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Ahorre Para el Futuro

Save for the future

by Antonia Wang

Do you come from a large family? Do you attend a big school? Ever wondered how you are going to stand out from the rest?

What follows is the story of a young man who found a way to help hundred thousands of people. He showed them how to take control of their money, and for this reason this young man became one of the most famous persons in his country.

Rough times

In 1880s, a severe economic slump forced Canadian farmers to move to other cities in the United States and Canada to look for jobs at factories. It was the advent of the industrial era. Small farmers borrowed money from usurers to finance the machinery they needed to produce food. Before the arrival of the great industry, they just grew food to subsist.

Around 500,000 French-Canadians moved to the United States after losing their homes, land and machinery because they were unable to pay back their loans. They couldn't find much work in the cities. Factories were closing, there were riots and food lootings, and crime was on the rise. Conditions were harsh even for those who had a job-especially children. Employers used their workers mercilessly.

Alphonse Desjardins was born and raised in these troubled times and wanted to promote change.

He wanted to help people out of this mess.

Humble origins

Francois Desjardins, a broke farmer from Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, moved with his wife and children to Levis, Quebec looking for a job. Levis sits next to the St. Lawrence river and across the city of Quebec, the capital of Quebec, Canada.

On November 5 of 1854 Alphonse was born. He was the eighth child of the Desjardins family. The family kept expanding to include 15 children, seven boys and eight girls.

Shortly after moving to Levis, something terrible happened. Francois was seriously injured at work and could not work anymore. His wife felt compelled to wash, iron and mend the clothes of well-off families to support her own.

Alphonse grew up amidst all the obstacles of poverty, but his parents instilled strong moral and religious convictions in him. His mother insisted on his education and little Alphonse dreamt about ways of abating problems.

At the age of 16, he dropped out of school to provide for his family. He joined the Canadian militia, an army of volunteers during the Red River Rebellion, and moved to Quebec to become a reporter.

Cooperative starts

During his career as a reporter, Alphonse studied economy and social sciences. He noticed that the average worker didn't have access to low-cost credit or to bank services.

When regular people had to borrow money, they had to turn to usurers. The latter forced borrowers to pay much more money than they had borrowed.

For example, a man who borrowed $150 to avoid family bankruptcy had to pay back $5,000 to the lender in order to settle his debt. Charging such a high interest is known as "usury". Thanks to this man, a Canadian Congressman passed a law to abolish usury.

Alphonse worked as a reporter in the Congress the day Michael Quinn passed the law.

That's how Alphonse decided to help the average worker apply for loans at reasonable costs. Napoleon, one of his younger brothers, showed him an article about cooperatives in Rochdale, England. After a bit of research, Alphonse found out that cooperatives already existed in grocery stores and bakeries.

Alphonse Desjardins's home in Levis, Quebec, served as the first base for the ‘popular house' he opened with the help of his wife Dorimene.

Alphonse studied cooperative banking in Europe. He was convinced that Canada needed cooperative banks or credit unions.

Cooperatives would lend money at a very low cost. The owners of a cooperative are its members.

Each one of them has the same power to choose the cooperative leaders regardless of the amount of money they have in the cooperative.

The first credit union in Canada opened its doors on January 23 of 1901 at Alphose Dejardins's home. It was named La Caisse Populaire de Levis (Popular Bank of Levis). On the first day, $26.40 were collected in deposits. Dejardins handled all the transactions-a job he was not paid for.

A school for economy

"...This credit union is first and uttermost a school of economy...it must teach respect towards cents- which are taken for granted, and often spent criminally and evilly", said Alphonse to the congress of youth in Quebec.

In the 1800s, as it pretty much happens nowadays, youngsters do not think much when they spend their money. More often than not, they spend it on things they want right away. Alphonse hoped that his economy school would persuade youngsters into thinking about what they wanted or needed for the future so that they would save money for it.

Alphonse though that everybody could lead a better life if they planned ahead and saved money. And this holds particularly true for those who start saving when they are young.

Alphonse affirmed that children who learn to save are less prone to spend money in a meaningless way when they become adults. Alphonse contributed to put together several youth and school saving organizations.

He also believed that those who live in good conditions behave honestly.

Even crime can be reduced through saving.

Carrying on with the mission

Alphonse helped build 206 credit unions in Canada. In the United States, his work helps millions of people to save money. Cooperatives continue to be schools for saving too.

Youngsters save in the cooperative and some of them even help administer their school's cooperative. In the United States, nearly 300 cooperative branches are located in primary, secondary and prep schools. They are all administered, to a certain extent, by students.

Many cooperative employees visit schools and teach students how to save money by creating a plan.

Published 10-25-2012


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