Friday, June 3, 2016

The pictures tell the story...

Please enjoy these photos I took during our trip to the Philippines 

Reflection Piece

After such an exciting trip, I was anxious to catch up on some much needed rest. Yet, here I am at around 8am EST wide eyed due to an off balance sleeping schedule. I figured this would be the perfect time to reflect on my experience as a GLOBE Fellow. Before divulging all of you readers into my experience, I would like to again thank Dr. Sama and the Steering Committee of GLOBE for allowing me the opportunity to partake in a trip that I will remember for a lifetime.

So, what was it like to be a fellow? Honestly speaking, the experience started out a little tough for me. I had graduated college the day before and with little time to celebrate with my family, I was thrust into a group that I had only met twice (aside for Dr. Sama and Alina) for about a week. I selfishly wanted more time to celebrate a moment I worked so hard for. However, hindsight would prove that it was my nerves more than anything that trumped my excitement. Aside from our itinerary, I didn't know what I was about to experience. Furthermore, it has always been in my nature to want to know the outcome of things before taking the next step. But with all things, you never know the outcome until you began. And so, it began.

Here I am, sitting in a local village in Manila after a quick meet up with Girlie from Habitat for Humanity. Girlie and Greg would be our guides for the day. As I am sitting in the meeting of women who had borrowed micro loans from Habitat to rebuild their home, it hit me, "I'm not in New York anymore" I said to myself. I was directly in the poverty that I read so much about. A shack with enough collected debris to make a rough. As I swatted at the flies surrounding me, I let the stray dog pass my feet. I looked around at this group of women. So beautiful to the eye with warm spirits that did not speak to the conditions in which they lived. It would be their sense of humor that kept me upbeat when in that moment I wanted to cry.

When I left them, I sat in the back of our van in deep thought as we made our way through the traffic of Manila. I held back tears and wanted the day to end. I wanted to go back to the Hospicio and reflect on what I had seen that day but unfortunately we had to make our way into the city. Imagine leaving the poverty of Manila to drive into a city that is a completely different world. The world of the working class who enjoyed the local shops as they moved quickly up and down the street with their Starbucks coffee in hand. I felt guilty and sick to my stomach. Here we are eating our food and all I could think about was how this level of poverty is so ignored? I was frustrated to say the least. But more than anything, it made me reflect on my life, where I had come from, and the importance of humility.

A girl from the inner city of Philadelphia, my family and I used all the resources around us so that I could have an opportunity. I had made it out of my own impoverished neighborhood to be at a University in New York city. However, along the way I lost my humility. I forgot that I had to work twice as hard to get where I was coming from a family that was low income. Not to mention, being a black woman in America. There was no silver spoon. Yet here I was in the slums of Manila, realizing that my own story had come full circle. I watched the people around me and in a way they reminded me of my family. Of course their conditions are far worst. However, I can recall that at my families worst, we were happy to just have one another. That is what kept us going and what allowed our financial circumstances to change for the better. I felt the same vibes from the women I met that day in Manila and all of the borrowers I encountered during our trip. They were happy to have each other. That is how they make it through the tough times.

What will I remember? I will remember Iloilo where I met the mother of Sr. Corrie who made me think of my great grandmother whom I did not meet but paved the way for my grandmother who paved the way for my mother. I will remember Legazpi where I witnessed the borrowers children speak on behalf of their parents in attempt to help their family. We would later plant mango trees together. I will remember the Batangas where I stayed in my first beach hut and ate fish fresh from the sea. I will remember the other fellows that pushed me out of my own shy comfort zone. Through their conversations of being abroad, I realized that I still have so much of the world to see. Lastly, I will remember that meeting in Manila that changed my outlook on the world forever.

By the end of the trip, I would describe being a GLOBE fellow as honorable. We traveled together on a mission to have an impact that is much greater than us. It is an experience you can't completely put into words. However, I hope that this post sufficed.

Forever in my heart and prayers, thank you to the Philippines.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What we’ve worked for.

“I want to have a better life for my family and I want to help other people.”

“To solve poverty and learn more how to unite the family and to do business.”

“So that all my children will complete their studies.”

