Angelo Jong, Timor-Leste Country Program Manager and
Alison Darcy, Project Officer
My name is Josefina, I am 32 years old and I live with my mother in a village in Remexio, Timor-Leste, I own a small grocery business selling goods that include oil, sugar, salt, and rice. My mother grows some vegetables such as corn and sweet potato. As a person with a disability I know first-hand what it’s like to live a life where you aren’t accepted because you look different and don’t have the same abilities as everyone else. Growing up with limb length discrepancyhas led to discrimination and injustice, although I’m aided with a walking device and can move around like everyone else, people still see me as different.
Two years ago, my neighbour told me to join her at the local financial cooperative meeting, she was already a member and had started to save each month and had recently received a loan. This was the first financial service provided to my community and although I was curious to learn more, I was afraid they wouldn’t accept me and I’d be an embarrassment to my neighbour.
She told me not to worry, that one of the benefits of the cooperative is that its open membership, there’s no discrimination and they encourage everyone to have a say. After a year of attending training, I finally had the confidence to join the cooperative. Through the training I learnt about how to manage my money, about savings, goals and what my roles and responsibilities as a member are.
My first deposit was $26 and each month I continue to save as much as I can, I’ve been part of the cooperative for just over a year now and already saved $126, all from the profits of my little grocery stall. Last month I was successful in applying for a loan from the cooperative, with my $100 loan I’ll be able to expand my business and add new items.
Joining the cooperative has given me more self-confidence, I’m part of the group like everyone else and people are starting to look beyond my bamboo stick. I’m glad I listened to my neighbour and joined, I’ve learnt more about savings and how to use my money wisely. I wished I joined when I was younger, I am now dreaming of opening a larger kiosk and watching my savings grow.
Josefina is a member of Rekonstrusaun Familia (family reconstruction) savings group which is supported through CUFA’s Credit Union Development project. Now in its third year, the project helps to build, develop and promote grass-root financial cooperatives in rural Timorese communities that previously had no access to financial services.
CUFA’s Gender and Disability Specialist works with the savings banks like Rekonstrusaun Familia to help them with strategies and activities to empower men and women to be able to access financial services regardless of gender, ethnicity or disability.