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.”