Assa Fofana (Mali)
Change Happens in a Country Village
Growing up in the same village in which she has always lived, Assa Fofana saw her father die young, but the family managed to muddle along. “Even the tiniest amount of money went a long way,” she recalls, unlike these days of high expenses. As a child, Assa sold a lot of boiled yams at the market. Her mother sold vegetables to passengers on a train that passed right through their village, and used her earnings to buy milk and meat for her children. No trace of the train remains, but like her mother, Assa relies on selling vegetables to earn money to feed her family
The mother of four children, Assa has ambitions far beyond selling produce. She perches on a small, carved, wood stool behind the woven rug on the ground that displays her wares and talks above the clamor of market transactions all around her. She waves her hands as she talks not about what she has already accomplished, but what she plans to do next.
Having heard about a savings and loan program called Saving for Change from her mother and sister, who were already members, she joined a savings group herself that was formed by Freedom from Hunger’s local partner TONUS.
Since joining, Assa has borrowed money from the group to expand her vegetable business and to purchase more nutritious food and medicine for her family. Despite their best efforts to sleep under bednets—something she learned about through Saving for Change—the family still battles malaria each rainy season. Determined that her children receive a "proper" education, Assa’s main goal is to save enough to buy textbooks and pay school fees. "My children study very hard," she says, “so I am confident that they will achieve a good life someday.” Her ambition doesn’t end with her children. “Having no money, being poor, that is not living a good life. I can achieve a good life because I, too, am learning how to read and write!”
Assa aspires to learn even more with her Saving for Change group members, who have voted on a social goal to get business training. “Training would help us find work and make money We want to make shea butter and soap,” she notes. During the three years Assa has participated in the savings group, her loans have shrunk and her savings have grown enough that she plans to buy and raise livestock. That will add some variety to both her family’s diet and the village market. Assa has come a long way since the hardships her mother and she both endured. “I am at peace now,” she smiles. “I have benefited [from my group] in too many ways to say—especially when we split the money at the end. The feeling of having no debt is the greatest feeling to have"