A Home and a Job?...What Have I Become?
Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
122Trip End Ongoing
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After a crazy few days in San Francisco, Japan, and Manila, I have arrived at my new home: Cabanatuan. Cabanatuan is a city of around 250,000 people and home to over 40,000 tricycles (the tuk-tuks of the Philippines), which provide the main form of transportation for its residents. Its claim to fame is that its prison was taken over by the Japanese during World War II and used as a sort of concentration camp for American and Filipino POWs, many of whom were forced to participate in the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942. Despite the fact that Cabanatuan has a population of 250,000 people, it has one 'highway', which more resembles a normal busy street, and the rest of the streets are bumpy, dirt, ‘alleyways’, in my opinion
My first couple of days in Cabanatuan were very lucky for me. When I arrived, I went recommended Village Inn Hotel, where I had hoped to negotiate a monthly price. However, they were unwilling to budge, charging me almost $20 a night, and I soon found out that this was the cheapest hotel in the city. I’ll be damned if I am going to live in a tiny city in the Philippines and pay $600 a month for a hotel room with no kitchen! As I was browsing the internet for information on Cabanatuan, I stumbled across a "homestay" that costs a whopping $186 a month. I went to check it out, and it is basically this family that rents out some of the rooms in their house as hotel rooms. The room has a big bed, TV, WiFi, aircon, private bathroom, chair, vanity table, and dresser/closet. I met the owner, who told me to call him Papa Doc (he is a doctor), and he introduced me to his wife and granddaughter. They have a son who lives in California with an American wife, and they speak very good English. They are very friendly, and told me I can use their fridge and kitchen (as long as I cook them an American dinner sometime!). It only took 5 minutes for them to make me feel at home. I now have my first “home” in a year and a half
Now about my work. I am working at ASKI, a Filipino microfinance institution (MFI) that specializes in small business loans and community development. Their main office is in Cabanatuan, but they have branches all over Luzon (the island that both Manila and Cabanatuan are on). There are around 75 people working here at the main office, and they are all incredibly friendly. One of the girls is turning 27 this weekend, and she invited me to her birthday party which I believe will involve karaoke. The Philippines is a very Christian nation, and every morning at work we have an hour of morning prayer. Everyone in the company attends, and although it is not required for me to attend, I do it because I like to keep a “when in Rome” attitude and I don’t want the people I am working with to think that I think I am too good to attend. It begins with a Christian rock concert. There is a guy on the keys, and girls on drums, bass, and electric guitar. The words to the songs are in English and flash across a big screen behind them. And we all stand up and sing and clap and praise God. Afterwards, one person gets up and gives a 45 minute speech on the topic of the day. The first time I attended the topic was kindness. She spoke in a sort of Tagalish (get it? Spanglish but with Tagalog instead of Spanish heh heh). This is what I heard: “Blah blah blah kindness in your heart blah blah blah devotion blah blah blah let me tell you a story blah blah blah good things will come blah blah blah” and so on
As far as what I will be doing here, I am working for an American company called Vittana, who partners with local MFIs like ASKI
So that’s about it for now. Cabanatuan has no nightlife to speak of, so I pretty much just go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV or read, then go to bed. However, I plan on taking a lot of mini-trips on the weekends to nearby beaches and mountains. And Manila is just a 3-4 hour bus ride away if I feel like having a big night out. (A former Kiva Fellow who lived here went to Manila every weekend!) I think my host “mother” is going to take me on a walk around town tonight so that will be nice to see what people actually do here in the evenings. Next weekend I am taking a long weekend to get a visa extension and to do some exploring – I haven’t yet decided on what/where but it will probably be either relaxing at a beach town or trekking through the rice terraces in the north. More to come on that in the next entry!
(More info on Vittana for my ambitious readers:)
Historically, one of the biggest differences between the rich and the poor has been access to higher education. With education comes better work opportunities, more economic stability, and a greater well-being for future generations. But even though there are many intelligent, disadvantaged students who would want a loan to pay for vocational or college education, until now the majority of banks and large ﬁnancial institutions have considered poor students to be too high of a credit risk. There are microﬁnance institutions (MFIs) who would like to offer loans to these students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility and trustworthiness, but because the money in the MFI’s portfolio comes from banks and large international funds who don’t want to use capital for students, the MFIs don’t have the capital ﬂow to start a student portfolio. Together with our partner MFIs, Vittana is breaking this cycle.
Vittana was founded in 2008 with the mission to expand opportunities for students to receive higher education, improve their professional opportunities, and most important, earn higher incomes. Working with innovative and experienced MFIs, we are demonstrating to the international ﬁnancial community that student lending can be successful—with low levels of default—and that access to education can produce monumental social change. To do this, we need to fulﬁll two objectives. First, Vittana raises capital on the Internet for the student loans made by our partner MFIs. With each loan given through the Vittana program, the door to higher education opens to another student. But at a higher level, looking towards the future, our intention is to demonstrate that, using this innovative model, student loans can be proﬁtable and are a worthy investment for large banks and funders, thereby increasing our impact and giving opportunities to millions of students.
A couple of quick facts about Vittana:
- Vittana has a loan repayment rate of 97%.
- If you make a loan, 100% of your loan goes to the student (i.e. none of it goes towards administrative costs).
- You get paid back with every loan payment the student makes (i.e. you don’t have to wait until their entire loan is paid off). So if you gave 10% of the student’s total loan (i.e. if they needed $1,000 and you loaned $100), you will receive 10% of each payment the student makes (usually on a monthly basis).
- The longest grace period a student is given before they need to start repaying is one year, so that is the longest length of time you will have to wait to start getting paid back. Some students (as is the case at ASKI), must begin repaying within one month after the loan is disbursed.