“Family bonding. Sustaining the children’s needs.”

“I’m happy because we have an organization that is willing to help those people with need for financial assistance.”

- Our Borrowers

Rufina Quite. Maria Ana Sariola. Imelda Racines. Marilou Racines. Lilibeth Racines. Marivic Sevilla. Ludicia Carillo. Vilma Melarpis. Jocelyn Miday. Benie Sepato. Throughout the past semester, I was introduced to several borrowers, thousands of miles away. In a land so remote, no photographer would dare to visit and photograph them. They may have been faceless names to some, but through their words, I understood a lot about their backgrounds and circumstances – I felt like I knew them personally. I thought to myself, one day I’m going to meet these people. I will see what they look like; greet them; Listen to their stories in person. 

We evaluated loan applications, sent questions to the field, and were delighted to know that, “The loan applicants are excited and very eager to welcome them and listen to their American idols.” Among other loans, we managed to secure approvals for all 10 of our farmers in Libon, Albay. I anticipated the delight on their faces as we were arriving shortly after they received their funds. There were so many questions I had for them, so many expectations.

Finally the time had come. We packed our bags and flew to the other side of the world. We were on a mission; to meet with our borrowers, witness the impact we were creating and learn from each of them. The itinerary was set. On day four, fly to Legazpi, drive to Libon, and see our farmers in action. We were scheduled to meet them at 1 in the afternoon. As the time drew nearer and we had already met several borrowers, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. There was something special about these borrowers. While the majority of people we previously encountered were loan applicants handed down from the previous semester, these were the people I worked with directly. We were about to witness the fruits of our labor this past semester. So, on day four, we followed our plan and departed for the airport. Upon arrival, we were greeted with less than pleasant news. Due to a damaged vessel, our flight was rescheduled to a much later time. Disappointed, we still pressed on in the hopes of still meeting out borrowers who were patiently awaiting us.

Finally, we arrived in Legazpi and left for Libon without much delay. Upon arrival at the Colegio de St Luise de Marillac, we were greeted by a sight we will surely never forget. In the courtyard, our borrowers waited at a finely decorated round table. The table was adorned with several local delicacies, both prepared by and purchased by our borrowers. Not only were we about to see the fruits of our labor, we were about to taste the fruits of theirs. As specially invited guests, we were greeted by a round of applause – much to our surprise. The work we were doing meant that much to these people. They were as proud to finally meet us as we were to meet them.

After lunch, as is now customary, the borrowers presented their business plans and progress to the audience. Similar to our borrowers in Iloilo, they had some challenges with the English language. Luckily, their children were able to underscore the importance their parents placed on securing their education.

As if we were not already moved by their stories, Ludicia Carillo’s son, Alan Carillo, opened his speech with:
“Standing in front of you is the hard work and sacrifice of my parents.”

We were truly moved as he continued by noting his successful high school graduation and that he is now pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness – a major feat in his community. Alan spoke highly of his parents and showed a great deal of gratitude for the help we extended to his family and optimism for the success of his family’s business. He concluded with his hope to travel to the United States in the future and pursue the American dream. Most of the other children similarly graduated high school and were pursuing degrees in various disciplines. The helping hands of GLOBE thus extended beyond monetary gains into the holistic well being of families and communities.
We were also given the opportunity to share words of encouragement and advice. 

After the speeches, we were then encouraged to plant seeds. Symbolic of the seeds we were planting in the lives of these borrowers, they helped us plant the seeds for new mango trees. It was their hope that when we return some day, we would be able to witness the growth of our trees, as well as the growth of their businesses. The evening concluded with fellowship between ourselves and our borrowers’ families, filled with laughter, excitement and sharing.

