People in Larantuka diocese
on the Indonesian island of Flores now realize they won’t get rich overnight, but they will be much better off with some patience and hard work, thanks to a Church-run credit union. The diocese launched Credit Union Sinar Saron (CUSS) in 2005, in a bid to improve the living standards of local people and to help free them from dependency on loan sharks and the influence of “get rich quick” schemes. Starting as a tiny shoot, it has now grown into an organization with 2,854 members and over twenty billion rupiah (US$2.3 million) in capital. Larantuka diocese, located on the eastern tip of Flores, is part of East Nusa Tenggara province, which according to 2010 statistics was the fifth poorest province in Indonesia. Around 23 per cent of the province’s 4.6-million people are desperately poor, and are spread evenly across dozens of islands that include West Timor and Flores. CUSS serves the Church’s mission by enabling local poor people to take care of themselves, and doesn’t give false promises. Every month, members have to pay a minimum of just 5,000 rupiah and can save as much as they want based on their own financial situation. For people in Jakarta or any other metropolis in the country, such an amount is not a big deal. But for people in Larantuka or any remote village across Indonesia, it is more of a struggle. Amazingly, after five years CUSS has more than 25 billion rupiah in capital; not big compared to a major bank, but proof that people’s determination can bring meaningful results. “It has helped us move forward,” said CUSS director Father Rosarius Yansen Raring. The union has gone beyond just a financial institution, he said. Since its early days CUSS has been inviting poor people who have no access at all to a banking system to join and help one another, he added. “CUSS not only collects money, but also creates awareness among members,” Father Wilhelmus Ola Lanan, the union’s deputy chief said. The organization has not only benefited members but also other people in need of financial assistance, he said. “After they join they can even borrow money for others in need. And this is a form of evangelization among the faithful,” the priest explained. At the beginning, the union tried hard to convince locals that it would never make them rich overnight, Father Lanan said, referring to initial obstacles. Building awareness was an important part as many Catholics were being taken in by get rich quick schemes by financial agencies. It was good they later found out they were scams. “This is how we do it. CUSS teaches investors that by being a member they can carry out evangelization work among the faithful,” he said. One member, Yakobus Kia, admitted that CUSS has more benefits for local people than banks and other financial institutions. “CUSS cultivates a spirit of solidarity among members,” he said. IS13689.1646
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