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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Head: Breach Won't Happen Again

Julia Pierson tells a House panel investigating a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid