I want for my children." Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Naema Mohmed—shown here with sacks of peanut stalks--borrowed 500 Sudanese pounds (around $75) to purchase peanut seed, which she planted not only to produce nuts, but also stalks, which make good fodder. She will store both products until prices rise. Mohmed says she’Il use the money for school fees and to expand her farm. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Transparency is a key principle of Saving for Change groups: Weekly savings are stored in a locked box, and the key and box are each held by a different group member. Everyone in the group knows how much money the box contains at all times. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
A woman holds up the youngest member of a savings group in Shagra. This group also engages in nutrition and hygiene education for community members. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Raja Khalil (right) from Oxfam partner Volunteer Network for Rural Helping and Development takes part in singing and dancing with a Saving for Change group in Golo village. In conflict-affected regions of the world, lives depend on trusting relationships between communities and aid providers. Oxfam is committed to supporting and strengthening local humanitarian organizations because they can quickly reach communities in need—and because they are deeply connected to the people they aim to assist.

“These are my people, and I like having a chance to help them,” says Khalil. "The money is nothing, but I love the work. Because I grew up in this area and understand the local traditions, the people in the villages here accept me.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Farmer Amna Omar (left) with her daughter Fadwa Ahmed. With earnings from growing lentils, and loans from her savings group, Omar has been able to put her daughter through college and now has two other children in university. “I invested in their education to help them get good jobs.” —Amna Omar

“I love my mother and I am so proud of her. She has worked hard for me from the day I was born to the day I graduated from university. Now I want to get a job and help support her to show her my gratitude.” —Fadwa Ahmed Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

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