Once feeling uncertain about saving activities, Ha Thi Nam has moved fast with others to build a strong Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) group in her village of Pa Lai.

Coming home from a soft volleyball match with her village peers, Ha Thi Nam looks energetic and excited.

From sports to savings, all in one group

The sport has become popular among women in Thanh Van commune in the past years since the Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agriculture Value Chain Enhancement (WEAVE) project started. Every village has its own team with members of VSLA groups as key players who come to play every evening after finishing their chores. At the same time, the men start to do houseword so that their wives can have time to play soft volleyball. In mountainous communes like Thanh Van or Mai Lap, both in Cho Moi district of Bac Kan province, the setup of soft volleyball teams, together with other activities of the project, has enlivened villages, bringing back spiritual and physical bliss that helps unite local women.

When CARE and ADC first introduced the idea of VSLAs in Pa Lai village in 2016, Nam and other women villagers felt uncertain. Then they were invited to visit a VSLA group in the neighbouring Na Ri district. The trip completely changed their perceptions and Pa Lai VSLA was set up in the same year with 20 initial members. A year went by and the number increased to 26 including three men. The group agreed to set the share value at 50,000 dong per share. With one meeting a month, a member can save up to four to five million dong, or 17-215 USD, annually.

“Joining in VSLA group brings us chances to take part in training; we also share lots of experiences with each other.”

Ha Thi Nam
Ha Thi Nam leads her village’s saving group and quickly turns it into a very strong one. Photo: Do Truong Son/CARE

According to Nam, the people used to spend all the money they had. Now they can manage their expenditures, keep a record of what they spend on, and save even just as little as five or ten thousand dong (one fifth or two fifths of a US dollar) per day just in case their kid is sick or any urgent thing comes up.

The village of Pa Lai lies by the inter-communal road, which makes doing business a little easier than other villages in the same commune. Yet, villagers still do not earn much. The VLSA’s mutual fund has helped many local women with small loans. In fact, only a few members have not borrowed from it. Ha Thi Nam herself borrowed several times when she needed to buy seeds and fertilisers for planting acacia trees but her husband could not send her money quickly enough.

And beyond savings

VSLA members gather to save and borrow money on top of exchange experiences in farming and other issues. Photo: Do Truong Son/CARE

Pa Lai VSLA group is operating well not only in savings but also in attracting members to training activities. Nam said it is thanks to such training that women affirm their role, express their ideas better, and are no longer shy when speaking in front of the public.

The project has particularly attracted men in the village to take part in activities with their wives. “Most of members in my group join as couples,” said Nam.

“Before the training, husbands did not know what their wives liked. Now they understand their wives better. Some realised they had been too harsh. They like the training and come back home being more supportive. In the session when we drew our Vision Journey, they were first reserved, saying they were no artists. But later they all gladly took part.”

Ha Thi Nam

As the leader of the VSLA group, Nam feels excited as her group’s activities receive support from the head of the village’s communist party branch and the village chief. She found the support helpful in convincing others to join the project activities because she has a bigger plan for the group.

“We wanted to travel together, increase the price of shares and meet twice instead of once a month so that we can save more and turn our savings over faster.”

Ha Thi Nam
Ha Thi Nam at one of the VSLA meetings. On the right side, hanging on the wall is a poster about the rights to access to information. Her village, Pa Lai, has two CARE-ADC projects. While the Australian-funded WEAVE project enhances women’s economic status, the other one funded by the European Union enables villagers to better access information that matters to their life. Photo: Do Truong Son/CARE.