Have You Ridden a Tricycle and Eaten Lechon in the Philippines? I Have

Greetings from Cabanatuan City, nicknamed the “Tricycle Capital of the Philippines.” Tricycles, made by affixing a sidecar to a motorcycle, are a common means of public transportation in the Philippines. More than 30,000 tricycles for a population of 272,676 people (as of 2010) in Cabanatuan means that there is 1 tricycle for every 9 people in this largest city in the province of Nueva Ecija.

This is a tricycle, a common means of public transportation in the Philippines.

After attending Kiva Fellows Training at the Kiva Headquarters in mid-May, I arrived at the first of my three placements in the Philippines during the first week of June. I took one week to settle into my apartment in Cabanatuan before starting work during the second week of June at Alalay sa Kaunlaran, Inc. (ASKI).

Established in 1987, ASKI is a Christian non-profit organization based in Cabanatuan, and have expanded into 72 branches across Central Luzon. With 10 business units, ASKI stays focused on providing microfinance loans while supporting its clients in non-financial areas such as sustainable agriculture and education.

This is what I find at the entrance to the ASKI HQ in Cabanatuan.

One unique part of ASKI culture is morning devotion. Staying true to the organization’s Christian roots, ASKI employees across all the branches have daily worship sessions from 8am to 9am. During these sessions, employees also dance to the ASKI song. Imitating the dances of my ASKI colleagues in the mornings have helped me feel like I am a part of the organization.

The culture at ASKI is so hospitable that I was put into jail at the end of my first work week... Just kidding!

I have heard that “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” from many sources before embarking on my Kiva Fellowship, and now that I have been here for 2 weeks, I can attest to the fact that Filipinos are very hospitable. My ASKI colleagues make a point to address my name every time they see me in the hallway, “Hello Binh”. They also shower me with many Filipino snacks throughout the workday. Sharing snacks is a big part of the culture in the Philippines. As I enjoy these snacks, my colleagues would usually invite me to more social events that involve more eating!

Case in point, at the end of my first work week at ASKI, one of my colleagues invited me to his hometown Talavera, around 30 minutes jeepney ride away from Cabanatuan, for a fiesta. His barangay (the term for the smallest administrative division in the Philippines), La Torre, had an annual town fiesta in honor of the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, the Farmer’s Patron Saint. I had my first taste of lechon in the Philippines; the skin was crispy and the meat just melted in my mouth. Yummy!

My Aloha shirt matched the fiesta atmosphere perfectly!

In the next two weeks, I am going to travel to the provinces Aurora, Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya to conduct Borrower Verification, so stay tuned for more updates. In the meantime, you can support ASKI by finding active loans on the Kiva Field Partners page and joining the ASKI Kiva Lending Team.

About the author

Binh Nguyen

Born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Binh witnessed the challenges of economic development and social inequality at an early age, and often thought about how to make a difference in the world. After receiving a B.A. in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, he pursued his interest in social entrepreneurship by moving to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with an agricultural micro-franchise that is incubated within iDE (International Development Enterprises). When Binh traveled to rural provinces to meet farmer clients, he found that many smallholder farmers lack access to capital in order to buy basic items such as high-quality seeds or fertilizers. This realization piqued his interest in microfinance as a method of empowering entrepreneurs to tackle poverty in a sustainable manner. As a Fellow in the Philippines, Binh looks forward to working with Kiva’s partners and honing his Tagalog. A foodie at heart, he also hopes to eat as much street food as possible in Bacolod, Tagbilaran, and Cabanatuan!