This is what we’ve worked for.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thoughts from an Airport

Wow, we fly out in the morning. I can’t believe it. This trip has been an absolutely wonderful experience and one I will be forever grateful for. After the stress of the middle third of the trip (we had four flights over a three day span), the last couple days we spent at the beach in Batangas, at a resort courtesy of one of the Daughters of Charity’s uncle, and the Mall of Asia. I spent yesterday in the warm water of the central Pacific, soaking up the sun (confession: I got pretty badly sunburnt) and seeing my first coral reef. It may have been the best beach water I have ever had the opportunity to swim in. Oh, and how could I not say more about the coral reef? Sure it was a bit bleached and devoid of its famous colors, but it was amazing to see hundreds of fish swimming around. It was like living inside of Finding Nemo. It was beautiful really, and a small miracle. Our three hour drive seemed doomed by rain clouds. The Daughters of Charity, God bless them, really, accompanied us as they cooked us another feast of a dinner. A few of us rose early the next morning to take pictures of the sunrise over the water. After a night of on and off rain, we were gifted with a rainbow to go along with our sunrise. We soon packed up and left Batangas for a trip to the Mall of Asia, a shopping mall big enough to function as its own city. The store Kultura, packed with all things Filipino, served as a great base of activity as we all bought souvenirs consisting predominantly of mangoes (the mangoes here are heavenly) and pearls. I also finally got the opportunity to try Jollibee, the Philippines’ own fast food chain that serves items disparate as fried chicken, spaghetti and red sauce, and cheese burgers. And of course rice; no Filipino meal would be complete without rice.

While that was all great fun, I don’t want it to distract from what this trip did for me personally. For one, I got to meet with almost all of our borrowers in the Philippines. These were the people that GLOBE always set out to help. These were the people we spent those countless hours organizing fundraisers for. I’ll never forget sitting down for meals with the borrowers and their families in Libon, or the smiles and energy of the women in IloIlo City. For me it showed me there is a world outside of Queens, a world that is not necessarily Paris or Rome. None of those cities have anything close to the sheer magnitude and depth of Manila’s poverty. The images of the city were unlike anything I had ever seen before. The filth and squalor and abjection that much of the city has to live in, yet in the same city that can house a mall as prolific as the Mall of Asia. I can now say I have seen what poverty looks like, what someone means when they say developing world.

I have been contemplating applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship for about a year now. Most of the countries I have looked at working in are a part of the developing world and are generally a part of Southeast Asia. After spending (a short) time in the Philippines, I have an idea of what I can bring to the table and why the work I want to do is so important. For many, education (which is almost synonymous with access to the English language) is the way to escape the cycle of poverty and advance in life. This trip has made me think only further on how I can contribute. I would like to thank everyone involved for giving me this opportunity and Dr. Sama for this extremely vital experience. Your work for us students does not go unnoticed. Now, back to the States!

What are your dreams?

 What are your dreams?

Are they for fast cars? A luxury home? Or maybe to graduate college? What about starting a family? We think of what makes us happy; what we would like our lives to be like in the distant future. No matter how much or how little we may have, there is always that thirst to achieve something greater. While many dream of material things, our borrowers envision the success of their families and members of their communities. They may have very little, but they work tirelessly so that their children can have an education and access to a quality of life that they never had.

Day three brought us to Iloilo, home to 22 of our Filipino borrowers. Luckily for us, our chaperone, Sister Cori, was also a native of Iloilo city. She enthusiastically gave us a first-hand look into to a wide variety of people, cultural sites and historical monuments. 

We visited her home and got acquainted with her mother and family. Beautifully decorated, her home exuded culture, tradition and perseverance. The walls were lined with pictures of her many siblings, proudly adorned in their graduation attire. While her father earned his income as a lawyer, her mother stayed at home and cared for all twelve children. These parents dedicated their lives to ensuring that their children would flourish – and so they did!

Followed by visits to churches and other cultural beacons, we travelled to Colegio de San Jose, where our borrowers eagerly awaited us. One of the major drawbacks of micro-finance is that it is difficult to measure the impact of the work performed. How do we measure the transformation of the lives in the communities we offer micro-credit to? How can we be certain that the services we are providing are truly worthwhile? Those and so many other questions were answered in a single PowerPoint presentation (Yes, our borrowers prepared a group presentation worthy of exposure on a college campus!). We were truly amazed at the progress these borrowers had made with their enterprises since the approval of their loans in December last year. What began as a mere idea in 2009 became the GLOBE that we know and love today – a program that is now evidently uplifting communities and changing lives.

