Peter Mason, executive director of CUFA and Brian Branch, chief
operating officer of WOCCU with Rick Houenipwela, Governor of the
Central Bank, Denton Rarawa, Deputy Governor and Gane Simbe, Manager
Madison, WI—World Council of Credit
(WOCCU) chief operating officer Brian Branch
recently traveled to the Solomon Islands to
assess the damage inflicted by last month's
tsunami and to identify how WOCCU and the Credit
Union Federation of Australia (CUFA) can help
credit unions rebuild.
The delegation met with government officials
advance strategies that will better equip credit
unions to serve the struggling rural
communities. "As part of the government's
bottom-up strategy, we recognize that credit
unions are one of the best ways to get financial
services to the rural areas," observed the
Governor of the Solomon Islands Central Bank.
Selling fish in the Auki Village market is an important income generator on Malaita Island.
Credit unions began organizing in the Solomon
Islands during the 1980s. Since its
establishment in 1987, the Solomon Island Credit
Union League (SICUL) has led the rapid expansion
of credit unions into rural areas. CUFA has been
working with SICUL since 1992 to establish
MicroFinance Rural Resources Centers (MRRCs),
where people in small rural communities pool
their funds in savings clubs, provide basic
health services and make small artisan
handicrafts to generate income.
Today 159 credit unions and their 200
MRRC savings clubs serve more than 62,000
members in the Solomons, where 85% of the
483,083 total population lives in rural areas
with little or no access to basic financial
services or infrastructure. Rural communities
still rely on traditional subsistence
production, fishing and copra (dried coconut) in
Roads do not reach many rural areas, where
people walk long distances to get anywhere.
Villages elect treasurers to hand carry the
pooled savings of the MRRC to the nearest road
and then buy passage on a truck to take them to
a credit union.
"It is hard," described Stewart, a village
who had walked half a day, slept by the side of
the road and then traveled the second day in the
back of a truck to meet with WOCCU/CUFA staff to
talk about the importance of the link between
his village savings club and credit union
services. "We do this to give our children a
better future," he explained.
"There is tremendous will and commitment
credit union volunteers to develop their
communities. We need to find ways to help them
build infrastructure and put into place systems
that will allow them to achieve their
ambitions," Branch reported.
After the tsunami hit the western islands in
April, villagers fled to the high mountains of
the interior for fear of repeat waves. The
tsunami destroyed the little communications
infrastructure that had existed.
As part of its earlier work, CUFA had donated
radios to the MRRCs so that remote communities
could communicate with the rest of the country
via the credit union network. In the chaotic
aftermath of the tsunami, the credit unions
operated their radios 24 hours a day to help
villagers across the islands connect with their
families and find out where they could go for
aid, shelter and assistance.
Relief efforts in the western province, where
the tsunami destroyed entire villages, are in
full speed. The government is providing
emergency food, water and shelter while trying
to survey the damage to remote villages reached
only by canoe and several hour hikes.
Everyone is pitching in. Local citizens in the
islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita have
organized concerts of local bamboo flute
musicians mixed with rock-and-roll bands to
raise money for survivors.
Immediately following the tsunami, WOCCU
partnered with CUFA in a joint appeal to raise
funds. The two organizations will work together
in rebuilding efforts. To support the relief
fund to rebuild Solomon Islands credit unions,
send donations to:
Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions
5710 Mineral Point Road
P.O. Box 2982
Madison, WI 53701-2982
Funds may also be wired. Contact Valerie
at 608-231-7353 or firstname.lastname@example.org
rg for wire instructions.