A story on women’s empowerment in the Dominican Republic
"Now we manage our money better and have more to invest in our community"

By Estervina Rosario, Community Leader, El Aguacate, Dominican Republic

Cocoa Life partners with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in El Aguacate, Dominican Republic, who coordinates programs that empower women to play a bigger role in the leadership of their community. These programs, implemented by Fundacion Reddom and Conacado, include financial literacy workshops that have helped local women to set up their own Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). These allow women to pool their savings, reserve funds for emergencies, and provide finance for small projects within their community.

In El Aguacate, cocoa is at the center of our lives. Our community has always produced cocoa – it’s how we support our families. Women play an important role in cocoa farming. We work with our husbands on the farms, taking responsibility for harvesting and preparing the beans for drying.

While we rely on cocoa to make our living, many of us are beginning to worry about the future of our main crop. Cocoa trees are like people. When we are young, we are strong and healthy, but as we get older we become weaker, sick more often and less productive. Many farms with old trees are suffering the same problems, and this has an impact on our income. The farmers in our community need to plant new trees, but they lack the funds to do so.

This is just one of the financial difficulties in our community. To help address it, Cocoa Life has helped us set up a Village Savings and Loans Association. The group, which I have coordinated for almost a year now, is led by the women of our community and has changed the way we manage our money.

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In the past we spent all the money we obtained; now, I save every RD$50 in a jar before adding it to the common savings account. I say to myself, “I cannot spend this because it’s the money for my savings meeting on Thursday.” The saving and loans group has also created an emergency fund for the community. Every week, we each contribute DR$10.00 to this fund. It is used to support any member with an emergency, such paying for a bus ticket for someone to go to help a sick relative, or to finance the university fees for any women in our group.

To help us commit to saving, Cocoa Life encouraged us each to set goals for what we would do with the money once we had hit our targets. This could be about repairing the house or supporting our children with their school expenses. We agreed a 9-month cycle, at the end of which we share out the earnings and complete our plans.

The group has a board, formed of seven members: the coordinator (this is my role), a treasurer, an accountant, a finance secretary and three women responsible for the keys of the cage where our savings are deposited. Some saving groups deposit funds in the bank, but we keep our savings in one women’s house and the keys to the box are guarded by the others.

We are grateful for the support we have received. Everything started when we told the Cocoa Life team that the women of our community weren’t participating in the program. They brought technicians to educate us in saving strategies, which we quickly realized was a good proposal. Thanks to this we have made great progress, saving more than DR$100,000 in 8 months. Now, we feel hopeful. The VSLA has made it possible for us to use our money wisely. Now we know that it is possible to save, even when we have only a little money, and see how it can help us achieve our goals.

Our partner UNDP commented:

"We’re seeing many communities experience the same benefits as Estervina’s when they set up a VSLA. The training process led by CL partners in the field, CONACADO and REDDOM Foundation, focuses on learning savings strategies and helping people understand how saving a little, regularly, can empower them to purchase the things they need and have some money in reserve for emergencies. This financial autonomy is essential for women’s empowerment and helps to improve wellbeing."

Maria Eugenia Morales, -Environment Programme Officer, UNDP Dominican Republic.

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