Teaching the poor to make a difference

Written By : Mela Tuilevuka. Ensuring that those people who are living in poverty know how to utilize and budget whatever little they have is important. It is always a
01 Aug 2008 12:00

image Written By : Mela Tuilevuka. Ensuring that those people who are living in poverty know how to utilize and budget whatever little they have is important.
It is always a norm that the very grassroot people are not aware of many policies set out by government and how it affects them individually.
Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA) programme co-ordinator Semiti Qalowasa said many people living in squatter areas are the very ones that have no idea how to budget and how to prioritise their expenses.
Mr Qalowasa is currently conducting workshops around various squatter areas in the country under ECREA’s Economic Literacy Programme.
“Most of these people in the squatter areas do not know a single thing about the budget set out by government or inflation,” he said.
“They only hear of it and have a surface understanding of what the word means so when government sets out a budget or if there is an inflation in prices of things, these people do not know the real picture of how it affects them.”
Mr Qalowasa said their main focus in conducting various workshops in squatter areas is to empower the community to know their income and how to prioritise their expenses.
He added ECREA is working hand in hand with People’s Community Network (PCN) to encourage squatters to save.
“We have this programme whereby squatters work collectively in which everyone gives in $1 a week,” he said.
“When they each contribute their $1 every week collectively, they get to save a lot of money as a group and therefore have bargaining power.”
Mr Qalowasa said the main reason behind the $1 a week scheme was to make sure squatters had money so they could negotiate in doing business and also have bargaining power.
Most of these people living in squatter areas have land, housing and education problems, but with no money at all in their pockets they will not be able to do anything with their problems whatever it may be.
“Like they say money talks, likewise, this is what we are doing conducting workshops in the squatter areas to encourage these people to save collectively so that they can all join hands in solving problems that generally affects them,” Mr Qalowasa said.
“Some people are saying that we are forcing them to save by giving $1 a week, but this is not so, we are encouraging them to save, if they do not want to give their share than they can forfeit the benefits of all that we are trying to achieve for them.”
Mr Qalowasa said it is surprising how many people living in the squatter areas, don’t know the importance of saving up money.
For example, he said, some of these squatters are chain smokers and they normally buy a pack of cigarette a day.
“If they can have money to buy cigarettes at $2.70 everyday and you multiply that by how many weeks, than one can see the real picture of how much is being spent on cigarette alone.”
“Through our programme we are advising people to prioritise their expenses and that first things must always come first and others later,” Mr Qalowasa said.
“For me, I always tell people that family comes first before anything else and that should be first on their list when they are planning out their budget,” he said.
Mr Qalowasa said for most Fijian families it is always a norm that family, church and village commitments go hand in hand.
“Surprisingly most families living in these squatter areas follow this tradition and norm.”
“What we are trying to do with them now is to break their culture of silence in keeping to these norms,” Mr Qalowasa said.
Mr Qalowasa added now they want people to understand who they are and what their roles are in their individual families.
“We want them to be independent and be able to do things on their own.”
ECREA is working hand in hand with PCN as an advisor to ensure that these squatters are encouraged to save.
Since PCN’s establishment in 2002, the two organizations have been able to secure the trust of people living in squatter areas covering more than 45 communities.

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