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.