MADISON, Wis. -- The World Council of Credit Unions is working with the U.S. Agency for International Development and local Afghans to establish credit unions in that country, even though some of the new CUs are in war zones.
According to WOCCU, the effort has recently opened new CUs in Ayback, Puli-Khumri and Jalalabad. The opening of the Jalalabad CU took place only four days after an improvised explosive device (IED) blew up about four miles down the road from the CU site, WOCCU said.
"Even IED explosions aren't enough to dissuade Afghans from rebuilding their local economies and civic societies after decades of war and oppression," explained Randy Spears, Afghanistan project director for WOCCU. "As member-owned financial cooperatives, the IFCs not only provide their Afghan members with access to much needed savings and loan services, but they also empower them to take active roles in democratic decision making."
Farther north the previous week, close to 80 Samangan IFC members celebrated their IFC opening in Ayback, and 100 members at neighboring Baghlan IFC celebrated their grand opening in Puli-Khumri. At each of the three celebrations, members representing the farming and business sectors invested withdrawable shares and received the IFCs' first loans ranging from approximately $300 to $500.
Northern Afghanistan has generally seen less resurgent warfare.
Spears said that everyone in attendance loved the idea of ownership and all were beaming at the celebrations. In his welcome speeches at the grand openings, he reminded members that they were the owners of the IFCs.
The four-member interim boards of directors from each IFC attended the openings. Women are represented on all the boards, and the board chairperson of Baghlan IFC is a woman. The new IFCs will hold general assemblies in April to elect board members. Following the speeches and first disbursement of loans, there was an official ribbon cutting and customary lunch for all attendees. Since the establishment of IFCs in Afghanistan three years ago, total membership in the five institutions has grown to more than 5,500.
World Council is currently working with staff at Afghanistan's first two IFCs--Balkh IFC and Jawzjan IFC--to open three branch offices in the north. Plans are also underway to establish a national association. --firstname.lastname@example.org