As president of her village savings and loans (VSL) program, Estelle runs a tight ship. Weekly meetings are orderly; fines are issued for infractions such as tardiness, absence, or losing the lockbox key; and she keeps a watchful on every purchase of shares or taking out of loans as they are recorded in detail by her secretary and treasurer.

Amazingly, Estelle is only 16 years old!

Her VSL group is specifically aimed at children and has members as young as 5 years old. Estelle is the oldest member of the group, one reason she was chosen as president, and is proud of how the group has grown and learned from their experience.

This is a unique group to say the least. It began as part of ADRA Madagascar’s Strengthening and Accessing Livelihood Opportunities for Household Impact (SALOHI) project. VSL groups were formed in the town of Ambositra and surrounding areas for grown-ups, and the kids couldn’t help but notice the success their parents were experiencing.

The idea of a youth VSL formed and was begun within the community, and this group of kids is the only one we know of in the region.

It is common in Madagascar for children as young as 8 to spend an hour or two a day, a few days a week, doing light work such as selling bananas alongside their parents or carrying bricks for workers. These children now have somewhere to invest the money they raise.

For the younger children—the youngest in Estelle’s group of 21 is 5—who don’t work, their parents provide money for investments.

For all invested, having access to more than the few dollars they earn or are given is truly life-changing! These kids can take out loans from the group sum for 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.

This project is beneficial for each child, giving them more opportunity in a very impoverished community. It also teaches them valuable financial lessons that will serve them well in the long term.

The future looks especially bright for Estelle. Next year, she takes her high school exit exams and is 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 (while also keeping them quiet!) dreams of being a judge one day. If she leads a courtroom in the same way that she leads her savings and loans group, she will have no problem!

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