As shown in their presentation, these borrowers transcended the model of individual entrepreneurship. Castaway on a remote island of Taloto-an, just off the coast of Iloilo, our borrowers formed cooperatives, established group enterprises and reaped rewards exceeding our expectations. They conducted regular meetings and created a natural cohesion that motivated each business to success. With a limited command of the English language, they presented their cases with confidence, sprinkling their local dialect in between to our delight. For example, consider the case of the Sitio Guinmesahan Store. Have a look at the transformation as a result of GLOBE:

In a joint – cooperative, these borrowers combined their efforts in order to relocate and improve their store. The store is now represented by ten cooperative members, who each enjoy a capital share of 500 Philippine Pesos each – a scene reminiscent of what we learn in the Finance textbooks. Their store now generates approximately 800-1200 Pesos a day and meetings are regularly conducted by officers to ensure smooth operation of the micro-enterprise.

How about the Sitio Bago-Isi store, can you “spot the difference” between these images?

Like (most) stories we appreciate, this one also comes with a happy ending. We sat at the Colegio and witnessed the impact of GLOBE being multiplied within this community. These borrowers managed to find innovative ways to use the returns from their enterprises to help their communities – just as they promised to do within their loan applications. They even offered microfinance services of their own – giving a far greater number of people the means and hope provided by GLOBE. In one example of a joint loan, totaling, 90,000 Pesos, the Sari-Sari (Convenience) store was expanded and can now accommodate a greater variety and volume of items. Considering the long run growth of the store, the shopkeeper even opted not to have a formal salary, devoting a greater amount of funds to the business. More importantly, the three borrowers designated 50,000 Pesos towards their very own micro-finance fund. This fund is used to provide loan assistance to their 12 cooperative members. Isn’t that amazing? It appears that GLOBE is spreading within greater communities, serving an even greater population as if on its own.

At the conclusion of the formal presentation, our meeting was far from complete. We engaged each other, asking questions, sharing insights and stimulating discussion. Curious, I asked them, “What are your dreams? What do you dream about?” At the time, I anticipated responses relating to having a thriving enterprise, expanding profits, or alleviating poverty for themselves. Instead, they responded with, “To see my children with a good education,” “To make sure my family can get out of poverty,” “So that our children will be happy.” Our borrowers were much more concerned with uplifting future generations with wise investments that looking after their own benefits. They were planting seeds – seeds that promise to create successful enterprises, proud parents and grandparents.

We left the Colegio with a sense of pride and accomplishment. GLOBE was igniting change in communities in ways we had never imagined. We could not help but anticipate the next meeting with a great sense of optimism.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Legazpi we have arrived!

At this point in the trip, we have  become frequent flyers. After a quick flight back from Iloilo the same day, we boarded another flight the following morning to Legazpi. Unfortunately, we experienced a flight delay that put us all in a frenzy because we were unsure if we would be able to meet to our borrowers in time. Nonetheless, we made it. Patiently, they waited for our arrival.

As we made our way to the table to have lunch with them, we were given partners to sit with. The borrowers did not come alone. They came with their families, many of which were their children. When it was time to present, their children would speak on their behalf. With little experience speaking English, they expressed their nervousness to us. We assured them that it was okay. We were not their to judge. There would come a time where we would have to introduce ourselves to the group. I understood their nervousness. What to say to the people I've learned so much about? I was so inspired by their bravery and commitment to create a life that was sustainable.

Later that day we planted mango trees together before indulging in dessert. I believe that the  trees were an indication of the bond we had created with one another. The bond was sweet, mutual, and forever. So grateful for the endless selfies and laughs that I will remember for a lifetime.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


As a member of the Marketing Team a year ago, I felt fairly isolated from the borrowers. I never got the chance to really spend the time with the loan applications; GLOBE wasn’t even in the Philippines at the time. Yet there was something truly special and moving about meeting with our borrowers. I can be a fairly stoic person. It takes a lot for me to really connect with something and feel in the moment. To be brutally honest, I was not sure if meeting the borrowers would move me. It did not help that this trip has been a true whirlwind and getting to our borrowers has always taken a good deal of energy. In fact, we have taken four flights in the last three days, all on the wonderful Philippines Airlines. But meeting with our borrowers in IloIlo City helped shake some of my stoicism and being in Libon completely destroyed it. GLOBE, and the work I put into fundraising money for the program, has helped alter the lives of people.

