Afghanistan Opens Two CUs, Plans Three More

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The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) reported last week that two credit unions are now operating in Afghanistan, with plans for three more CUs and a trade association in the works. Edgar Comeros, Afghanistan project director for WOCCU, reported on credit union development in Afghanistan in meetings with House and Senate staff, as WOCCU's program in the country receives federal aid. Also appearing were Molly Schar, WOCCU public affairs manager, and Katie Herberger, legislative affairs manager, Credit Union National Association (CUNA).

Comeros told congressional reps that a quarter-century of war and strife in Afghanistan have led to low levels of literacy and high levels of poverty. "The people don't yet have the productive capacity to lift themselves out of poverty," he said.

Comeros is overseeing a project funded by the Government of Afghanistan's Microfinance Investment Support Facility that is seeking to charter 15 credit unions, develop an association to bind the credit unions together, and introduce a credit union law to regulate CUs.

He further noted that in order for credit unions to work in Afghanistan, the World Council has created both traditional and Islamic banking principles into its Model Credit Union Building methodology.

WOCCU reported that the two credit unions currently operating are in "strategic" locations: Sherberghan and Mazar-e-Shariff. As of March, the two CUs had 3,460 members as of March, sustained share capital totaling $125,443, $57,756 in savings/deposits, and $917,031 in loans to 2,074 borrowers. He said at the current rate the credit unions are attracting 50 new members each week.

Comeros acknowledged he and others are at constant risk, as it is the base for terrorists and also supplies two-thirds of the world's opium. The Office of Microfinance, for instance, was recently burned and looted, and aid workers and non-government office workers are often targets of the Taliban. Comeros said he knows he is also being "profiled."

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