Saving and lending builds trust and friendship

A group of widows in Gbumgbaliga show peacemaking in action

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Fusheina and Ama sit close together, squeezed with four other ladies onto a long bench in the shade of a neem tree.  When I get my camera out to take a picture, one of the other ladies cracks a joke and they all collapse into giggles, broad smiles exposed, the joyful freedom of close friendship evident.

They have gathered with eight other widows from their village.  Gbumgbaliga, and surrounding communities as they do each fortnight, to bring their small deposits – often as little as 30 pence – to save their money together.  The CHIPS Team Leader Desmond, and his assistant Lydi, call the names one by one and the group leader gathers their deposits together and helps to take records.

“When we have emergencies like illness, a demand for school fees, or a funeral, we take small loans from the savings pot”, they tell me, delighted by the cushion of economic security this gives them and their family.

But this group is about much more than just economic security – it is primarily about relationships.  And not just any relationships.

This village is in the heart of Nanung, a place which has seen multiple violent conflicts and enduring tension between the Konkomba and Nanumba for decades.  Yet this group is ethnically mixed – half the ladies are Konkombas and half are Nanumbas, coming together in this shared activity to benefit their families, whatever tribe they are from.

Historic violence but enduring fear

Though the last major outbreak of violence was 20 years ago in 1994-95, when thousands were killed and 250,000 displaced, the legacy of that conflict and the mistrust between the communities endure.

In November 2018, a dispute over the destruction of crops between a Konkomba farmer and a Dagomba (close relations of the Nanumbas) farmer led to multiple people being shot and one death in a village 50 miles north of Gbumgbaliga.  Though it was a specific, personal dispute, the whole region was alive with rumours within hours – “there is war” people said, calling their friends to warn them.  Teachers from one tribe who teach in villages of the other rushed back to their homes and didn’t return for days; people on the outskirts of some towns didn’t venture outside for fear that the other tribe was on their way to attack them.

The families and friends of the CHIPS team called them and urged them to go to their home villages.  Our team is made up of people from both tribes who share a home together in a village which saw much conflict in 1994-95.  But our team are deeply embedded within the community and are close friends with people from all sides.  As the rumours circulated, they responded calmly to their families and friends saying “It’s not true, there’s nothing happening here – no one is coming to attack us”.  They displayed the true peace which is at the heart of our work – the peace we see in Jesus – calm in the midst of a storm; a peace based on relationships with people from all sides; a creative, communal, active, relational, hopeful peace. 

Thankfully, the violence didn’t spread though the rumours which followed it did expose the truth of the situation in the region.  Whilst there is no violence of visible conflict most of the time, the mistrust and fear remain deeply ingrained on both sides.  We thank God that there was no further fighting but we can also see that we are a long way from peace and that there is still much to be done.

Signs of Hope

Yet in Gbumgbaliga the signs of hope are easy to see.  As I sit with the women in their group, it is clear that their relationships are close, warm and trusting.  They share their money together, take loans from one another’s shared savings and do it all with much laughter and fun.

“We used to know each other’s faces from the market, and would maybe greet each other when we passed”, says Fusheina “but now the relationships are deeper and we know one another well”.

“It is because of this group that we are able to trust one another”, Ama tells me.  I realise I’m seeing peacemaking in action. 

Paul Maxwell-Rose