Youth Savings Clubs in Ghana: Building Brighter Futures for Youth, Increasing Tolerance and Education Towards HIV/AIDS
The Youth Savings Club programme is a capacity building project for the Ghana Co-operative Credit Union Association (CUA). The credit union movement in Ghana is nation-wide with millions of members and billions of cedis in savings. Yet, the majority of the membership is between the ages of 45-60. In order to attract a younger member base, CUA has started ‘mini’ credit unions or Youth Savings Clubs in senior secondary schools throughout the country.
A recent graduate of O’Reilly Senior Secondary School in Accra, Edmund Agbeve, was a driving force behind the starting up of a Youth Savings Club at his school in 2004. Edmund’s dedication to the programme was tireless, and he was able to recruit over 100 students to join the club and convince them to actively save. Within a short time, O’Reilly Secondary School had over 4 million cedis in savings – the equivalent to $570 Canadian dollars.
Each club is designed after the co-operative credit union model. Participating student members elect a board of directors and decide on the policy and procedures operating under their own by-laws patterned after the Model By Laws of the credit union system in Ghana. They are encouraged to save small amounts collected by an elected Treasurer who gathers savings each day. The students save collectively and open one account with a credit union or bank. Many Clubs have saved enough to invest their money and collect interest. Currently, the clubs have over 100 billion cedis in savings with over 4,000 members.
Edmund’s motivation to help youth save is simple. “When you save money, you know you have a bright future…when you save, you have money to do what you want, or need to do,” he emphatically states. When asked how students are able to save without being employed, Edmund explained that “we get a little from our parents each day. If we take 2,000 cedis for school, save as little as 200 cedis per day then we can achieve something. By the end of the term we have some money.”
The benefits for the students are far reaching. While many develop the habit of saving, they watch their savings accumulate and after three years, some students will save over 1 million cedis. To date, students have been able to use their savings for paying university fees, starting small businesses, and helping their families during emergencies. For example, one member was able to use her savings to help her family purchase a deep freezer, which was used to store pure water sachets to sell as ice. With the profits that her family made from the sales of the pure water, she was able to pay for her entrance fees to Cape Coast University. Another student was able to help her family rebuild after a fire destroyed their home.
The Youth Savings Club project also has an HIV/AIDS component where youth are invited to participate in Peer Education projects. Youth, selected by their peers, are trained to educate their classmates on issues related to sexual health, relationships and HIV/AIDS. The programme effectively uses creative ways to educate the students, including drama, debates, creativity contests and quizzes.
Edmund was selected as a peer educator at his school and helped to provide a HIV/AIDS Peer Education activity for his classmates. The event included a short drama about the consequences of contracting HIV/AIDS and a presentation by a person living with HIV. Because of his participation as a peer educator, Edmund says, “Before, I had the perception that only people with wicked minds would talk about or use condoms. Now, I can talk freely about condom use with my peers or with adults. They are the best way of protecting oneself from STDs.”
Edmund’s perception of HIV has also changed: “I have more compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS. By chance I met someone with HIV/AIDS, she sat by me and we ate at the same table. I met another woman who is HIV positive and we shook hands. After listening to their stories, I learned that it could happen to me, why should I discriminate?”
Now finished secondary school, Edmund is preparing to study journalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. In the meantime, he is busy advocating for youth issues and assisting CUA’s Youth Team with training more youth in Peer Education.
In an interview, Edmund recalled his involvement in the Youth Savings Club as follows.
My Story – A Humble Beginning
by Edmund Agbeve, Accra, Ghana
On a hot afternoon in February 2004, when I was the Student Representative Council’s president, I was called by the headmistress of my school. On my way to the office I met a lady who was in red attire. I ignored her and briskly in no time I got to the office. I later got to know her as Miss Betty Mensah, who is now known as Mrs. Betty Adu-Asare, the National Coordinator of the Youth Savings Club.
In the office of the headmistress I met two Canadian ladies who introduced themselves as members of the Youth Savings Club team. Their purpose in coming was to tell me and the boy’s prefect of the school about the idea of forming a club that would encourage youth to save the little money they have. The idea was a laudable one, so we decided to support it.
We were then tasked to look for a committed and dedicated teacher who would support the YSC. We diligently searched and found Ms. Quansah. She has been the backbone for the club to date in O’Reilly. A week later we were invited to attend the first ever Youth Savings Club Conference in Takoradi. At the conference, we met some other participants from other schools. We shared ideas on how to best educate our peers on HIV AIDS in our schools and communities.
It was very difficult getting some of the students to join the club – especially the final year students who at the time were giving me a lot of problems. Some of the students were very skeptical about the whole concept of introducing a club of that kind in the school. They thought the people were there to dupe them but fortunately we explained to them and some of them understood and agreed to join the club. We gave out over 300 membership forms but only 100 were returned. Even amongst those who returned the forms only a handful saw the need to save money. I had to be very tolerant because the students had the perceptions that I was using their monies for my personal use but I explained to them that I had records of their monies but I don’t keep them. Sometimes I had to miss class to make sure things were okay.
Now in its tenth month in O’Reilly, the club is growing in strength. The Youth Savings Club has had some success and we have invested some of our monies. The Club has shares worth over four million cedis in four major companies in Ghana. The companies include: Cocoa Processing Company, producer of the world’s number one chocolate. Mechanical Lloyd, distributors of BMW Cars, Range Rovers and Land Rovers. Clydstone, an ICT Company serving the whole of West Africa and Ghana. Breweries Ltd which produces Amstel Malta, Club Beer and more. The Club also saves money with the Credit Union Association (CUA) National Office. In May 2004, the Youth Savings Club in O’Reilly Secondary was the first school in Ghana to have organized an HIV AIDS Peer Education programme following the Youth Conference in Takoradi. The club also contributed articles to the YSC Newsletter and won the “Star School” of the month sponsored by CUA’s YSC Team.
I’m hoping the YSC would grow in O’Reilly and other schools across the world. This will go a long way to make the youth an independent being rather than a dependent being.
Donna St. Louis is a Youth Savings Intern at the Ghana Cooperative Credit Union Association. Her work is sponsored by the Canadian Cooperative Association and the Canadian International Development Agency.