As president of her village savings and loans (VSL) program, Estelle is a natural leader. Weekly meetings are orderly; small fines are issued for infractions such as tardiness, absence, or losing a key to the lockbox; and she keeps a watchful eye over every transaction as they are recorded in detail by her secretary and treasurer.
Amazingly, Estelle is only 16 years old!
Her VSL group is specifically for the children in her small community in Madagascar. After seeing the success of a similar savings and loan program for adults begun by ADRA, the community wanted to local young people a way to invest money as well.
It is common here for children as young as eight to spend an hour or two a day doing light work such as selling bananas alongside their parents or carrying bricks for workers a few days a week. The littlest members of the VSL, which includes some as young as five, are given small amounts of money from family members to invest.
For the kids in the group, having access to more than the few dollars they earn or are given is truly life-changing! They each contribute, then can take out loans from that group sum to cover school fees and other vital resources.
A little bit is also held back as part of a social fund, which covers supplies for the VSL group itself and to provide the occasional hard-earned meal after one of their Sunday evening meetings.
Estelle’s group is the only youth VSL in the region and possibly the country. She is the oldest member of the group, one reason she was chosen to be president, and is proud of how the group has grown and learned from their experience.
This project is beneficial for each child, giving them a unique opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. It also teaches them valuable financial lessons that will serve them well for a lifetime.
The future looks especially bright for Estelle. When we met her, she was preparing to take her high school exit exams and training her secretary and treasurer to take over for her when she ages out of the children’s VSL program into the regular adult one.
This shy girl who prides herself on her ability to teach 5-year-olds the value of investing dreams of being a judge one day. If she leads her future courtroom in the same way that she leads her savings and loans group, it will be another successful investment.