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COVID-19: Gulu savings groups suspend activities over pandemic

Several savings and loans associations in Gulu district have suspended their operations, amid the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Members of the savings groups revealed that they stopped saving money three weeks ago, following a series of presidential directives aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda. 

Most prominent among these were: the 14-day suspension of passenger travel and closure of all but a few businesses. The directive rendered many in the informal sector jobless, or drastically diminished their earnings.

Juliet Adoc, a member of Wise Women Savings Groups in Bungatira Sub county, Gulu district, said they suspended savings almost three weeks ago. The 40-member group focuses on empowerment projects such as tree-planting and manufacture of cosmetics to improve members’ livelihoods and encourage saving. 

“Since public transportation has been banned and social distancing is being encouraged, the group members decided to suspend savings until further notice,” Adoc said.

However, she worries about the impact the decision might have on members’ ability to fulfil their obligations.

“As a group, we normally our savings in February in order to help members to pay school fees and buy the school requirements for their children,” she said. “But by the time we called off savings, we had only saved Shs 1.4 million, which is much less than members normally spend on school fees alone. I wonder how we shall raise the money for next term’s fees.” 

Her situation is similar to Grace Aciro’s, a member of Langala pe Lony Savings Group, also in Gulu. Aciro said their group of 20 ordinarily operates a merry-go-round scheme, locally known as kalulu, to support its members. 

Now, she says, group business has been put on hold because some of its members, who are taxi drivers, were rendered temporarily jobless by the prohibition of public transport.

“Each week, we would raise Shs 100,000 and give it to a member of the group. But that has stopped, because some members are no longer working and cannot afford to save,” she said.

Even professions not directly affected by Corona-related bans on work are feeling hamstrung by the other measures targeting the spread of the pandemic.  For instance, although journalists are free to continue working, many, too, have stopped saving.

Justine Muboka, a News Sub-editor with Mega FM in Gulu, is a member of Karacel Watwero Savings Group for journalists in Gulu district. She, however, said the group also stopped saving three weeks ago.

“We normally gather physically once a week to collect our savings. Hence, when government declared the social-distancing policy, we had to stop meeting, which automatically meant putting a halt to saving,” she said.

Among the social measures instituted in response to COVID-19 are: a ban on gatherings of more than five, and a social distancing requirement stipulating a four-metre spacing between individuals in public spaces at all times.

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