I came to Sololá not only to watch the beautiful sunset behind the volcanoes and mountains surrounding Lake Atitlán, but also to reach out to the various women’s weaving cooperatives and other organizations that call this area home. My plan is to see if these organizations are interested in starting their own savings groups. The idea is that they are established groups of workers with some level of organization already in place that have the level of trust necessary to create a well-functioning savings group geared for success.
My first meeting was with Rosa, the owner of Lemá, a women’s weaving cooperative based in San Juan La Laguna that has worked with Soluciones Comunitarias in the past. We had a brief chat about who I am, why I am here, what a savings group is and how it could potentially help her and the women of her cooperative. She liked the idea and said she would relay the information to the rest of her team and let me know if they were interested. They agreed to meet with me to learn more about what their savings group would potentially look like and also to share with me their experiences using BanRural, a Guatemalan bank, to save and take out loans.
During the follow up meeting I learned that four out of the seven that attended are currently saving in BanRural, but only one is saving regularly and has been doing so for four years. I explained to them that by pooling their savings in a group fund they will have access to larger sums of money when needed. I also told them about the social capital and positive peer pressure that is inherently a part of a savings group. By having regular meetings it gives them the opportunity to discuss other issues within the community and with Lemá. Savings groups create a stronger sense of solidarity among the members and by seeing each member save one feels pressure to save as well and thus has added incentive to find the money to put away each month. This idea resonated with the women and they discussed amongst themselves shifting their savings from BanRural to a savings group. Currently they are still deciding as a group what they want to do and will make their decision next week.
I went through the same process with Sanik, the womens weaving cooperative founded by Juana, our regional coordinator in Sololá. Sanik means “worker ants” in Kakchiquel, the dominant Mayan language in the area of Sololá and especially in El Triunfo where the women live. They decided on this name because they feel like a strong group of workers dedicated to not just benefitting themselves, but their community as well. This concept of mutual beneficiaries is at the heart of every savings group.
At the first and only meeting I have had with them so far I could see the strong bond between the women as I explained this new financial option to them. They were whispering in Kakchiquel to one another and smiling and laughing, especially when one of the women decided I look like Jesus. From that point on I was no longer Andrés, and was the butt of all their jokes for the rest of the meeting. It was all in good fun and I felt like I was among good friends.
Their strong sense of community and trust was not the issue with starting their savings group, rather their very inconsistent cash flows that are completely dependent on the sale of their products. Thus their hesitancy to start a group came from the uncertainty of having money every month to save. I explained that it is better to start a group and at the very least have a place where they can save when able, than to not have a good option when wanting to save. El Triunfo is a relatively rural area and there are not any banks nearby where the members of that community can save and/or take out a loan. Understanding this dilemma, the Sanik women decided they want to start a savings group and will try to find a way to save even Q10 (about $1.30) each month. I plan to meet with them to guide them through the group creation process next week.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to reach out to organizations around Guatemala to who else is interested in starting their own savings group. Through this process I will be learning and adapting to each potential group’s situation and hopefully finding the best way for each group to save.