From Teacher to Entrepreneur
James Milton's Journey with the VSLA
PUBLISHED MARCH 3, 2023
James,a teacher in Sierra Leone overcomes gender stereotypes and financial struggles by joining a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) and using the skills he gained to start a successful fishing business.
James Milton is a 38 years old teacher with more than ten years of experience teaching students at the RC Primary School located on York Island. As an unapproved teacher, he does not receive a salary from the Government and has to resort to menial jobs such as cleaning homes within his community to earn an income. He is paid less than a dollar a day but this is what he uses to cater for his wife and four children.
In 2021, the Bonthe Island Fish Trading (BIFT) project introduced the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) model to the York community. James participated in the initial training but due to socio-cultural beliefs which reinforce gender discrimination, James outrightly rejected the idea of a man being a member of a women-dominated savings group. He, however, participated in a gender transformative training which transformed his perception of gender roles by understanding the need for equality between men and women and equal distribution of productive resources within the community. In 2022, James joined the women's savings group and due to his background as a teacher, was elected by his group members to become the Secretary of the group. Once the group was formed, members of James's group were taken through a series of training sessions that enhanced their financial literacy and capacity for entrepreneurship. Through Competency-based Economies through the Formation of Entrepreneurs (CEFE) trainings, the members developed competencies to identify and explore business opportunities within their communities and beyond. Once members like James had identified prospective opportunities, they used the knowledge they acquired from business development training sessions to develop comprehensive business plans to guide their their entrepreneurial activities.
"I became highly motivated after the training and was convinced I could do something great for myself", James said.
James ensured he saved $2 a week with his savings group. With his business plan clearly developed and enough savings contributions, James requested for a loan of $50 as startup capital to start a fishing enterprise and support his spouse in a food-making business. With the loan, he purchased the needed raw materials such as timber to fabricate a small fishing canoe and food items for his spouse's restaurant business.
After he fabricated his canoe, he continued saving diligently and with his spouse's business bringing in income due to his investment, he was able to repay the $50 loan he had received earlier. After the first share-out which marks the end of the saving cycle for 2022, James had saved a total of 1,300 Leones which was equivalent to $100. He purchased a fishing net and other fishing gear and invested some of his savings to expand his spouse's restaurant business.
James now sets his fishing canoe to sea each day and has employed two young men who dropped out of school, to assist him in his fishing enterprise. James cultivated a good business relationship with fish traders in his community because of his relationship as a community teacher and their households. This has ensured James earns no less than $15 daily profits from the sale of his fish catch. In 2023, James makes no less than $300 profit a month from his fishing enterprise.
James has become the epitome of determination and hardwork within the York community. He has been elected to join the administrative body of fishing activities within the York community.
"Previously, if someone told me that I would own a fishing canoe, I would have denied it because I was completely down at the time. Taking care of my family was a difficult task for me but with the VSLA that was introduced to me by SEND Sierra Leone and its partner Terra Tech, this fantasy has been actualized"
With his fishing venture growing, James has his eyes set on fabricating a commercial machine-driven passenger boat with a loan from the Bonthe Cooperative Credit Union established by SEND Sierra Leone to provide transportation services across the Atlantic Ocean for residents living within the Bonthe District.