For me the highlight of my trip to the Philippines with Opportunity International Australia was meeting the loan recipients. They have dramatically changed their lives by using small loans from Opportunity to build businesses and break the cycle of poverty. It was inspiring to sit in group meetings with women who had accessed loans, to hear them share their experiences and to see the joy this is bringing them. The sense of empowerment in their own lives. They couldn’t see a future and now they can. There’s always future possibilities, because once they pay back their loan they can take out other loans to expand their businesses.
During my trip, I watched Opportunity’s Philippines Director Mark Daniels speak with Maria, a lady who makes Filipino sweets, about ideas for packaging and marketing her sweets to help her grow her business. That sort of thing is really exciting. You could really see her face light up during their conversation. Mark invests a lot of time helping loan recipients take the next step. So, it’s not just about the loan, but where the loan takes you.
Maria with her Filipino sweets
Meeting women like Maria reinforces for me how loan recipients change their lives once they receive the tools they need to build businesses. What really stuck with me in Maria’s case was that it wasn’t just about improving her life or the life of her family. It was about the bigger picture and helping her community. She employs local people and they live in her home with her. Each week she reaches out to her community and looks for ways to help them. That’s exciting. It’s not just a one-off loan, off you go – it’s about lifting up the community and empowering its members to seek new directions.
Mark Daniels and Maria
Everyone we met worked very hard. Before receiving a loan of $125 to buy three piglets, Remy Mendez gleaned the last bits of grain from the field after the rice harvesters had gone through. That’s hard work and it had little reward, but Remy did it to feed her family. At that time, she had no hope of a better future. After she received her loan, Remy had hope and a great sense of purpose in her life. What struck me was seeing the real sense of purpose in the loan recipients. They sense a future. They can see they have a role in society and they build a sense of pride. Pride in what they’re doing to help their family and community. This brings them great joy.
Amina and Remy Mendez
Remy’s daughter Amina won a scholarship to study in the US after excelling at school and university in the Philippines and when she graduated had the opportunity to work in the States. I was heartened to hear her story that she returned to the Philippines after graduation because she wanted to invest in Filipino families like her own. I think that’s something we all hope to happen but the reality is that once you’re out you stay out. Amina’s smart, she’s got a strong academic background, she could get a good job in the US and could maybe eventually help her parents to migrate and live with her. That may happen in the future once she’s finished the postgraduate degree she’s just started in Washington, but let’s hope she returns to the Philippines and invests her immense talents and skills in helping to life Filipino families out of poverty.
Amina says she wants to ‘pay forward’ or in the West, ‘pass on the blessing’. We often think about international development as aid, but in fact it’s about investing in someone so they can invest in others. They’re paying it forward to those around them. It’s about the community, it’s not just about me – those are the sort of values that are really exciting. You can see this starting to have an impact on greater and greater levels across the nation. It may be a small gate now but when they start coming on board at a country level, you can see a future that’s very different for Filipinos.
The Mendez Family
Amina also talks about grace. Grace is a great expression of what it is on both sides. Grace in giving and grace in receiving. I think in the Christian sense it means letting go and letting God do what he wants you to do. This is about letting communities find their own destiny, find their own future and explore their dreams. That is what grace is about, it’s not about imposing things on them. And then on the other side, it’s about the grace of receiving, it’s about receiving to share back. It’s not about me or a sense of self, but we’re all in this together. It’s about sharing the experience and not holding this as our own experience. It’s not about us coming to teach anyone but about the exchange in the relationship.
This was a hopeful trip, there’s lots of hope out there, the world needs hope. The stuff that Opportunity is doing in situations that might seem hopeless to many people. Opportunity gives hope, it’s about giving families opportunities. It’s about helping others find a better future and hope of a better future for their children. It was exciting that there was not a parent who didn’t say that. It was about my children having a better standard of living and not having to face my struggles. That’s very hopeful.
Dignity is hand-in-hand with hope. If you have no hope, it’s hard to have dignity, simply because you feel crushed. In delivering that sense of hope, you can see the dignity of the loan recipients shine through. And that was beautiful to see.
What I really loved about the people we met from Opportunity’s local partner in the Philippines, ASKI, was their passion for what they do. That’s exciting! They are highly qualified; they could probably get jobs anywhere, but they choose to help other Filipino families. I love this idea because this is much more than just a calling for them. We’ve seen God’s love, we’ve seen the gospel played out in reality. Seeing the love of God change lives for the better. Maria, Remy’s and Amina’s stories had a huge impact on me. Hearing their stories were WOW moments!