Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 4-5 Trouble in paradise!

It was time to visit our borrowers of Libon and for this we needed to get in another plane to get to Legazpi, from there we will drive for two hours in order to get to our meeting point. We were expected to catch a 9am flight which will only take 45 minutes, however once we got to the airport our plans were forced to change. Out flight was being delayed and now we were leaving at 2pm. We tried our best and look for solutions but there was nothing that we could have done. We were all very frustrated and worried, we were expected at 1pm at Libon. For us it was a tragedy but looking around of us in the airport everyone else whose flight was delayed seemed calm. Apparently this is common in the Philippines, hours always change and you just have to be patient and wait for the best. Once at Legazpi we immediately got on our way to Libon we were all very anxious to meet our farming borrowers. We arrived with 3plus hours of delayed but our borrowers and daughters all greeted us with a huge smile and applause. What are we ? celebrities ? In my view they are the people we should applaud for.
Once again there was an amazing traditional lunch waiting for us. How delicious the food was. This time not only the borrowers were there but also their families. Their children were part of their business plan, they talked about how essential these loans are for their families, how much they value education and how grateful they were. This made the event extra special. After lunch they shared their stories and entrepreneurial plans and we also got to opportunity to tell them about us but specially to say thank you. Thank you for taking a chance with us, thank you for being adventurous, thank you for having us today and create memories of a lifetime. 

We provide them GLOBE tee-shirts and they had a very lovely surprise for us. We were all given mangoes and papaya seeds so we can plant them, this will represent our immortal presence in the community. Every GLOBE member planted their seeds along with a Filipino partner. It is by far my favorite memory of the trip. It was truly beautiful. This made us forget the inconvenience we had at the airport, it was all worth it once we got to know our borrowers and their stories. My heart was full of joy.  
The following day before returning to Manila we got the opportunity to visit our surrounding us. We were once again toured by the Daughters of Charity. We saw their community, visited the Cagsawa Ruins and saw the magnificent Mayon Volcano. Legazpi was truly paradise.   

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day 3 22 beautiful stories!

Iloilo bound! 
This day was full of excitement and adventures. We took an early morning flight in order to get to Iloilo City and meet borrowers from Conception. Sister Corey was our tour guide, how excellent she was! Our day started by visiting her mother, since Iloilo is Sister Corey hometown. Her mother is an extraordinary woman, she is more than 90 years old have the cutest of smiles and a flawless skin. Sister Corey's mom gave birth to 11 children and adopted one; all of the count with college education except for Sister Corey who devoted her live to the poor and needed. What a remarkable family.
Iloilo is a beautiful town, it is quite refreshing after coming from Manila since there is less traffic, smalls buildings and a lot of nature. We visited the main church of the town where according to locals the statue of Virgin Mary “grows”.  Following, we finally got to our main destination which was Colegio de San Jose. I was beyond excited  , we were about to meet 22 borrowers. We all gathered in the meeting room of the Colegio the borrowers arrived just after us and we all start to mingle and grabbed lunch. I must admit the hospitality of the Filipinos is admirable, they always get you with a smile and food, tons of traditional food which they are very proud of. This was not the exception, after having some delicious milk fish and panceta noodles (Iloilo traditional) we were ready to start.
The organization of this group was outstanding , they prepared a magnificent slideshow, explaining the business of the borrowers, the progress, repayments and hopes for the future. This slideshows counted with innumerable pictures and precise facts of how their businesses are doing. It was like attending a presentation in New York just more fun. I was truly amazed by this group, since they were truly entrepreneurs. They were provided loans in groups of three, all counted with a president, vice president and an administrator. The beauty of this is that they are not only using their loans to improve their business but they are also providing microloans! Yes they are also managing their own microloan organization! Isn’t this remarkable ? They claim that their main objective is to help into the development of the community.  Sister Corey have sent a social worker that direct regularly meetings with these entrepreneurs so she can assist and advice them about payments and micro finance, obviously these meetings are not just business, they also have fun having group bounding activities. The Filipino culture is a very fun culture, they are always smiling ans joking around. Being positive and patience is a very great asset they have. After giving them some GLOBE tee-shirts and taking tons of pictures and selfies it was time to say good bye.
We visited some other institutions managed by the daughters in Iloilo and left to the airport. It was a very intense day but full of joy and inspiration. I am so happy and proud of all those 22 entrepreneurs.

