by Lauren Sheard, HOPE Burundi Program Manager
Two years ago, soon after I first moved to Burundi, I was chatting with another expatriate I’d just met. Explaining what I do, I described the basic premise of HOPE International’s savings group ministry, how rather than giving out money or goods directly like a traditional charity we’re teaching people how to save their own money to make a difference in their families and communities. I was pleased with my elevator speech but was caught off guard when the expatriate and his Burundian friend laughed! “This is Burundi,” they said. “That sort of thing can’t possibly make a difference. People don’t have anything, and you’re trying to teach them to save? Maybe in a few decades when the country is better off.” And at that, the conversation ended with another laugh and a sarcastic “good luck!”
I am not one to be offended easily, but in that moment I felt rather indignant. Not only is it rude to laugh at what I just said I do and believe in, but to so easily brush off even the thought that Burundians could have skills and abilities to help themselves was discouraging to me.
Over the last two years, I’ve heard many times: “How can people save when they barely have enough to survive from day to day?” My answer to that question is generally, “That’s exactly WHY they need to save.” If my family is focused simply on today, spending whatever we have whether it’s more or less than usual, we will need to do the same tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
But if today I have just $1 more than what I need, I could save it. Then another day I have an extra $2. So when the day comes that tragedy strikes and my market stand burns down, I have something to fall back on. When my five children go back to school at the same time, I have money saved for school fees. When the dry season comes and my crops don’t grow, I have something with which to feed my family. When my neighbor struggles with an illness, I can help pay his medical fees.
Furthermore, if I combine my efforts and small amounts of money with others in my community, together we can achieve greater things. I could choose to spend my extra $1 this week on some milk to drink, or I could get 14 of my friends to also contribute $1 and, together, we could buy a goat for $15 that rotates between us and provides milk every day. Or we could each bring $1 a week and take turns receiving the full $15 to start small businesses.
This is the heart behind HOPE’s savings group model—to maximize the efforts and resources of the individual and the collective group in such a way that empowers them, provides for their family, encourages love and community, and draws them closer to Christ as they discover He cares about every part of their life.
Everything we do at HOPE starts with seeing people as God sees them—full of dreams, talent, and potential. Each Burundian was created with abilities and passions unique to them. When we see people as God sees them and empower them to use what He has already put in their hands, we see true transformation.
Lauren Sheard has worked for HOPE International since 2013, first as programs assistant in Lancaster, PA, before transitioning to her current role as HOPE Burundi technical advisor. When she’s not doing HOPE work, she enjoys spending time with her international group of friends, playing on her church worship team, and exploring the East Africa region.