Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series of posts by Joseph Paulini, a businessman and entrepreneur based in northern Virginia who recently co-led a Business as Mission trip to the Philippines, where Five Talents is seeking to deepen its work with proven micro-entrepreneurs. Click here to read part one.
We left Manila early one morning to head to the mountain provinces. As you drive out of Manila, your mind and heart is assaulted by the shocking levels of poverty you see.
Some of the poor are lucky enough to live in a permanent structure, while the poorest live in makeshift shacks made of a patchwork of rusted corrugated steel sheets, woven bamboo, scraps of wood and even cardboard. The floors are dirt and there is no running water or a place to relieve yourself. The conditions are filthy and desperate. The children are unschooled, poorly clothed and we are told that some don't even know the words for simple items like chair, table, window, door... because none exist in their world.
Sometimes there is a platform to sit or lie on. There are no books or toys in sight.
It's hard to look at and heartbreaking when you do.
When one wonders what could ever make someone travel halfway around the world to witness scenes like this, I guess the answer is somewhat complicated. First of all, you are generally starting with a heart that wants to help. You realize that you have a talent and that you would be doing something that is not about you. You also realize that you are putting yourself in a destitute environment that can be difficult to experience first-hand. But once you decide you can deal with the good and bad, the question is what can you do?
Participate in the Business as Mission (BAM) program. It is about taking a skill you have (accounting, management, production, marketing) and sharing that skill within a prepared curriculum. It's you as a person giving back in a place where your skills are hungered for. You can make an impact. Maybe only one person sparks to what you are sharing, but what a feeling when you see one of the training participants have an "ah ha!" moment.
But the dirty little secret is that you get so much more out of this than you give. My experience has been that everyone you meet thanks you profusely for coming and being with them. It's amusing the looks you get when you say, "No, I have to thank you."
In the end, it's really a win-win.
What was truly a win for everyone on our most recent trip was getting to review the results of some of the original funding from my 2002 trip. The first area we looked at was the Igarot Village, a tribal cluster of families that migrated to Manila from the Mountain Provinces.
When Five Talents CEO Craig Cole and I first visited this village, it was a typical community in that it was poorly constructed, lacked cleanliness and had little in the way of opportunity. It was there that a small fellowship of women received their first loans to buy knitting machines that they operated outside their homes while chatting throughout the day together.
When I returned in 2005 with Jeff Johnson (George Mason University '73), the transformation was apparent. More people in the community had taken advantage of the loan program, and everywhere you walked, ladies were busy knitting hats, sweaters and other garments. Many were on their third and fourth loan cycles. By saving and borrowing, they were increasing the amount of raw materials they could purchase for production.
The environment was changing too. Some of the cinderblock homes had been finished and enhanced. Families were able to send their children to school and give more to the church, which had transitioned from a mission station to a full-fledged parish by then.
By our third visit in 2012, the change was truly amazing. A community center has been built next to the church in partnership with Five Talents' partner Center for Community Transformation (CCT). The homes boasted some architectural improvement, the streets were clean and the people seemed excited about their future prospects. Even more wonderful was the complaint we heard: They had grown beyond micro-credit size loans and were being stifled in their lack of ability to purchase the raw materials they needed at the discounts larger orders afforded them.
Imagine, the fledging businesses we saw created on $100, now in need of up to $1250 in loans to fund their raw materials!
Isn't this remarkable? In 2002 a fledgling Christ-centered micro-enterprise initiative, based in the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, VA, funded 7 women entrepreneurs 7,000 miles away in a poor tribal community in metro Manila. The ladies bought knitting machines and yarn and began building small enterprises.
A community has since been transformed and a church mission station has become a full-fledged parish sustained fully by the community.
A group of women became united and bonded through the church and their fellowship. They improved their community, sent their kids to school and have built a community center and a pre-school.
Not a bad outcome from a few $100 loans -- it's the parable of the Five Talents brought to life.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Paulini