Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Piggy Bank Project

December 10, 2008

The Piggy Bank Project that has lived in our heads for so long now has finally been carried out. Our plan was put into action around the Thanksgiving holiday and was an absolute success! And now I’m spent. It was a lot of work.

The idea started over a year ago. Autumn and Tara both had very good experiences with starting piggybanks for some kids in their neighborhoods. For some of the kids it was a place for storing some of the money they earned doing chores for the Peace Corps Volunteer; for others it was just a place to deposit a little change that wasn’t spent on candy or other unnecessary purchases. It was an idea that the kids took to very quickly, but as we soon found out, saving was a concept that many were not exposed to as children. It seemed like something easy to teach, inexpensive to implement (the piggybanks started out as empty jars), and able to make a pretty large impact. When Tara and I found out that her carpenter friend next door could make piggybanks, a simple wooden box with a slit in the top, for about 60 cents was when the idea for the project began to take form.

The idea was to bring piggybanks and the concept of saving to as many kids as possible. We decided to organize a series of savings seminars in all of the high schools in the area. We would open each seminar to the first 100 students and give each one of them a locally made ‘piggybank’ in hopes that they start applying the knowledge right when the seminar ended. Already going to all of the high schools in the area and wanting to make the seminars as fun as possible, we decided to tap the help of the other Peace Corps volunteers in the littoral province as well.

Our next problem was funding. While in the grand scheme of things this was a fairly cheap project, hundreds of piggybanks and transportation all around the province was pretty much impossible on a Peace Corps living allowance. So we posted the project on Peace Corps Partnership site where anyone can give a tax deductible contribution to partially fund a Peace Corps volunteer’s project ( and at the same time looked for funding from the communities here. You all did your part funding 75% of our project in about 2 weeks, and we didn’t have to look very hard here coming up with the last 25%. The MC² microfinance banks that almost all small business volunteers work with gave the rest. The seven towns where we held the seminars all had an MC². Each one of these community banks chipped in about $20 and we gave them a slot in the seminar program to talk about why it was better to save at a bank in lieu of at the home and to do a little public outreach to the students who could end up as future clients. At this point we placed an order for 700 piggybanks from Tara’s neighbor.

Through with almost all of the hurdles, the last thing that we needed to do was schedule the seminars in a time that worked for all the volunteers in the province. From the planning to the implementation, one volunteer switched posts within the province and another switched posts leaving the province confusing matters. And there was another volunteer that simply couldn’t schedule time away from her work. That left 5 of us to carry out the project. We picked a schedule for the seminars, and then changed it about four times finally deciding on the last week of November and the first week of December.

Tara, Autumn and I set up the final logistical details with each of the schools’ principles and towns’ bank directors the week before and we all crossed our fingers that everything would work out as planned. On November 24th, we all met at my house to iron out who was going to say what and when in the seminar, and the next day we traveled to Manjo to do our first seminar all together.

In all, we did seminars in Manjo, Baré, Kekem, Melong, Nkongsamba, Loum, and Njombé. This is roughly what happened at each one: First we all had to find bush taxis to our location and someone had to bring two very large bags with the 100 piggybanks to our destination. We would meet quickly with the school administration to make sure that the communiqué was read inviting the students and that there was a room designated large enough for the seminar. For the schools that had one available, we asked for a sound system so we could talk into a microphone and save our voices for the two weeks. We had piggybanks for the first 100 students, but we let in as many as wanted to hear the seminar. There was only one town where we didn’t have 100 students – Njombé had about 75 in attendance – but in Nkongsamba we ended up with about 500 easily making up for it! I would say that the others averaged about 200 to 250. When we got to the classroom/hall the first priority was order. We needed to give numbers to the first 100 students so that they could claim their piggybank and, in general, just keep everyone calm. Dan was great for this. For those that don’t know him, Dan is about 12 feet tall and graciously accepted to fill the stereotype and be our bouncer. The seminar actually started with Tara giving a description of Peace Corps, why we were there, and introduced each of us. Then Abby and Dan (Sandrine et Gilbert) would put on a sketch of two students, one who saves, and the other that ends up learning from her example. I would then take the floor and give an analysis of the sketch which gave three reasons to save – to follow your dreams, for big purchases, and for unexpected expenses. There were Donahue references made as I would often go into the audience with the microphone soliciting some brainstorming help from the students. After me was Autumn, who did an activity with the kids. She had them list all of their purchases for a week and find out how much of that was non-necessary. Then they multiplied to find out how much they could save in a month, in a year, and until they turned 18. You could see some of their faces light up as they realized that all of this information could actually apply to them, that little by little it really starts to add up. Next was the slot for the bank director to talk about the importance of saving in a bank and anything else they wanted to add. And the last thing before giving them their piggybanks was to pump up the energy and make fools of ourselves at the same as time. Tara taught them a song and dance on savings. We took a popular Cameroonian pop song and modified it to remind them to save their money. The kids loved seeing us all sing and dance, and we often heard them singing it as they walked home toward their respective houses. Then, miraculously, we had them leave in an orderly fashion as the first 100 collected their piggybanks on the way out.

It was incredibly fatiguing, but we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. This is one of the memories I will always take with me from my time here in Cameroon. I’ll try to get some pictures from the project into my next post.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of this project!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a turnout!!! Your seminar sounds fantastic. Congrats to all of you for putting it together so creatively and inspiringly!!!

Keep your notes. I think you should pass them on to the Peace Corps volunteers that succeed you and also use this idea back in the states. Well done!