Meeting with Habitat for Humanity

First of all, a few apologies. For one, sorry for all of these late posts, the wifi situation has been spotty to say the least and the days are so packed that pumping out quality posts has been a bit of a challenge. I also want to apologize for not posting any pictures; I’m not much of a photographer (and just generally forget to take photos). I’m sure Will’s and Alina’s posts will be much more picture friendly than mine. Finally, I want to apologize for all of the clichés that this post will have. Sometimes, clichés really just fit a situation best.

This trip has been quite odd for me. For one, it has been a year since I even took part in the class. As well, as a part of the marketing team, I felt really detached from our borrowers. I don’t know if I ever learned a single borrower’s name that term. Being in the Philippines complicates that feeling even further: back during my term, GLOBE was not even in the Philippines. I spent some time prepping for this trip by reading up on our Filipino borrowers. I had to be reminded by Dr. Sama at some point that a sari-sari store does not sell saris, but rather functions as a type of convenience store. Meeting our borrowers over our last few days has really put a face to poverty and given new meaning to the work that GLOBE does.

So much has happened over the last few days that I’m going to naturally gloss over some things. Again, for that I apologize. I guess this is where I try and explain.

On Thursday we spent the day with Habitat for Humanity. I hate to admit it, but before this trip, I really knew very little about the Philippines. I had no idea what to expect from Manila; what the city would look like, what to eat, how people would dress, what Tagalog looked and sounded like. Sure, I knew about the recent presidential election and had a vague recollection of the colonial history, but that was it. So, learning that Manila serves as the base for Habitat for Humanity’s operation in Asia was quite a shock. The Habitat office (which was located, for the record, in a very, very different looking part of Manila; if you were just placed there, you would think you were somewhere in the States) was large and spacious and looked like an absolutely thriving center. From there, we learned quite a bit. The foremost lesson was that Manila’s traffic is no joke.

Okay, maybe not the most important lesson, but the traffic situation is actually a true disaster and will cripple the city in the future. No, the great thing was learning about Habitat for Humanity’s microbuild, a program that extends microloans to those in developing countries to help either build or renovate their homes. One of the first slides we were shown was a really neat one with an animation of how homes in the Philippines are generally constructed. That animation really clicked after driving and walking around Manila and seeing the homes in person. It really is totally different talking about someone else’s living conditions versus actually seeing it and sitting in their house. Which goes back to what might have been the most powerful moment of the day; before our meeting with Habitat in their office, we had the opportunity to attend one of their group microloan meetings. The meeting, housed in a prototypical Manila home, was packed between us and the women. The woman were so happy and full of life and grateful for being given the opportunity to uplift themselves and their families. One woman was a dress maker and had one of her dresses with her. The dress was a beautiful royal blue but the woman was too shy to model it so one of the other borrowers from the group showed it off for us. The entire group had such an amazing energy and a true bond as they all have yet to default on a payment. Seeing the real benefits of microfinance and what our loans can do for people and how it can enhance their lives really shined through. It gives actual faces to those that we can help.

Okay, this post is already quite long. My next post (which will hopefully be out tonight!) will be about meeting our borrowers in IloIlo City and then the next day in Libon, Albay. As the Daughters of Charity have told us repeatedly when dealing with Philippines Airlines, pray for patience!

Greetings from Iloilo!

Our next stop during our excursion was Iloilo. We boarded an early morning flight to the city from Manila. Noticeably different from Manila, Iloilo seems to be more sustainable in terms of their agricultural structure. Nonetheless, it's still a bustling city like Manila that even New York traffic couldn't compare too. 

Sister Corey was our guide for the day. She is a native of Iloilo, so it's was only fitting that she toured us around the city that she knows so well. She took us to visit her home where we would be able to visit her mother. A woman of wisdom and stunningly beautiful, she made sure all 12 of her children received a degree. I hope to be as resilient as her at age 95. We were also able to visit the school she attended where we met student leaders and toured the facility. 