Friday started with an early flight out to IloIlo City which happens to be where Sister Corey is from. She gave us a wonderful little tour of her hometown, including of her own home to meet her 95-year-old mother who doesn’t have a single wrinkle! After the quick tour, we made it to the local Colegio de San Jose, where we were served some food. I have no idea where my head was but I was certainly not prepared to meet so many borrowers. The conference room we were in was suddenly packed with Filipinos, almost all women, smiling widely and chatting amongst themselves in the local dialect. There were so many borrowers! These were all people we had loaned to! It was us who were helping to fund their (mostly) sari-sari stores, but their dreams. These women had woken up at 3 AM to meet with us, and here they were, happy! I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy, but I would imagine some nerves or stiffness when meeting your money lender, but these women were so grateful. We then watched a very much in-depth slide show about all of the borrowers’ businesses. But the detail that really stuck out to me was that these women were using their loans to then loan money to others in the community! And they were having success with collection! That means that all of the loan we gave out had so much larger an effect than we at GLOBE could have ever imagined. As some of the women spoke, they mentioned their desire to help out their community. It is a genuineness and a desire for a greater future that I personally don’t find all that often. While these women then turned around to thank us for loaning to them, it was us who were really inspired. These women who lived in a remote part of the Philippines, on an island with no (or was it limited?) electricity, were doing absolutely everything they could to better their lives and the lives of those around them. Never did I think that the money I raised during my term would help fund so much and mean the world to so many people.

The next morning we had another flight, this one to Legaspi. We arrived to the airport early only to find out that we had been bumped from our 9:30 AM flight and moved to a 12:15 PM flight on a propeller plane. This delay threw off our entire plan to meet with our borrowers in Libon at 1 PM. By the time we got to the Legaspi airport is was already around 2 PM, with what was at least an hour drive to go. It really felt as if the day were ruined. After an hour drive to our destination (another colegio, this one Colegio de Santa Louisa de Marillac), I had to go to the restroom. I leave the restroom and search for my group when I find all of our borrowers and their college-aged children sitting outside, with a banquet of home-cooked food sitting in front of us. We were encouraged to mingle with the borrowers and their children and not sit amongst each other. At my end of the table was the sister and daughter of two different borrowers, both of which were studying at the colegio for a degree in elementary education. As we ate what probably will go down as our best meal in the Philippines, I tried to make small talk with those surrounding me. I’m fairly awkward and found it a bit difficult: after all, I really had no idea what to expect. So, we chatted about the fried chicken and lechon and coconut, crab, and chili concoction (the actual name for it of course escapes me).

It was then that I found out there was even more of a plan. One of the Daughters of Charity began to call up the borrower, their spouse, and their child up to the microphone, during which the child was to explain the business plan. For many of the kids, the speech was nerve-wracking and English was a struggle, but they all did it anyway. It was so moving to see how much these kids respected their parents and felt indebted to them. One boy said that his dream is to make enough money so that his father doesn’t need to feel the pain in his arms from his work as a fisherman. While whispering to the girls surrounding me, it was then that I found out that all of the borrowers had taken part in making today’s feast. It was them that had made the coconut milk and water fresh that morning. Who had prepared the eggplant salad and lechon. They made a chocolate sticky rice pie and much, much more. They were transfixed and in awe of us, and of course not to mention grateful. It was in that moment that the impact of GLOBE really hit me. The money I had raised was funding dreams. It was funding students’ educations so they could go on and have a better life. It was breaking families, families who I am eating with, to break out of the cruel cycle of poverty.

We planted mango trees to commemorate the moment and took many, many pictures with the borrowers and their kids (basically our peers). They ogled at us; I was told I look like Harry Potter. We said a sorrowful goodbye, one panged with the desire to come back and meet again but the knowledge that it would probably never happen. We got back on the van and drove off back to the city. We sat silently for a couple moments, taking in what had just happened. After the morning we went through, Dr. Sama said it best, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but what a beautiful day.”