INJIL DISTRICT, Herat Province, Afghanistan -- Ghulam Nabi, 48, holds the handle of a metal bucket with his calloused hands and fills it with wheat grains. He pours the grains into the mill's feed chute, and the coarse grains are ground to fine flour. The noise of the power generator breaks the rural quiet of the village. Near the mill, children play in the water and rest under trees.
Ghulam Nabi founded the mill only a few months ago in his home village of Noqra in Injil District in Herat Province. He bought mill machinery using money from a loan provided by the Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA). "Before buying the flour mill machine, I was unemployed and had a hard time," he said. "Thank God, I took a loan from the VSLA and started the mill. Now I run the mill and have employed two other workers as well." All the villagers bring their wheat grains to his mill to be ground into flour.
A short distance from the mill, members of the Noqra VSLA have gathered in a house for a regular meeting. First, the Saving Groups (SGs), which make up the VSLA, collect the weekly savings of 20 AFN (approximately US $0.30) from each member. The weekly savings make them eligible to take out a loan in the future.
After the collection, members discuss problems, successes and potential projects for the community. "The association has led to people uniting and solving their problems quickly through sharing them on this platform," said Abdul Ghafor, 58, chair of the Noqra VSLA.
The VSLA is a direct result of activities of the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Programme (AREDP). Started in 2010, AREDP is a programme of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, which aims to increase employment and income of rural men and women and enhance economic mobilisation and activities by organising the rural poor into SGs, VSLAs, and Enterprise Groups (EGs).
The programme provides technical support to these groups so as to build a financial discipline through savings and internal lending practices. AREDP receives funding support from the International Development Association, the World Bank Group's fund for the poorest countries, and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
Capitalise on own resources
AREDP has been operating in Injil, Guzara, Karukh and Rabat Sangi districts in Herat Province since 2010. The programme works with rural communities and encourages them to establish SGs and EGs. Mature SGs are then federated into groups of eight to ten to form a VSLA. It also provides technical support to small and medium enterprises in rural areas. AREDP covers 122 villages, which have established 1,128 active SGs.
AREDP encourages people to capitalise on their own resources, which has helped them create livelihood and employment opportunities for which they would not have otherwise. "Since I have a disability, it was hard for me to find a job and maintain a livelihood," said villager Sayed Ismail, 32. "Fortunately, I could get a loan from the VSLA and open a small oil and gasoline shop."
"AREDP has promoted and institutionalised a culture of financial savings among people in the villages it operates in," he said.
Another villager who has benefited from a VSLA loan is Ghulam Rasool, 45, who opened a grocery store near his home. "All the villagers are my customers and buy their groceries from my store," he said. "Previously, they needed to travel to another village to buy groceries, an hour trip by car, or four hours by donkey."
"Our goal is to create employment opportunities and increase villagers' income," said Massoud Noorzad, an information systems manager for AREDP. "When we started our work in Herat, we knocked on the doors of every villager and discussed the benefits of our activities." Today, through SGs and VSLAs, community members have successfully mobilised 47 million AFN (about US $680,000) from their own savings, he said.
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