Tantie Tantines

29 06 2009

There are two micro-credit woman’s clubs or “tantines” that I am loosely affiliated with. I am the third SED (small enterprise development) volunteer which means that I am the last SED volunteer this community will host but also that my main focus is making those projects started before me self-sufficient and developing lasting programs that locals can carry on after my absence. The two tantines started with the first volunteer and gained further grounding and structure with the second volunteer expanding into money making activities such as a market garden and selling enriched bouille (a mixture of millet, peanuts, and beans especially beneficial for toddlers because of its protein content). Though one of the groups is a bit higher functioning (prob due to the social clustering- the more prominent, older ladies’ group has been very successful with their market garden most likely because they have less domestic responsibilities than the other group), they both follow the same premise;

pre cultivating season pay out in action!
pre cultivating season pay out in action!

The two tantines “cotisee” or “deposit” every week after marche day (nianko runs on a 5 day cycle with many of the other small villages in the area). The point-person for the cotisee is a woman elected from the group to serve as the “caisse” holder aka guardian of metal box with lock. The cycle for saving is one year, focusing on depositing up until right before rainy season when l’argent is portioned to help the women buy farming supplies and grains. The aim of every week is a 200cfa cotisations. An alternative function for the tantines which I personally think could be even more benificial than the farming leg-up is the fact that these credit unions serve as loan agents and support systems when families are sick or having a hard time financially. In theory the loan portion of the tantine charges 10 percent interest every month (a lot!!). In actuality sometimes interest is overlooked and the penalty for not cotisaing is not held against members. Instead a tally system is kept by the secretary (also elected) of how often each member divvies. That is the loose draft of how the tantines work. Complicating these issues is whether the secretary and caisse holder actually do their work (I’ve heard several horror stories about sticky fingers here and there). Luckily I think most of those problems are non existent in these small, friendly woman”s groups. Since the more successful tantine is accustomed to the system and doing increasingly well at it (two of the thirteen women donated every week last year and two or three came close) this year, we’ll be experimenting with how much lump sum we can keep as a nice reservoir since rains are not particularly good this year. 

Micro finance is only available to 8% of the 6.5 million households under the poverty line. For most families on a village level, tantines are the only way to save money for emergencies or investing. Everything here is out of pocket. No. accounting systems- and with the current food crisis that -yes- has affected Burkina largely, most families don’t know why but times are getting harder. With the women saving is especially important because of their chief role of care-giver; feeding and treating children when they fall ill. The gender disparity here often leaves disposable income at the discretion of the men. Sorry, but its true. Most families aren’t gonna get a new marmite (metal cauldron) to cook dinner in or better yet a gas rance that eliminates hours of weekly fire-wood searching, dads gonna get a shiny cell phone. I’ve listened to too many stories about women hiding their money to consider this not relevent. Opening accounts in Burkina is not only expensive–starting an account is more than my villages’s women save in two years- but also lacks accessibility. The banks are only open in large cities and unrealistic to visit for the average villager, more specifically village woman who seldom has a personal mode of transportation.

Nianko has more than just two credit clubs though I can honestly wager than I am helping out with the two most functional ones not associated with a church nor workers union.  This past cultivating season, I sat in on the two tantine’s money allocating sessions. Since jula, the local language, is still hindering me from full participation when my counterpart/translator isn’t present, during one session, I’m pretty sure my primary role was to be white witness in case anything was blatantly biased or procedurally wrong. The session with my counterpart present was much more enriching (and to note with actual caisse notebook present). After counting all the groups savings four times and comparing these numbers with each members total number of cotisaing, my counterpart, the secretary, and me went throguh verifying each weeks records to make sure  they aligned with our figures. During this long duration, the oldest member of this already old women’s group kept saying “give me..9,500 cfa” to which I thought. ummm…that’s not gonna happen. Guess what, after calculating it all once more…she was right! incredible. I asked her how she knew that (especially knowing that she was illiterate) at which point she opened up her plastic sache purse and showed me this—–

Mdm Sanagou Ouattara shows her favored accounting system

It’s a visual representation/drawing of how many times she deposited money! And though to our western standards, this may seem like a small feat, its important to look at this from a wider perspective than just some little drawing. Firstly, this is the first sense of personal accounting i’ve seen in all of my savings and credit club experience. Secondly, this women represents (sorry, gotta rant..) one of the oldest living generations in Burkina, means she also represents the most illiterate generation in Burkina. Burkina is the most illiterate country in the world (according to the UN). This woman in my tiny little african village has just demonstrated how literacy can be irrelevant in effectively saving. On a more personal note, this woman, Sanagou also raises chickens and grows tobacco in addition to helping out at the women’s garden. And i’m guessing she’s older than anyone that’s going to access my blog. How inspiring! 

PS- if you’re wondering about the title, tantie is a name people use here to describe a respected woman. Though the word’s loose definition is aunt, I originally thought it meant something along the lines of “large and in charge.” Women here who are sucessful are generally big since they hold jobs inside, not out in the fields working all day. They also are able to enjoy a fattier diet. The only references until I was called a tantie and asked for further explanation as to why, was kids saying “look at that tantie” —the examples were all overwhelmingly large…were talking 250+ lbs. It was an honest mistake….and now makes me laugh

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