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Addressing Disability through Community Economic Empowerment

For those with disabilities, village savings and loan associations provide powerful networks of solidarity and support.

Diossy Sylla (pictured in white) sitting with her VSLA in Sor Diagne

Filling the Service Gap

Like other places in the world, blindness in Senegal can be a debilitating condition, especially in a country where just 20% of the population has health coverage and access to support services to help navigate the challenges of the disability is almost nonexistent.

For Diossy Sylla, a woman living in the neighborhood of Sor Diagne in the town of Saint Louis, these problems are all too familiar.  Diossy, a mother of 3 children, used to spend her time at the center of her community, organising events and services for occasions ranging from celebratory baptisms and marriages to the more somber occasions of funerals, and even political gatherings.  Her position embedded her within a strong network of community members, and with an average profit of $17 per ceremony, the various services she rendered provided her with enough income to support herself and her children. 

However, when Diossy was stricken by blindness, one the most significant impacts was upon her economic activities, which were reduced by her loss of mobility and hampered her business. 

VSLAs Provide Forum for Solidarity and Support

Dependency is a bad situation that no human being should have to suffer. Group solidarity helped me to stabilise my business, despite my disability

These economic realities, in conjunction with the emotional burden and social isolationism inflicted on a woman accustomed to being the hub of social activity, led Diossy to join Sor Diagne’s village savings and loan association (VSLA). These VSLAs, introduced by Plan International Senegal as part of the Promoting African Grassroots Economic Security (PAGES) project, aim to economically empower communities that have been traditionally excluded from more formal financial systems and lack access to credit.  As community microfinance systems, VSLAs are usually comprised of women united by proximity, and they allow each member regular access to finance without exclusion or discrimination in order to undertake income-generating activities.  Such is the case in Sor Diagne, with its VSLA group called Bokk Xol, or “United Hearts.”  Comprised of 41 members, the group is a place for exchange, communication, and microcredit initiatives for individual and collective financial empowerment.  Because Sor Diagne is located in a semi-urban area populated mostly by fishermen, women in this group have naturally developed a business around seafood and its derivatives. 

A Way Forward for the Disabled

Diossy contributes to the group funds by selling household consumer products and has recently acquired her first loan of about $8.50 from Bokk Xol.  The solidarity of the VSLA group has given her a reliable customer base committed to doing its shopping with her, and she is doing well.  Today, Diossy is able to make a stable living through her business and manages a turnover of about $77 per month.  “Dependency is a bad situation that no human being should have to suffer. Group solidarity helped me to stabilise my business, despite my disability,” Diossy said.

Plan International Senegal is committed to the fight against exclusion and discrimination, a fundamental pillar of its development programmes.