In mid 2006, a group of people from Jeffreys Bay and the township involved in community development formed an advisory group. They noticed a recurring theme across their work, which was the issue of alleviating poverty. Activities existed to assist vulnerable families with grants and charitable donations of food, clothes and medicines, but building the economic resilience of vulnerable families by helping them to help themselves was neglected. This advisory group is now the Board of Trustees for Mpendulo.
In spite of the challenges facing them, many families in township locations do respond creatively and devise ways to survive and even thrive. At Mpendulo, we do not want to make the mistake of treating vulnerable families as helpless victims. If we do, then we create programs that treat them as passive recipients of our goodwill, rather than as active participants in addressing their own needs, problems, and challenges. This is why we have rooted the way we work in the principles and techniques of Asset Based, Citizen-led Community Development (ABCD). The motto “Start with what you have and build on what you know” sums up the ABCD ethos. We at Mpendulo believe that our major role is to be facilitators that walk a path alongside our community members.
We have enormous faith in the ability of communities to find their own answers and we embrace the process of building community ownership of both problems and solutions.
Our vision is to empower, build self-esteem and social capital, and create an enabling environment where people can get control over their financial lives to start or grow businesses. We do not do things “to” or “for” our group members. Most importantly, however, Mpendulo’s intention is to help people establish sustainable livelihoods so they can believe in their own capabilities again.
The coronavirus pandemic hit our savings groups hard…many lost jobs and couldn’t continue saving. Some groups decided to share out their savings to tide them over until they could get emergency relief. Nonetheless, according to a survey conducted in August, 81% are still actively saving in their group.
Social capital was cited as the most important element of staying active in a group. Members repeatedly spoke of the discipline, transparency, trust and moral support they experienced in their group and stated that this is what has kept them motivated.
Many members used their loans to start or bolster informal businesses to help them supplement lost income due to lockdown impact. The experience of losing their only source of income was traumatizing and an extra stream of income to come alongside their wages will be a priority from now on.
The Mpendulo team was also affected. We decided to close our office and work from our homes. We are sharing office space with a colleague so senior staff can meet each week and the entire staff comes together on the last Wednesday of the month. Home offices will be the ‘new normal’ for us as we work to become increasingly community-based, which brings us closer to our members and reduces our overhead – and our dependence on external funding!
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Member Quote: “You start by wondering ‘what is a R100?’ then you see how it starts growing, then something changes and you start wanting to save and then……you dare to start dreaming of a better life.”