On Wednesday morning, I woke up at 7:00 to get ready for call I had with some head honchos at Kiva about how we can put solar energy loans up on the Kiva website. After that, I had to talk to the Kiva microfinance partnerships manager for Asian MFIs about an Excel model he built that automatically generates profiles to be uploaded onto the Kiva website. I am modifying it to fit the specific needs of NWTF, but the process of following his logic is complicated and tedious. I needed to go straight to the source. By 9:30, I was ready to officially start the day.
Last Saturday, a group of 26 Canadians came to Bacolod as part of a dental mission organized by the Rotary Club of Vancouver. There are five dentists, a handful of hygienists, and others that are distributing eyeglasses or acting as gophers. The mission is being held in a gymnasium in the city of Talisay, about 20 minutes north of Bacolod. The group sees between 200 and 300 clients per day, performing mostly extractions with some fillings. Clients hail from mostly the surrounding branches, which also happen to be first branches to post Kiva clients. I had heard that the clients from Hinigaran branch would be at the mission on Wednesday. I’d been meaning to get down to Hinigaran for a round of client interviews, but hadn’t had the chance. Also, collecting information for Kiva journals usually means a loan officer or branch manager has to take you around to each client – a nuisance, to be sure. So, armed with a list of Kiva clients in Hinigaran, I caught a ride in one of the vans heading that way.
Sharing the van with me was Ron, a middle-aged Canadian Rotarian tasked with performing oddjobs. He needed to go to the hardware store first to pick up headlamps for the dentists. After a few minutes of consumer diligence, Ron bought five lamps at $4 apiece. By 10:45, we were on the road again to Talisay.
We arrived at the gym at 11:15. Once there, I find out that there are, in fact, no Hinigaran clients there. In fact, Hinigaran clients would not be coming at all. No stranger to misinformation, I changed my gameplan on the fly and talked to the other branch managers to see if they had any Kiva clients getting dental work done. No luck. I made the best of the situation – took some pictures, ate a free lunch, and caught a ride back at 12:15 with Cora, one of the directors of NWTF. She told me about the first medical missions they conducted back in 1986, where the military would accuse them of assisting the NPA (the socialist rebel army) by offering surgery to the communities in the mountains. “We were there for the women and children,” she told me. But times have changed. I asked her driver to drop me at the Ceres terminal, where I would catch a bus to Bago City, about 45 minutes south of Bacolod.
I got to the Bago City branch at around 1:15. I picked up a dozen cinnamon buns and other snacks for the branch staff, drank a cup of coffee, and walked to the branch. I knew the branch manager, Evelyn, was busy finalizing the monthly financial statement, so I told her to just give me directions and I would go to the center on my own. So wrote them down:
- Take the Pulupandan jeepney to Tres y Media.
- Ask a trisikad driver to take you to the house of Wilma Ledesma. If they don’t know where to go, tell them she is the wife of Otek.
She wished me luck, made me try a fresh Bago watermelon, and I hit the road. I asked a woman sitting across from me in the jeepney to let me know when we reached Tres y Media. She was coming back from visiting her sister-in-law, who heads back to Australia with her husband in a few days. When I disembarked, I asked a group of 10 trisikad drivers to take me to the home of Wilma Ledesma. Nothing. Then I asked them to take me to the home of Otek Ledesma. They started yelling to one another until someone said he knew. After a half-hour, I arrived at the weekly meeting of center #73.
The loan officer, Rozelyn, was already conducting the meeting, so she pulled aside the four clients I was there to see, one of whom spoke English. She translated during each interview and I snapped some pictures. The women gave me a glass of coke and some Bibinka, a native Filipino desert made from coconut and rice. Normally, I would go back to the branch at this point, but there was trouble with the center. One client did not pay her loan this week, meaning the group would need to figure out a solution before they went home. So we all went to the delinquent client’s home to speak with the husband about the problem.
The client’s weekly repayment amount is 600 pesos spread over three months. But, her husband has high blood pressure and needed the money for medical expenses. After 10 minutes of debate, the loan officer, the center chief, and the husband came up with a solution. The client pays 300 pesos per week over six months. The center pays the other 300 pesos to Project Dungganon (PD) – the microfinance arm of NWTF – out of their group fund (11,000 pesos). For the first three months, the client pays PD. For the second three months, she pays back the group. This was the first delinquency I’d encountered. It was interesting to see the group lending methodology in action.
At 4:00, we headed back to the branch. After a tricycle and mini-bus ride, we arrived at 4:30. I spent 10 minutes in the branch while the staff taught me Ilonggo words, then went to meet a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Bago named Rachel. She is doing social work with the government of the Philippines. We’d met for the first time the previous night by chance, sitting across from one another in a jeepney. She is from Vermont and is close friends with some of my old coworkers – a small world. We had a couple beers before heading back to Bacolod, where she goes to the gym.
I got back to the office at 6:30, caught a ride to the gym with the Kiva coordinator, who was working late in preparation for an upcoming trip we are taking to Kalibo, a city two hours from Boracay. At 8:30, I went for some chicken inasal at Chicken Deli, where I tried to knock off some more of my book – “The Sun Also Rises.” It’s my first Hemingway novel. I like his writing style very much. As I was leaving, I ran into a few of the Canadians catching a late dinner. We sat and had a few beers and parted ways. I got home at 11:00, finished up some work, and hit the sack by midnight.