Gardening and Savings Groups 

by Marilyn Kuepfer – Director’s wife

Here in Detroit, MI, we are beginning to plant the first seeds and transplants in the ground. The frost free date isn’t until around the middle of May, but there are cold crop plants that we can put out and then cover when the temperature dips below freezing. Getting the seeds, planting them, and watering them feels kind of like a step of faith and a commitment all at the same time.  

So why am I writing about planting a garden when Open Hands does saving groups, not gardens? Well, joining a savings group and earning money and putting it into savings is a bit like planting a garden. First, it takes a vision and a goal for the future to get started. Who plants seeds into the ground without an expectation of those seeds growing into something of more value? When people in poverty come together to start a savings group, they come with the expectation that this will help them meet their financial goals. Sometimes that goal is starting a small business or having enough money for an emergency, or paying school fees, etc. When we lived in Kenya, Africa, we heard more than one sermon about trusting the Lord even when you and your children are going to bed with stomachs growling with hunger. Many people live hand to mouth and know what it’s like to feel hunger and not have any way to satiate it. Being a part of a savings group helps people in this environment have a way of making the money stretch into something more, which helps them have what they need to eat, and then some.  

When we plant and take care of a garden, it takes a lot of hard work. We till the ground, plant, weed, mulch, fertilize, water, and then weed and water on repeat. To be in a savings group, a member needs to commit to finding a way to make some money to save. They need to work hard at their job. They need to attend savings meetings that might be monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly. They need to make their group’s bi-laws, and then keep them. I had the privilege of being a part of a women’s savings group in Kenya, and the meetings were held after Sunday church at a member’s house. We would walk a mile or more together, and then sit down to a little snack of chai and white bread which the host that week would provide. Wow, those carbs sure tasted good after that walk in the hot sun. 😊 I saw those ladies set aside a small amount each month from which any member could take a loan if they were in a pinch as long as the savings group agreed to it. They also faithfully took care of their families plus sold garden produce or managed small shops or taught school or cleaned and cooked for others. They worked so hard and were so faithful. I hope to do the same in my small garden this year.  

My favorite part of gardening is the harvest! Seeing those green tomatoes start turning orange and then red, or watching the little green peppers grow bigger and bigger…. It’s really thrilling to see them finally reach the stage where they are ready to harvest. Then we get the joy of fresh eating and also freezing, canning, and giving away the produce! Similarly, when it’s payback time at the savings group the member/s get to take a larger sum of money than they usually have, and pay a big bill off, or invest it into a business or something like a calf to raise and then sell for a profit. They might enjoy a bit of fresh eating along with investing in something for the long run. Also, they have more money to give away now that they are managing it more carefully. Open Hands has heard from quite a few churches who have seen their offerings go up after some of their church members started a savings group. Glory to God! And thanks be to Him for the strength to work hard, think carefully about how to manage our resources, support one another in community, and harvest all that He ultimately provides! 

Program Updates:
Greater Noida, India: We kicked off our program in Greater Noida with a successful training session for 10 facilitators and 2 program coordinators. This is a promising start for our work in this region!

Haiti: Gang violence has unfortunately hampered our expansion plans in northern Haiti. However, we’re exploring alternative locations closer to our existing program in the South Peninsula. Our established program there continues to be a source of strength and support for the Haitian people during these challenging times.

Asia Expansion: Delvin and Darlene Zimmerman have relocated to Thailand, allowing them to provide closer oversight to our growing Asia programs. We have a vision for significant expansion in Asia over the coming years.

Mexico: We’ve trained two facilitators in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, who plan to launch several savings groups within their church. This expansion is made possible through our partnership with ASAL (Anabaptist Savings and Loans).

First Results Group, Ban Mae Pae, Thailand: This group exemplifies the power of our program. They report experiencing fellowship, spiritual growth, and increased income generation through loans from their savings group.

Meet the Team: We’d like to introduce some of our dedicated staff members. Maria (Arauca, Colombia): A music teacher who will contribute her talents as a part-time facilitator.

Melkamua Assefa (Adama, Ethiopia): A facilitator who enjoys making traditional coffee.

Enrrique (Barquisimeto, Venezuela): A brother of a Venezuelan facilitator who is using his experience in a wheelchair community to establish a savings group called “Árbol de Fe” (Tree of Faith).

Success Stories:
Eskedar Tadesse (Ethiopia): This coffee shop owner credits the training she received from Open Hands with helping her grow her business.

Asfaw Herbeeto (Ethiopia): A woodworking shop owner and 3-year savings group member, Asfaw finds his membership to be a source of both financial and emotional support.

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