Gwani East ward is a hard-to-reach area in of Gombe State, in northeast Nigeria. People there have long struggled with poverty and lacked potable water and access to quality health services. The primary healthcare centre in Gwani East was missing basics including water, toilets and medicine, and it remained closed most times. Women from the ward relied on their husbands for everything. They had little means for earning income or gaining formal education and usually did not participate in household and community decision making. Local development activities were left to men, as the prevailing sentiment was that women had little to offer.
Slowly, though, Gwani East has been changing. In 2015, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pact began implementing the State Accountability for Quality Improvement Project, or SAQIP, in Gombe State. SAQIP’s overall goal is to reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Gombe, in part by increasing use of public maternal, neonatal and child health (MNCH) services by improving women’s access to financial resources and empowering them to take part in decision making.
Over the past four years, SAQIP has established 1,200 WORTH Mothers Groups across 114 wards in Gombe state. WORTH is Pact’s award-winning micro-banking program that empowers women to lift themselves and each other out of poverty. The unique model brings women and older girls together in groups of about 25 to save money, access credit, gain skills and start small businesses. The SAQIP WORTH groups specifically targeted women of child-bearing age.
One such group was the Chigaba mothers group, formed in 2015. The group’s 30 members began meeting twice a week to receive training from qualified volunteers on health, literacy and numeracy, and to contribute money for group savings and loans. In the beginning, members struggled to attend sessions and meet mandatory savings requirements, but with close monitoring and routine supportive supervision from Pact staff, they committed to saving a little bit of money each week in their individual accounts and contributing to a modest group social fund for future community projects.
In their first six-month WORTH banking cycle, most women were supported by their husbands and relatives to make their contributions. Soon they had enough for the group to be able to begin issuing loans. Members were allowed to borrow from the group strictly for starting or expanding businesses. SAQIP provided the group with additional training on how to make soap and pomade. Members also received computer training, which they used to sell and print airtime recharge cards. The group also launched a sweet potato farm and sold the crops in their community. As their earnings grew, Pact supported the group to set up a formal bank account and build business relationships with partners outside of Gwani.
Eventually, the Chigaba mothers group moved beyond supporting its members to contributing to wider community development. The group funded toilets at the local primary healthcare centre, repaired its broken ambulance and constructed a community borehole for water. They encouraged women in Gwani to use the health centre for antenatal care and for the delivery of their babies. They also planted 100 trees in schools in Gwani East.
"When women visited the hospital, there was no proper toilet facility," one of the group's members says. "So we said, 'What should we do for this hospital?' From our savings, we decided to build a toilet."
With new skills and confidence, last year the group’s members decided to take an even bigger step. They successfully applied for a World Bank-assisted community development loan of 10 million Nigerian naira (about USD $27,000), raising the needed 500,000 naira in counterpart funding. With the World Bank funds, the group built a training center, two public toilets and two more boreholes for communities that lacked potable water.
Today, the Chigaba mothers group members are among Gwani’s most trusted citizens. Indeed, community decisions can no longer be made without their input.