woamn in Benin smiling at camera

Savings Groups Help Keep Kids in School in Benin

Photo by Jean-Michel Kpakpo/CRS

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Sending a child to school can be a challenge for many families around the world. Despite their best intentions, parents often lack the financial means to pay the related fees. Girls are often forced to drop out at a young age.

Mariam Sanni Adama, a mother of one, wanted more than anything for her eight-year-old daughter, Zétouna, to have a good education. But when it came time for her to enroll in 4th grade at the Gando Public Primarily School near their home in the Bembèrèkè commune in northern Benin, Mariam couldn’t raise the necessary funds.


mother and daughter face camera in Benin

Mariam Sanni Adama stands outside with her daughter, Zétouna. Thanks to Mariam’s SILC group, she was able to pay Zétouna’s school enrollment fees and continue her education.

Photo by Jean-Michel Kpakpo/CRS


“Distraught, I tried all possible avenues, but to no avail,” Mariam says, explaining that the last harvest was poor and that her husband must still repay farm-related debts. They were unable to take out a loan from a traditional financial institution, given the collateral requirements and high interest rates.

Fortunately, in June 2023, Mariam became involved in Catholic Relief Services’ Keun Faaba III project. Keun Faaba means “supporting education” in the local language. The project aims to improve the quality of education for school-aged children and encourage the adoption of good hygiene and nutrition practices in 168 schools across Benin.

As part of the project, parents are encouraged to take part in Savings and Internal Lending Community, or SILC, groups. Each week, the members come together and contribute a small sum of money to the savings and loan funds. With time, they can then take out small loans to start income-generating activities or pay for their family’s expenses. Members also contribute to a solidarity fund, which can be used to support members during difficult or celebratory times.

As a last hope for her daughter’s education, Mariam presented her dilemma to her 30-member SILC group, known as Nonkannera, which translates to, “If the vision is common, if there is agreement.”

“With unparalleled generosity, the president of the group mobilized the members to come to my aid,” Mariam says. “Her poignant statement, ‘We're here for our children's future,’ still resonates in my mind.”


woman sifting corn in Benin

Mariam Sanni Adama sifts corn that she bought in bulk using a loan from her SILC group. She will resell it in smaller quantities to earn a profit.

Photo by Jean-Michel Kpakpo/CRS


Using money from the solidarity fund, the group offered Mariam 10,000 West African CFA francs—equivalent to $18—as an interest-free loan. It was enough to pay the enrollment fee and buy necessary school supplies.  As a result, Zétouna’s education has resumed its normal course, enabling her to move up to the next grade.

“SILC was the lifeline that enabled my daughter to continue her studies,” Mariam says. “Without this financial support, she would probably have had to drop out of school.”

Since re-enrolling her daughter in school, Mariam has taken out an additional loan that she used buy corn in bulk and resell at a substantial profit. She and the other members of the SILC group have also joined forces for the collective activity of processing soybeans into cheese. Mariam hopes this will further increase her income.

“My ambition is to build a proper warehouse to store enough sacks of corn to resell them at a good price after the season, thus ensuring my daughter's schooling until she graduates,” Mariam says. “Perhaps I could even buy a plot of land and build my own home. That's my dream.”


The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, or Keun Faaba III is a five-year (2021-2026), multi-sectoral project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and implemented by Catholic Relief Services in Benin. In partnership with the American Institutes for Research, Caritas Benin, and the Organization for Sustainable Development, Strengthening and Self-Promotion of Community Structures, and alongside a cohort of national ministries, Keun Faaba III aims to provide daily meals to students, improve student literacy via strengthened teacher capacity, promote good sanitation practices, and ensure the quality of locally sourced school lunch ingredients. The project works with more than 110,000 children, teachers, and parents in 168 schools across four municipalities. To help increase economic activities and help families afford school enrollment fees, parents are encouraged to take part in Savings and Internal Lending Community groups.