Falling in love with the Philippines…One song at a time

Singing and videoke are a large part of the Filipino culture, as I have discovered over the past month and a half while working here. In my first week at the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF), I was taken out by staff members to a nearby lounge – and being my first time there (as with all new patrons), was invited on to the stage to sing with the live band. Let’s just say my rendition of “California Gurls” does not quite compare to Katy Perry’s.

Since that first week, some of my most memorable experiences have involved videoke and singing, and I’d like to share a few of them here…

1)    After conducting an interview with Kiva borrower, Maribel, this week, she turned on the TV in her home and handed me a microphone. As a sign of her warm hospitality, Maribel and her center members invited me to videoke with them…singing such well-known hits as Hoobastank’s ‘The Reason’ and Evanescence’s ‘Bring me to Life’. Being the guest, I naturally was given the honor of singing the first song.

2)    On a visit to borrower, Jenelyn, in southern Negros Occidental, I had the chance to chat with her about her videoke rental business. Jenelyn owns two videoke machines, and the profits generated have allowed her to invest in another fish vending business, and support her family. A videoke machine, as pictured below, is a standalone machine much like an arcade game or jukebox, where you can just insert a coin and select a song. Jenelyn rents one machine to a nearby resort, and keeps the other one in the hut beside her house, where neighbors can gather to sing. On a typical weekend, the hut is crowded…which also helps her sisters’ adjacent general store that sells snacks and drinks.

Videoke Machine (1)

3)    NWTF celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and as part of the celebration created a song for Project Dungganon (meaning honorable), the thrust of its microfinance activities. The song speaks to the way that Project Dungganon has helped its members improve their lives, and I have heard the song on NWTF videos, and sung live at center (2) meetings, and staff gatherings. At last week’s annual meeting, it was a sight to see the staff of NWTF’s 14 branches in Negros Occidental and head office sing the song together, following Karaoke lyrics.


Singing, dancing, and laughing, I have shared some memorable moments with NWTF borrowers and staff here in the Philippines…and have begun to fall in love with the vibrant and happy culture here.

(1) Source: travel.sprok.org

(2) NWTF follows the Grameen microcredit methodology. A center is composed of ~10 groups of women who meet together weekly; each group has five borrowers.

Joanne Gan is currently having a wonderful time in the Philippines as she volunteers with Kiva’s partner, the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation. Apply to be a Kiva Fellow here.

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