Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Americano, Americano!!!

"It sounds like you will at least become a better dodgeball player 'If you can dodge a car, you can dodge a ball.'"- Phillip Chesney upon reading my latest blog post. For you old people out there, that is a quote from a movie called dodgeball that everyone under the age of 40 has probably seen.

I busted out laughing at the office when I read this and thought you all would enjoy it too. Thanks for the laugh Phil.

Oh and here is a picture from the basketball court I played at last week (please take notice of the cars and bikes on the court). I finally got some good Internet going, probably won't last too long though... I apologize for the poor picture quality. I really didn't want to whip out my nice digital camera while being the only American in a poor area of a country I had only been in for 3 days...

This past week has been a much more business oriented week than a culture experiencing week. Last Tuesday, me, 2 guys who flew in from India, 3 CCT women from different branches, and one Filipino man from the CCT head office went out to the mountains to a beautiful retreat center that CCT is building. It was located in a town called Tagatay, which is of course infamous for housing the world's smallest volcano. When we first arrived in Tagatay we went to this great restaurant that overlooked the volcano and the huge lake that it sits on. I later learned that you used to be able to rise horses around the rim of this volcano, but it recently became reactive!!!

At this retreat center we underwent 3 days of trainings to learn how to implement what the microfinance world calls Savings and Credit Associations (SCAs). At the most basic level, an SCA is a group of really poor people (People who are too poor to qualify for regular microfinance) who come together (usually through the church) and decide they would like to save their money together. Typically they are started by what are called facilitators, who come in and teach the group members how to start a group. There are a number of different forms of SCAs including Rotating Savings Groups (ROSCAs), Accumulated Savings Groups (ASCAs), or a straight savings groups.

Most anyone within the microfinance industry would tell you that the biggest issue for people breaking the never ending cycle of poverty is no access to simple banking services such as savings accounts. Even the poorest of the poor want to save and have the ability to save small amounts of money, but they don't have access to banking services because the amount of their savings is too small for commercial banks to service the poor. So, what ROSCA's and straight savings groups do is allows for groups of 15-25 people to pool their money together and commit to saving a certain amount of money every week for a certain period of time (usually about a year) for a specific reason or purpose (typically paying for their children's education). Having access to a small lump sum of money is huge for these people. It allows them to pay for medicine if their child gets sick, pay for school fees they wouldn't be able to afford otherwise, and helps them invest sufficient capital into their business in order to advance their business.

Now ASCA's are even better because with an ASCA the group members also have the ability to lend to one another. Without getting too technical, basically the members of the ASCAs write an extensive contract committing to saving a certain amount per week. From this pool of money, loans can then be taken out by the group members with a small interest rate of course. This type of group allows the poorest of the poor to have access to loans that they could never have dreamed of receiving in the past.

So basically for 3 days we learned all about these groups, how to start them, and how to facilitate the groups ourselves. These mountain were unbelievably gorgeous and we got to visit the highest point in the Philippines while we were there. Here's a picture of the training crew at the top, where you could literally see 360 degrees of almost the entire island.

So after that weekend we all came back to Manila. We haven't done anything terribly exciting the past couple days, expect we did get to visit the oldest fort in the Philippines and in the process learned all about the Philippines national hero Jose Rizal. This guy was basically the Thomas Jefferson of the Philippines (if Thomas Jefferson was executed by the British) in that he was an incredibly gifted writer whose writings led to the uprising of the Filipinos against the Spanish, who had colonized the Philippines since the 1500s. Because of his writings, which called for Filipinos to rise up and take back their country, the Spanish imprisoned and executed him 2 years before the Philippines officially declared independence from Spain. Pretty intense. His 150th birthday is coming up this Sunday and they are declaring a national holiday on that Monday. He's pretty beloved here to say the least.

Along with our history lessons this week, I have also had several meetings with my supervisors about the work I will be doing the rest of the summer. Essentially I am going to be overseeing 3 different branch's savings groups as they begin this month. I will actually be leading and starting 1 of the branches, while just overseeing the other 2. Its going to be a lot of work and traveling back and forth between the branches, but I'm really pumped to get started. 2 of the 3 branches are going to be starting savings groups for elementary and middle school children. This way we can instill in them savings skills and attitudes starting at a young age.

The other exciting thing that happened this week was the other American who now works in the CCT office and lives right next to me! He is a graduate student from Columbia University named Charlie and more than anything he is American! The fact that there is now someone else here just to relate a little more too has been a huge blessing from Jesus, even in these short few days he has been here.

And I'd like to make a quick shout out to my little sister, Maddie Wood, who will be graduating from high school tomorrow and then joining me at Clemson in the fall. So pumped for her!!! Sorry I can't be there sis, I'll be there in spirit.

Thanks for reading about my life, hope its interesting!


"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." -Isaiah 58:9-10

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