It was a cloudy and humid Saturday afternoon. A group of 20 people, mostly women, gathered in a circle at the back of the chapel in the barangay, a metal box in their midst. Some of them had come straight from the nearby sugarcane farms, faces sweaty under the wide brimmed sun hats, hands still unwashed from carrying the tools they used for pangguna (weeding). That day marked the 1st meeting of the United Sabacan Savers Association or USSA as they call their Community Managed Savings and Credit Association or CoMSCA in Maramag, Bukidnon. The elected Chairperson called the group to order and welcomed everyone to the start of their 3rd saving cycle, members once more agreeing to meet twice a month to save at least P20 up to P100 for the next 10-12 months.
“Malaki ang tulong po ng pag-iipon sa samin lalo na kapag closing (Saving is a big help to us, especially during the end of the school year),” exclaims Divinagracia, the second cycle’s top saver with a total of P7, 590 from her share purchases and earnings from the service fees and fines. The group scheduled their saving cycle to end in March in time for the anticipated increase in school related expenses at the end of the school year, more so for those whose children are graduating. Some used their savings to buy home appliances while some purchased new clothes for their children. Others bought more basic necessities such as food for the family. For majority of the savers, the decision to save is a family matter, with both husband and wife deciding how much to save per meeting.
Before CoMSCA, members admitted that they resorted to borrowing from lending individuals and companies with usurious rates, most especially in times of immediate need. Often, in order to pay their debts, parents have to work doubly hard with their children in tow to bring in more income. CoMSCA not only helped them recognize the importance of saving, but it also provided a more accessible way to borrow money at lower service charges which will eventually return to them in the form of dividends during the share-out at the end of the savings cycle. Amid the group’s chatter, a mother stood up and proudly shared that she bought several chicks with her savings because she wants to start a poultry raising business.
USSA is gaining popularity in the community as more and more people are expressing their interest to save. Because of this, they decided to split the group into 2 – USSA 1 and USSA 2 – to accommodate new members to the new cycle. Realizing the benefits of joining a savings group, a new member of USSA said her husband told her to join the CoMSCA in their barangay. Other people have been encouraged to join as well because they saw that the group was well-managed and transparent.
In December 2014 during the USSA’s 2nd cycle, the members decided to start a rice retailing business or “bigasan”. All thirty two members contributed P100 each to serve as capital for their business. In less than 3 months, the group has earned at least P3,000, profiting P200 – P700 every week. While they are pooling funds to build a store, the business is currently being managed by a member. Most of the time, the members themselves buy from their business but each one also helps promote it to their neighbors and friends.
The USSA savers dream of having their own sari-sari store where they can sell not just rice but other merchandise and products as well. That dream is not far ahead. Their savings group, and 8 other CoMSCAs in Maramag, had been registered with DOLE last year. Registration with DOLE enables groups to access livelihoods funds from the department. Last March, selected members of USSA, along with representatives of other CoMSCAs in Bukidnon, participated in the business proposal writeshop conducted by ABK3, in partnership with the Provincial Office of the Department of Labor and Employment in Bukidnon. USSA’s business is underway.
Asked why they still continue to save through CoMSCA, the USSA members said, “Para pagdating ng panahon, pag may pangangailangan, may mapagkukuhanan (We want to continue saving to prepare for emergencies).” More than this, members agreed that aside from saving, CoMSCA has helped build a deeper bond among the members. The Chairperson announced the end of the meeting. Each one rose from the circle, a big smile on their faces, eyes filled of hope that better days are coming.
As of July 2015, ABK3 LEAP has organized 1,055 CoMSCA savings groups with 22,332 members, 84% of which are assisted households, and cumulative savings and income of P32.5 million.