University students, Richard Andrée Wiltens and Elizabeth Vincent, visited Kalaymyo for two weeks in December. They went with three specific goals: first, to provide training to the staff and clients, second to encourage saving, and finally to report back to SEAM regarding progress made. Their report follows.
(The after-effects of the September flood)
Impact of the recent flood:
A major flood in September 2013 had a devastating effect on many clients, some of whom had homes damaged or destroyed, with their savings needed for urgent repairs. However, SEAM has a generous policy in that in an emergency situation it matches any savings that a client has accumulated, to enable the withdrawal of these funds without penalty. Most affected clients have managed to reestablish their businesses and haven’t needed to turn to the unofficial moneylenders and increase their debt levels, as these lenders tend to charge astronomical interest rates of upwards of 50% per day.
The importance of education:
Education is a priority for so many of the clients, and for Myanmar people in general, who realize that it is the key for improving their children’s futures. SEAM has enabled many clients to continue their children’s education where they would have been previously unable to. This, in our opinion, is where the primary success of SEAM currently lies. Educating the young people of Myanmar is critical for the future development of the country, as it is in the midst of serious change with the first influx of overseas investors aiming to capitalize on the emerging economy. This means that forward thinking, educated decisions need to be made in order for Myanmar to be able to take advantage of its own resources in a sustainable way.
The importance of saving:
This idea, completely foreign to most people in third world countries, is slowly starting to take root. Normally, leftover revenue at the end of the week is spent on luxuries or distributed among extended family members. However, in a country where natural disasters and illness are commonplace, saving is extremely important. Many clients have dependent family members who need expensive treatment, and as the government does not subsidize medical bills, this can be a huge burden. We emphasise that saving is required in good times, to provide for unexpected situations. Saving is a requirement of a SEAM loan, but it is often difficult to enforce when people are in very hard economic situations. However, tiny amounts of regular savings can accumulate quickly.
(to be continued)