Volunteer report: Saving for Tomorrow in Laos
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Volunteer report: Saving for Tomorrow in Laos

The VETS project has just completed its second year of programming in March 2022 and thanks to our amazing partner, volunteers and staff along with the generous programming flexibilities, provided by Global Affairs Canada, Year 2 had many successes despite being implemented amidst a global pandemic. This has included the recruitment and mobilization of 31 new volunteers and support for 38 volunteer placements, 6 deployed Canadians, 7 remote Canadians and 25 national volunteers.

With the addition of national volunteers, the project was able to capitalize off local expertise, not only building partner and community capacity, but also supporting professional development opportunities through volunteering.

Pavina Vongsouvanh is one of our national volunteers who supported our partner CARE Laos. She sent in the project report below to share the work that has been happening.

Safe & Fair is a new project being implemented by CARE Laos to promote women’s economic empowerment for migrant women workers, especially through various activities with women’s groups, which include VSLA savings groups. In order to promote women’s empowerment through the project activities, the new staff had to build their understanding of gender equality, women’s empowerment, and how to use CARE gender equality tools, especially the VSLA model

Building Capacity

I conducted a training for three staff from the Safe & Fair team – the Project Coordinator and two Project Officers – about the VSLA women’s savings model and the CARE Women’s Leadership training tool. After that I brought them to join in real VSLA monitoring activities for one of CARE’s women’s economic empowerment projects in Sekong Province – Empowering Women for an Equitable Coffee Value Chain (EW-EVC).

Before joining the hands-on VSLA monitoring activities, the team told me that they were still nervous about leading VSLA activities, however now they have increased their confidence.

Understanding and being able to use the VSLA tool in the communities will help the Safe & Fair team to promote women’s access to financial services in their project, which in turn can help women have access to financial resources to take care of their own health, their animals’ health, and a healthy environment.
- Phetsavanh Chanthavong, Safe & Fair Project Coordinator

Working with the community

The Empowered Women for an Equitable Coffee Value Chain EW-EVC project works to build the capacity of women coffee producers to improve their production, lead producer and processing groups, and engage effectively in value chains in order to build their economic potential. One important part of this project is gender equality. One area that is a focus is supporting Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) and implementing the Social Analysis for Action (SAA).

The CARE VSLA model is a women’s saving group at the village level that is entirely led by local women. The women members in each village elect an 8-person committee, including a president, accountant, cashier, and other positions, to lead and record the monthly savings activities.

In order to ensure the groups work, it is very important to build the understanding and confidence of committee members to lead and encourage the group. Monitoring and support are especially important for the accountant, who has to record the group savings and borrowing each month. While supporting the EW-EVC project, I conducted training and monitoring activities for the VSLA committees and members in 7 villages, including 177 women.

Although the women in most villages have already started saving in their groups, many of them still had not received adequate support and did not fully understand the VSLA process.

In each village, the team and I provided coaching to the committee as they conducted the saving activities, helping them to understand each step of the saving and borrowing process and their responsibilities. In particular, I had to work very closely with the accountants. The accountant is responsible for filling out information in several tables, and making calculations, and in the past many of them were confused about the process and not confident that they were filling out the information correctly.

After I provided coaching session the accountant in Dakden Village said,

"Although the women don’t know when the next time will be, they now feel more confident that they can fill their roles correctly."

More than money

The VSLA group is important to the women because the money they save and borrow helps to support their economic activities, especially coffee farming. They say that coffee requires a great deal of inputs at the start of the planting season, and the money from the VSLA group helps them to pay for these annual costs to ensure quality coffee production. The women also mentioned the additional non-financial benefits of the VSLA group, especially as a space for them to exchange learning and build their knowledge together.

For example, the women reported that in the group, they were able to share about the health of their livestock, including the symptoms of certain animal diseases that were circulating, and the treatments they were using to care for the sick animals.

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  • I have seen first-hand the benefits of capacity building and gender empowerment for smallholder livestock farmers, and stakeholders in the livestock sector.
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