By Eva Wu, KF9 Philippines
Two days ago I learned that bayanihan means a community coming together as one, with lots of love and support – this is the way of Filipino culture. I feel like this is a perfect word to describe everything that I’ve experienced since becoming a Kiva Fellow. With all the news about how recent typhoons have ravaged the Philippines, I’ve received an outpouring of emails inquiring about how the situation here. I’m happy to report that Cagayan de Oro City, located in the southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines, has largely been spared from the recent storms. Our thoughts however go out to the folks living in the affected areas in the north, particularly Manila and the greater Luzon region.
Upon landing at the Cagayan de Oro Airport, I was warmly greeted by staff members from my host MFI – Hagdan sa Pag-uswag Foundation, Inc. (HSPFI) – or Hagdan for short, as the staff here says. Even since my first jet-lagged and homesick day, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with my Hagdan co-workers and have gotten help from them on everything including setting up a new cellphone, settling into a new pad, shopping for said pad, navigating local foods, learning basic Visayan/Cebuano phrases… not to mention all the help I’ve received on work-related matters. At night we exchange text messages about the day and they ask if I’ve eaten my dinner. I feel like I’ve been plucked and plopped into a new extended family that I hadn’t known was there before.
If it’s not obvious already, I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with my host MFI. During Kiva Fellows’ training in San Francisco, we heard quite a few horror stories about how things can be disorganized in the field – needing to wait days for busy loan officers to find time to take you to visit clients, for example. Not so at Hagdan. First day of work on Monday, I had a meeting with all the relevant Hagdan staff to go over my workplan while I’m in the Philippines. The minute they heard that one of my responsibilities as a Kiva Fellow was to help with journaling, they promptly gave me a list of clients needing journal updates, and then we proceeded to visit a client in the city. Tuesday – more client visits in the city. Wednesday – more client visits, this time involving a 3 hour motorcycle ride over mountains and bumpy, muddy, rocky roads to remote barangays or villages near the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro City. I’ve already met and interviewed more than 30 clients for journal updates over the last three days, and I have so many videos, photos, and stories to edit and share that my head is spinning. Also, the internet at Hagdan is fast. I’ve pretty much hit the fellows’ MFI jackpot in every conceivable way!
I can’t believe this is only the start of my fifth day here. Maybe I’m still in the fellows “honeymoon” period, but despite the sweat, mud, insects, and a minor motorcycle spill (luckily it was about as controlled a fall as possible, and no one was hurt) in the last couple of days – I’m absolutely loving it here. I’m grateful for this chance to learn and experience microfinance first-hand in the Philippines, and I look forward to sharing more stories about my adventures with everyone.