Later in the day we were finally greeted by our borrowers at Colegio de San Jose! They came baring beautiful shell necklaces for us as a welcome to the Philippines. So far I've noticed that before all of our meetings, we first join together in prayer. This has been a great way to unite us together before our discussions.  During our meeting, they each shared a presentation of their businesses that depicted before and after photos, pictures of their meetings, and an overview of where the business is now. The presentations were so well put together. Despite being able to speak little English, they each stood up to express their gratitude to us. Although we may not have been able to understand each other's dialect, I believe that thank you is universal.  As thankful as they were to us is as thankful as we were to them. They were a group of strong women who expressed that they wanted to be able to educate their children with the income from their businesses. They didn't want them to work on an island but rather attain a degree. In that sense, I believe that GLOBE's impact will be generational. 

Our next stop is Legazpi, stay tuned!

The Tale of Two Cities

Yes, both of these places are in Manila, but they have very little in common. This is the tale of two cities.

Generally, we believe that we are all equal. We cringe at the sight of any form of discrimination and even protest when our own rights are violated. However, is equality just a concept in today’s world? Each example of social and economic inequality reminds us of George Orwell’s statement that some people “are more equal than others” (I hope you’re familiar with Animal Farm). One of the first things they teach us in Economics is that limited resources are matched with unlimited wants. The sad reality of this is that the majority is forced to live in a state of desolation so that the rich can satisfy their unlimited wants.

Day two introduced us to two sides of the same city with the help of our dear friends at Habitat for Humanity, an international NGO dedicated to providing housing for the world’s poor. It is their vision to have “a world where everyone has a decent place to live.” One of Habitat’s thriving operations is housing microfinance. Although they do not provide microfinance services on their own, they develop partnerships with microfinance institutions such as Kasagana-ka Development Center Inc, which provides microloans, savings, insurance and education for the urban poor.

The day’s activities began with a brief overview of Kasagana-ka’s business objectives and operations.

You may read about poor communities in books, see them in the news, or discuss them with colleagues, but the complexion of the poverty problem is quite different when you experience it first-hand. Kasagana-ka, alongside with Habitat for Humanity, plunged us head first into one of the communities they serve – just in time for a borrower repayment meeting. The streets were paved with debris of all kinds. We were greeted by the smell of poor sanitation and pestilence, along with hungry stray animals. As we walked through the neighborhood, we witnessed the daily lives of those deprived of the luxuries we often take for granted.

Nevertheless, the attitudes of the people reminded us of the important distinction between ‘poor’ and ‘living in poverty’. As we listened to Kasagana-ka’s borrowers welcome us and share their delight and enthusiasm, it was clear that they are by no means ‘poor’. They emulated a sense of hope and solidarity that many ‘rich’ persons would love to experience. The repayment meeting was not just a formality to collect loan funds. It was a home of unity among the borrowers. They share joy and support each other in every aspect of life. The strength of this community and the dedication of the borrowers allow Kasagana-ka to boast a 100% loan repayment rate – how impressive!

I was told that the other side of Manila is “much more Westernized,” but it was as though we travelled to a different land. During the drive to the main office of Habitat for Humanity, we encountered an unbelievably different city. It felt like New York (well..somewhat). I wondered if I was still in the Philippines! Just over an hour away by car, the buildings pierced the sky; the residents were dressed for office; the culture painted a different picture.

Fortunately, there are organizations such as Habitat for Humanity that are making strides in alleviating poverty and hopefully tipping the balance of inequality. Inside the office, we were introduced to a lot of the impactful work that Habitat is performing in the Asia-Pacific area and beyond. 

Incremental Housing; Housing Microfinance; The MicroBuild Fund; what does this all mean for the poor? Incremental housing reminds me of Lao Tzu’s words: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is the process whereby repairs and improvements can be made to homes- one step at a time. This way, affordable houses can be built for those in need, one step at a time. Coupled with housing micro finance, those living in poverty are given access to small loans so they can improve different aspects of their homes. Over time, the proud beneficiaries can see their homes slowly transform into something safe, comfortable and secure. 

