We recently made a short film about how we use the money you donate to us. It centres around the idea of a collective pot. The pot is a shared fund that everyone donates to and everyone can call upon in times of need.
Watch it now if you like.
Go on. I'll wait.
The collective pot is intended as a way to think about how big international charities (like us) structure our finances. It's a simple thought experiment. But it's also more than that. It's an actual method our partners use to help communities save money.
Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous places in the world to become a mum. Every day, 10 women die during childbirth. We're trying to get this horrific number down by helping to build better health centres, improving hygiene and training nurses. But even with these improvements, there's a big problem. Women are marginalised. Their voices aren't easily heard. And if a woman has problems with her pregnancy, and she doesn't have the money, she can't go to hospital.
So that's why our partners run local savings and loans groups. They are real life ‘collective pots’ that help the most vulnerable women access healthcare. Women put money into the fund regularly and then they are able to take out much larger sums if they need to buy clothes for their babies or send their children to the hospital.
The shared money is stored in a box rather than a pot but the idea is the same.
This box is a lifeline to the women in the community. It's a powerful symbol of self-worth. Once, when we were filming in Sierra Leone, a local man pretended to steal a box, snatching it up and running away from our cameras. The response was immediate and dramatic. One woman collapsed on the floor in floods of tears. All the other women took off after him and basically ran the man down. Every single one of them was prepared to fight the guy to get the box back.
The message was pretty clear.
Don't mess with the box. It's that important.
There are other fringe benefits to box money too and here Nurse Judith (in both pictures), a health worker in the area, takes up the story.
"There was a pregnant woman, Wya, her husband left her and fell in love with another woman. So we took some money and gave it to her, we said: 'Wya, if the man has left you, just continue to love your money. He will come back.' Within 3-4 months, he sees her going up and down, buying palm oil, going to Pujehun, cooking food for her children, and he comes up to us and says 'O Mama. I want you to talk to Wya for me. I've hurt her. But now I've decided – put us back together.' And we did that, and they are together."
So yeah, looks like true love is alive and well in Sierra Leone. But more importantly, having access to larger sums of money has transformed a woman's place in her community. She has the means to protect herself and her children. She isn't someone's property anymore.
She isn't going back in her box.