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Connexus : Issue 41
Teachers Mutual Bank is a long-term suppor ter of CUFA’s projects, so I recently went to Myanmar, for merly known as Burma, and Cambodia to see how some of them are going. My guide was CUFA Executive Officer Peter Mason. We visited more than 20 locations including monaster ies, nunner ies and schools, and talked to village entrepreneurs and representatives of village credit unions and sav ings bank s. We saw the Shan region in Myanmar, which has not been immune to the str uggles in the countr y’s troubled histor y. Monaster ies r un the cr edit unions there, and they are much more than financial organisations. They support and nourish whole communities. In one area we visited, more than 300 of the 500 villagers are members of the local savings bank. A sense of trust is paramount for the system to work well. Sitting in on the day a branch opened gave me an insight into how this actually works for the community. Deposits are taken in the morning and loans are handed out in the after noon – all meticulously recorded by hand in notebooks and passbooks. The balance between the loan and deposit rate – 1.5 per cent a month – is spent in the community, on basic health care or funding a teacher’s salary. A typical loan may be $200 for a farmer to buy fertiliser or seed, and it must be paid back within the year. Before this system operated, many villagers spent spare cash on gold, making them v ulnerable to unscr upulous traders with bogus prices. We heard about the struggle of being a school teacher for whom a salar y You’re invited The best way to appreciate the value of CUFA’s programs is to go see them for yourself, writes Corin Millais from Teachers Mutual Bank. of $50-$70 a month is not enough to sur vive. Teachers must sell textbooks or vegetables, or drive taxis, to support themselves and their families. The poverty line is considered to be $45 a month. lessons in literacy In contrast, Cambodia has a well- established program with an office of 30 staff. Here I saw the results up close. The Children’s Financial Literacy program has taught more than 21,885 children so far. I sat in on the CUFA lessons and even gave a few, including role playing good and bad money habits with the kids. As a parent myself, it was moving to see these children being helped to a better f uture. We also visited people in the Village Entrepreneur program – a pig farmer and a rice wine maker. The provision of credit is vital to them making a reasonable living. The wine man had made $500 that month. A visit to the Choueng Ek Genocide Centre in the Killing Fields was a sobering reminder of Cambodia’s dark histor y. The ability of the Cambodian people to rebuild their lives after such terror and upheaval is testament to their extraordinar y resilience. In looking back on what I learnt, I can say that the CUFA programs face huge challenges on the ground, but they are really delivering by being thoroughly practical and professional. The basic mutual model we all know is a significant social ser vice, supporting communities and helping to tackle poverty. It’s a hand up, not a handout, and it works precisely because our industry collaborates to fund and support CUFA. It’s a great success story, and one we can all be proud of. I for one will be looking to do even more to engage Teachers Mutual Bank staff and customers in supporting CUFA’s programs, and I encourage other mutuals to do the same. Corin millais is the corporate social responsibility strategist at Teachers Mutual Bank. little girl taking part in CFl program in Cambodia www.abacus.org.au 49