The MicroBuild Fund adds an interesting perspective to the micro-finance industry. Micro finance has usually resulted in the formation of micro enterprise; Habitat urges micro finance institutions to focus on the creation of housing for the poor. 

It does not end there; they also provide technical assistance, educating borrowers so that they can create high quality homes. The result is an all-rounded increase in the well-being of communities. Having already funded home improvement, GLOBE is no stranger to Habitat's vision. 

The fight against poverty needs all the helping hands available. Let's build together.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hello from the Philippines!

As we anxiously exited our 20+ hour flight, it finally dawned on me that we were in the Philippines. This being my second time out of the country, I was reminded of what it's like to be in a foreign land. My excitement prevailed my jet lag as we began to make our way to our destination. We were welcomed by the Daughters of Charity who have graciously accommodated us during our stay. They took us to Hospicio De San Jose in the city of Manila. The Hospicio operate as an orphanage housing the sick, abandoned, and elderly. While there, we received a tour where were greeted by the vibrant personalities of young children who bombarded us with warm hugs and playful spirits. 

Additionally, we would have the chance to met our GLOBE borrower, Olive Cerro. Olive operates a small store in Manila where she sells groceries, kitchenware, and ingredients. She gave us a tour of her home where we were able to meet her family. A small woman with a large smile, I would best describe her as admirable. Olive has 8 children that she cares for daily. She explained to us that they are school aged. Because of this, she wakes up before the crack of dawn to prepare breakfast for each of them using only one hot plate. I was happy to learn that our GLOBE loan had assisted in the education of her children.

Despite her circumstances and the poverty she faces, she greeted us with a welcoming spirit. I believe that we shared mutual excitement in meeting one another.

The following day we met with the Philippines Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. They offer incremental housing/micro housing projects thought the Philippines. They took to us to a village in Manila where we were able to sit in on a meeting with their borrowers, all of which were women. This moment has been the highlight of my trip thus far. During that meeting, we learned what they did with their micro loans from Habitat as well as how the program is helping them in their personal lives. They explained that their weekly meeting where they repay their loans also allows them to catch up with one another. Because of this, they have created a support network. Like other's we've met, they were welcoming, and pretty hilarious all things considering. I was grateful that they allowed me to sit in on their meet and and share laughs with them. That being my first time experiencing extreme poverty, my heart was heavy as I left them. My life and the way I viewed the world changed. 

DAY 2 Micro Building wonders!


This was a day all about Micro finance wonders, in particular Micro Building, which basically consist in providing microloans to individuals which need to improve or construct a safe home. This is the base of anyone well being.  We spend the whole day with our friends from Habitat for Humanity Philippines. We started by meeting them at KASAGANA, which is a partner of Habitat that focus on Micro Building. Our first activity consisted on attending a meeting with a group of Micro  Building borrowers. We had to drive for a while and then take a walk to finally get to the heart of that little crowded neighborhood. Our friends from KASAGANA explained to us that borrowers have weekly meetings, were they submit payments talk about their progress and learn more about Micro finance. There was such a great energy in the group, people is smiling joking and just having a good time. They love to attend these meetings and I believe that it is the base of the success of micro credit group programs. As for this group no member have failed to summit payments. KASAGANA overall has a 98% repayment rate. It is truly amazing! The highlight of the meeting was listening to the stories of borrowers and how Micro finance have changed their lives. Thanks to the guidance and help of institutions like KASAGANA and Habitat they are able to brake the cycle of poverty and improve their lives. 
 For our second part of the day we drove to the financial area of Manila. What a change it is. For a moment you have the feeling of being in a big American city with luxury buildings and malls. We were invited to the offices of Habitat, I was surprised to see how big their offices are and specially how many awards they have received. Girly and Greg, our friends from Habitat, along with other members of the Micro Building team processed to give us a presentation of Micro Building. They explained how successful it is becoming in Asia but especially how essential is for people's development. I loved to spend the day with Habitat we got the best of both worlds, we got to experience first hand the impact it has in people lives and learn more about the topic, reflecting on ways we can applying it in GLOBE.