A group of 4 mothers were delighted when they learnt that we would like to revive the savings programme toward their children’s development account (CDA) where their deposits are matched by the government. They told us that because the programme was not held last year, there is hardly any money remaining in their children’s accounts. They have found the CDA very useful for medical and educational expenses and were wondering if the programme we call the Community Tabung would resume.
When we noted that there was nothing to stop them from saving even though we did not operate the programme, we received an honest answer, “Saving is important, but it was difficult to set aside the money without support.” Also, they admitted that because the Community Tabung triples the total amount collected before dividing it equally among participants for government matching, they feel really motivated to save. We gathered that when one is barely making ends meet, putting aside money that is strictly designated for a specific use feels risky as it may mean not having enough for daily living expenses.
What also disturbed us was a sense of powerlessness that prevailed among these women. As such, we were confronted to consider the power imbalance in our relationship with them. “Sounds like the Tabung is really important for you so why did you not call us to ask for it?” Our question was met with bewilderment and after we reassured them that it was perfectly okay to raise a concern or to question our action or the lack of it, they still looked apprehensive. So, we elaborated that often we were not the most effective in getting something done. We do not always fully understand the conversations among people as we do not have a good enough grasp of the language they speak and vice-versa. This leads to projects being delayed and programmes poorly participated.
This time, the women nodded in comprehension. We reiterated that they had a voice and if they felt strongly about a programme, they should take ownership of it. We invited them to be the organising team for their neighbourhood and were heartened that they got to work immediately. They sent out a message on the neighbourhood WhatsApp group in the Malay language and responses came in straightaway. One of them then told us that our WhatsApp messages in English were not always understood by some and that’s why responses only came later if they came at all.
This week’s Community Tabung at this neighbourhood benefitted 12 children but we are hopeful that participation will increase now that these mothers are in-charge. Obviously, there is still power imbalance in our relationship, and we need to be mindful of it as we endeavour to strengthen our partnership. Unless we can lower barriers to participation and nurture mutual respect and shared responsibility between our members and us, our programmes will not be more than beautiful concepts on paper.
Wishing you good health and peace of mind.
Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Even tiny insects survive by mutual cooperation based on innate recognition of their interconnectedness. – Dalai Lama