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Bringing financial services to communities caring for orphans and vulnerable children

Anna Letokoto and her family outside their houseLesotho has the third highest HIV prevalence in the world. This has had a devastating impact on the country, with swathes of people, particularly of the middle, "parenting" generation, becoming fatally sick, dying, or emigrating in search of work and economic opportunity. This has left many grandmothers, widowed or abandoned by husbands, caring for growing numbers of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The additional burdens this places on women often still grieving the loss of their own children can lead to them becoming isolated from their communities, struggling to make ends meet, and, often, sinking into depression.

Skillshare International's partner NGO in this project, Help Lesotho, is running a 24-month Grandmother Training Project, which provides training for the women in child nutrition and development as well as HIV/AIDS awareness. Enrollment on the project also allows the women to develop robust support networks, as they come into contact with each other and find a safe space to share and find friendship with others in a similar situation.

Despite the training, poverty remains a significant obstacle to women attempting to provide for expanding households - especially as they are at a time of life when they could ordinarily have expected their household expenditures to decline. Key to caring for their families is the ability for these grandmothers to plan for expenditure and be able to ensure a stable source of income.

We are therefore working with the grandmothers and their communities to set up Community Savings and Loans Schemes (CSLS), which are open to the whole community. In an area of Lesotho where transport to the nearest town and bank is often extremely difficult, unreliable and costly, these Schemes provide essential financial services. Those accessing loans are able to plan for grandchildren's school fees, business expenses or seeds for sowing, as well as save up for unforeseen emergencies, such as unexpected medical costs.

Anna Letokoto cares for ten of her grandchildren, children, nephews and nieces

With the combination of Help Lesotho's Grandmother Training Project, and Skillshare's Community Savings and Loans Schemes, these grandmothers are able to better provide for the children they care for, and are psychologically in a more positive state to look after their families. The wider communities also benefit, as membership of CSLS is open to all.

Mme Anna Letokoto (pictured) lives in a rural area of Leribe, Lesotho. In 2004, her sister died from an AIDS-related illness, leaving behind three young children, who now live with Anna. She has also taken over looking after her daughter's five young children, as her daughter has become sick with Kaposi's Sarcoma - a condition frequently associated with HIV infection. At the age of 59, and with a very limited income, Anna is caring for ten children. Although some attend school, she does not have the money available to send all of them.

When Help Lesotho first met Anna, she was suffering from depression and struggling to find the will to look after the daily needs of her grandchildren. With regular support however, and with the friendship she has found from the other grandmothers on the project, she has regained the pride she once took in her home, and her spirits have lifted as she has realised that she is not alone. The CSLS is also offering a route back into community activity and community engagement, breaking down the isolation Anna felt she was trapped in for so long.

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This is an exciting new project and will run for three years from February 2013, across 15 villages. It is majority funded by the European Union, but to ensure its long-term success, and to make sure we can help more women like Anna and their families, we also need your support! A donation of £10 could contribute to a group receiving training in running a Community Savings and Loans Scheme; £20 could help pay for training materials for a group of villagers to receive business skills training. £175 would enable one woman to enrol on the Grandmother Training Scheme and benefit from membership of the Community Savings and Loans Scheme. To support us in this work, please click the red "Give" button at the top of this page, and select "Community Savings and Loans Scheme" from the drop-down menu. Your help is incredibly important, and greatly appreciated by all of those involved in this project.