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Oyundun literarily means Oyun is sweet. The name must have appeared like a great paradox to the members of Oyundun Women Multipurpose Co-operative Union Limited (mostly illiterate elderly women with no viable means of livelihood) at inception, the idea being that Oyun, the Local Government Area in which this group is located, is a good, lucrative place to live in. Life was certainly far from being good. Poverty was widespread in the Local Government Area and these women belonged to the lowest of the low. With no viable source of income, they were almost entirely dependent on their husbands, mostly farmers whose largely polygamous life styles left them with little or nothing to boast of income wise. Life was hard. Feeding (not to mention clothing, paying of fees, rent etc) was a great challenge. Families often went to bed on empty stomachs, uncertain of their tomorrow. It was at a time when things were not only bad but appeared hopeless as well. The horizon appeared very dark indeed.

However, to Deaconess Boye founder of the union, the name represented a vision. She believed in these women and in their ability to make something good out of life, given the right opportunity. This was what motivated her to bring the women together to form a co-operative (Esusu). It was her way of encouraging them to join hands and fight back. With the headquarters located in Erin-ile, a small town situated a few miles from Offa, the union started out with five (5) groups representing roughly about twenty (20) people. Their secretariat was located free of charge, in the building of another union, (Ifepawopo Co-operative, Investment and Credit Union) regarded as their male counterparts. (Many of their husbands belonged to this union)

The group did well. By 1996, (four years after its inception), the union had twenty-two (22) registered societies with a membership strength of five hundred and seventy-four (574) and a loan portfolio of about N277,000 besides savings of about N224,000. Nevertheless, constraints began to set in.

With its success evident in its orderliness and steady increase in savings and membership strength, it is no surprise that the group soon outgrew internal funding as its main source of income. The internal demand for funds was on the increase. Lack of funds (for transportation) to monitor loans as well as the now very limited loan portfolio prevented the group from expanding beyond its immediate vicinity in spite of pressure from people who wanted to join the union. Even the borrowed space they had to make do with introduced its own constraints meeting times for instance had to be scheduled at their hosts convenience and the number of files, which they had to carry about, for lack of proper cabinet (the ones in the secretariat belonged to their hosts.) was on the increase. Communicating with elderly illiterate women (explaining documentation processes for instance) also proved to be a challenge.

1. This was the state that the group was in when the Community Development Foundation (CDF) intervened in 1996 with a loan of N500,000 and an institutional capacity building grant of N80,000.

With the initial grant of N80,000, the union rented office space, (of which they are very proud, perhaps because it is regarded as a symbol of independence) and moved its secretariat. They purchased comfortable office furniture including their very own filing cabinet and employed a secretary to handle book keeping and documentation. (She also attends group meetings and helps with individual book keeping and documentation.) What was left of the grant was set-aside for loan monitoring expenses.

With the newly increased loan portfolio, the union spread its tentacles and expanded it sphere of operations. Subsequently, group projects including cassava processing, palm oil and palm kernel processing, soap making, groundnut oil processing, farming (livestock management and running of fisheries included) emerged. Old and dying trades, (local pottery for instance) were also resuscitated. Locals are employed as labourers on all the projects and raw materials (cassava, groundnuts etc) are purchased from non-union members. This has encouraged the women in the community to go back to farming and has provided employment for many.

As at now (December 2001), the union is on its third cycle loan of N800,000. Cumulatively, it has received a total loan value of N1.9M and N240,000 as institutional capacity building grants from CDF. Its loan portfolio has grown to about N1.35m with a substantial part of it (546,700) generated internally. Savings have also increased to N582, 150 (over100% increase compared with savings in 1996) and the union now has twenty-seven (27) groups under it. The organization has also benefited from CDF organized training programs.

Thanks to the cdf grants, the union has also embarked on adult education classes for its members. The local Government Authorities, inspired by CDFs efforts have also contributed to this laudable cause. Another body that has taken interest in the group as a result of CDFintervention (and is contributing its own quota) is Capacity Building for Decentralized Development (CBDD) project based in Kaduna State.

Plans are on ground to start a snailery and grass cutter project, which they plan to christen after CDF as a way of showing their gratitude to the organization that has been largely responsible for their good fortune.

Alhaja Moriamo Bello, President of Ajegunle, one of the Oyundun groups, has stories to tell about her past. In Yoruba land, the word segita(firewood seller) is synonymous with poverty. It is often used figuratively to depict the most wretched of the wretched. Alhaja Bello was literally an asegita. From her sale of firewood, she gleaned a meager N200 to N400 per week. And yet, like many wives in polygamous homes in such set-ups, under her bed, away from the roving eyes of her hungry children. Many times, the left over yam was all they had to eat the next day. There was constant trouble at home as she and her husband fought endlessly over money.

2. Not being able to afford school fees, her children, (the older ones) were apprenticed one (her first daughter) to a tailor, another to bricklayer and yet another to a shoemaker. She was tired of life she said.

In 1993, she was co-opted into Oyndun under the auspices of Ajegunle, a group of women (twelve as at then) set up in petty trading with the help of the union. Each member made a monthly contribution of N5, and members took turns to loan the money from the group bi-monthly. Their loan fund was thus N120.

As with all the other groups in the union, life turned around for good with CDFs intervention, which for them translated into an unprecedented availability of funds they could use to grow their businesses and better their lives.

Alhaja Bello started out selling bread. Gradually, she expanded her wares to include a bit provisions. She eventually grew the business into a supermarket where even cloths (lace, guinea and Ankara prints) are sold. Now (December 2001) , she turns over an average of about N5000 per week in her shop and has personal savings of N12,950 with the union. Now, she says, I can send my children (the rest of them) to school, take care of my parents, care for the less privileged, cloth my children and I. I now have a kerosene stove and no longer have to cook with firewood (I don't even go to the farm anymore.) and I eat what I want to when I want to. There's love and harmony in the home now. Even my co-wives are at peace with me!

She is currently the Iyalode Adini of Surajudin of Erin-ile, a religious chieftaincy title conferred on her in the light of her growing clout in her community.

Alhaja Bello is also a beneficiary of the adult literacy classes being organized by Oyundun a dream come true for her. This she expressed with joy as she proudly announced her ability to count from 1-20. She revealed that at first, she and indeed all the other members of her group had been skeptical about CDFs intervention. (Literate people were generally seen as wicked cheats out to rob them of the little that they had. Besides, the help CDF was offering appeared too good to be true. There had to be a catch somewhere.) Experience however proved her wrong. Discovering that not all literate people are villains after all, developed in her the desire to learn.

Alhaja Bellow has co-opted both her first daughter (who now owns her own shop) and her mother into Oyundun Groups. Courtesy of her influence, her bricklayer son now handles state contracts.

Her group (Ajegunle) currently has a loan portfolio of N10,000 and jointly own a cassava farm. They have plans to buy cassava processing equipment to enable them expand their business. According to Alhaja Bello, the group is moving forward everyday. Everyone is happy.


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