News / Africa

South Sudan Women Think Outside the Box

Teresa Aduong dances with other board members of the wooden box bank, Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan, Jan. 30, 2013. (H. McNeish/VOA)
Teresa Aduong dances with other board members of the wooden box bank, Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan, Jan. 30, 2013. (H. McNeish/VOA)
Hannah McNeish
— South Sudan is one of the worst places on the planet to be a woman.  With the highest maternal mortality rate in the world -- often due to forced or early marriage -- and the total lack of basic services in a country devastated by war, women have never had identity papers and control over their fate.  Slowly, aid agencies like the International Rescue Committee are trying to get women on the first rung of the ladder of independence through a unique banking system born out of a simple box.   
 
Under the shade of a tree, women gather, singing and dancing.  They are waiting for the bank to open.  The bank?  A small wooden box.
 
Teresa Ajok Aduong - the only literate woman in the group -- is the “manager” of this wooden box bank. The women can use their household money to buy $1 shares in the bank and the money is used to loan to members, who pay it back with interest.
 
Independent only since 2011 and following decades of war, South Sudan’s development has been severely arrested.  Only about 16 percent of women are literate and none of the women here have ever had identity cards.
 
Aduong says that “under Sudan, women were not allowed to do business, it was just men taking cattle from state to state or down to Uganda.  Now,” she says, “there are few women selling things in the market or homegrown produce at the roadside.  But few men understand that women have an important role in business.”
 
Members say the bank has made it possible to pay for their children's education and medical fees, Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan, Jan. 30, 2013. (H. McNeish/VOA)Members say the bank has made it possible to pay for their children's education and medical fees, Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan, Jan. 30, 2013. (H. McNeish/VOA)
x
Members say the bank has made it possible to pay for their children's education and medical fees, Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan, Jan. 30, 2013. (H. McNeish/VOA)
Members say the bank has made it possible to pay for their children's education and medical fees, Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan, Jan. 30, 2013. (H. McNeish/VOA)
Monica Ajak Mading is one of many box-bank members who says it has changed her life and allowed the women to help themselves.  
 
She says that what she likes least "about the way men treat women is that they are not responsible, like when women are pregnant and they don’t take them to the clinic, which is very dangerous and causes problems at birth, or women are not given enough to eat.”  She says that “many women are malnourished and can die from being unhealthy.”
 
The bank’s social fund has helped a number of the members to pay for medical treatment for their children, funerals or presents for a new baby.
 
Aduong is one of the bank’s success stories.  She managed to use a loan to make enough to buy cattle --the preferred and most prestigious form of currency in Lakes State -- one that is usually only controlled by men.
 
She says the first time she bought a bull she was so happy and excited, and when she brought it home, all her husband’s relatives saw.  Now she says she wants have big gardens and to be able to hire people to help her cultivate on a wider scale.
 
At first, men were reticent about letting their wives join the bank and accused them of just sitting around chatting.
 
Most have since changed their minds as they have seen their fortunes improve.  One husband, Akot Dal Machur, was so impressed he became a bank member himself.
 
Machur says that what he has learned from the group is that women are skillful, and whatever little money they have they can save.  He says “men can have hundreds of thousands of pounds, and nothing in a week’s time.”
 
In a country where according to United Nations statistics over 1,000 people are killed in cattle raids every year, keeping all your money in cows is also a risk.  That's another appeal of the bank, according to Machur.
 
He says that life in Rumbek is better than in the cattle camps, as people can come together and make money.  In the camps you can buy a cow and take it back and people come at night to steal it and even kill someone, he says.  This way, he says, no one knows how much money you have, even in your pocket, and the money is safe as even the group doesn’t know where the box is kept.
 
Deborah Arach works for the U.S-based aid agency, the International Rescue Committee, that runs this program.  She has watched women who used to be stuck at home with very few prospects increase their fortunes and prosper.
 
“Now they have changed," said Arach. "They have become strong and they are proud of themselves.  They have something to contribute at home as well.  Not like before -- you depend on man.  Now they are independent.”
 
Arach says that the bank has also emboldened women to work together to not only make money but to share ideas and solve problems - including problems with their husbands.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid