Philippines: Part II (2010)

Filipinos are known as some of the warmest, friendliest, and most hospitable people in the world. Relatedly, they are also very communal – they share space together and always like to be near friends & family. They have a very circular sense of time: There are no set schedules and no set deadlines. It’s OK to be 2 hours late (or more) to a scheduled meeting or appointment! Contrast this kind of demeanor with that of most Americans: Individualistic, linear time orientation, and usually less willing to go out of their ways to make one feel welcomed.

These are the two cultures that are crossing paths this week. This is one of the reasons why I love the Philippines.

In 2008, as many of my readers know, I spent 3 months living and working in the Philippines with a Christian NGO known as Food for the Hungry Philippines. Then, I studied their microfinance initiative (which is only 1 small part of what they do here), evaluating its effectiveness in a few key communities, and learning how recipients benefited from the earned income in their IGAs (Income Generating Activities). For example, I interviewed several loan recipients who had received very small loans with which to buy a pig. They then raised the pig, and I learned how they benefited from the extra income of selling the adult pig.

Three months is a short time in which to do research. One week is even shorter. I am here for a week in order to do a case study with the Christian NGO, Center for Community Transformation (CCT). My focus is on how they conduct their Fellowship Groups, or the weekly meetings that their partners come to in order to pay down their loan and encourage each other. (CCT prefers to use the term “partner” rather than “client” because in a partnership, both parties are equal and one is not “above” or “better” than the other).

The Fellowship Groups are largely normalized across the country. However, due to the very short time period, I will not be able to quantify any of my research, and will be unable to make any generalizations. The time is way too short to be able to interview enough people, do focus groups and hand out surveys. Rather, my goal is to build a narrative of what a fellowship group should look like. I will be observing one or two fellowship groups, but most of my research will come from interviews with CCT staff members.

The “standardized” process of each Fellowship Group is summarized in the following five steps:
1) Welcome
2) Worship
3) Word
4) Work
5) Wrap Up

CCT is a distinctly Christian organization, and this fact influences everything they do. “Worship” and “Word” (Bible study) is considered just as important as the “Work” (paying off the loans). As a Christian who has studied Community Development, I agree: Holistic transformational development can not just come piece-meal. It must be an integration of services meeting different kinds of needs – the physical (material), the spiritual (without God, we are nothing), the mental (a strong sense of identity and strong sense of ability & self worth), the the health outside relationships (harmonious relationships with community and government is important), and much more.

Having arrived at 10:15pm Sunday (Philippine time is 13 hours ahead of EST), I have only been here 1 & 1/2 days (it’s early Tuesday morning now). Last night, I got to experience Filipino culture at its finest, and was welcomed very warmly to CCT:

You will notice that this banner includes the name of two other organizations as well: Hope International (which is also a Christian microfinance organization), and Esperanza (an MFI located in the Dominican Republic). We had no idea that CCT was going to host all of us during the same week, but this is incredible! PEER Servants’ first goal is to write these case studies in order to bring the stories back to the States and share them with other MFIs around the world.

But I am also always looking for connections in the Development world (working internationally in community development and microfinance is something I’m very interested in pursuing) and am excited to be able to spend time with some of the people in both of these organizations, with whom I am already familiar.

The people captured in this picture playing the stringed instruments are just a few of the dozens of guitarists on a stage. As we walked into CCT’s headquarters last night, this band started playing, there were people at the door there to greet us, and they served us a feast! It was a delight and a wonderful introduction (or, for me and a small number of others who have been to the Philippines before, a re-introduction).

Today, I’m back off to the CCT office for a more formal introduction to the organization of CCT and to begin my interviews. I am excited to learn, and am absolutely humbled to be able to spend time with such an incredible organization.

I’ll try to post another blog before I leave on Sunday morning.

Thank you for your continued prayers & support.

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