AEE acts as a Facilitator & Evaluator
One particularly notable highlight in all AEE projects is the Self-Help Group Approach (SHGA). This is an assets-based approach that focuses on the people and their strengths, not their neediness. The establishment of Self Help Groups (which are usually around 20 people in size) is based on groups meeting weekly and over time merging into cluster-level associations (CLAs) (10 SHG form a cluster group) and federations. The CLAs are responsible for monitoring and reporting the progress of their constituent groups. Representatives from outstanding CLAs are likewise promoted to become members of the federation (FED). The role of the FED is to take over AEE’s responsibilities in that geographical area, thus forming a real independent self-help environment. The overall intent is not only to strengthen civil society but also enable individual members to assume responsibility and independence for their own lives.
The SHGA is based on 2 basic principles:
1. Every human being has tremendous, God-given potential; this hidden potential in the poor can be ‘unleashed’ by a conducive and supportive environment. Society has pushed certain sections of her people to the margin saying that they are “no good”. These vulnerable and marginalized sections slowly accept and internalize the state they are thrown into. The SHGA helps them to discover their potential step by step and realize that they are worthy citizens who can achieve much in life.
2. As an individual the poor are voiceless, powerless and vulnerable. By bringing them together as a homogenous collective, they gain tremendous strength and can claim their rights and take up their own responsibilities.
The SHGA focuses on building strong and homogenous communities by bringing people together and empowering them. “Value systems” of traditional Rwanda that were broken and abandoned over the years preceding the genocide are systematically being restored. The SHGA is an essential step in moving from an approach that focuses simply on the elimination of a present need to providing help and development that is sustainable. It does this by strengthening individuals, collectives, local organizations and communities to ‘help themselves’.
The SHGA was trialled in AEE in 2002. Its point of difference from other approaches to development is that it provides external resources other than monies to assist people to develop themselves. Its basic methodology is to bring together local communities divided into groups of 20 people grouped dominantly around socioeconomic status and secondly geography. Groups meet together weekly and contribute a minimum savings amount that is recorded to individual members. They receive training in areas including: savings and loans, health and hygiene, agriculture practices, communication, bookkeeping etc. Using this knowledge, group collateral and support, group members are able to access internal and external loans to establish small businesses and build personal assets and incomes. The impact of this growth is seen in the self worth of group members, school attendance rates, health and hygiene practices, improved agriculture efficiencies, family health and increases in social capital within communities.
Our self-help group approach has been remarkably successful in many different districts all over Rwanda.