Many of us have items in or around our homes that we’ve been meaning to get rid of for years. We walk by these things regularly, on our way elsewhere, occasionally thinking, “I really should see if I can sell that thing,” though it can be a while before we take the initiative and clear up some space.
Who’s Car is That
In General Natividad, a village in the Luzon region of the Philippines, a Suzuki carry vehicle sat, broken down and idle. Once used to transport children to and from distant schools, it had been parked in the same spot for years. The repairs necessary to get it running again cost more than the vehicle was worth. It waited patiently in front of the local daycare center until someone thought of a better idea. One day, someone did.
Residents of Luzon from 40 households formed a community group with facilitation from Outreach Philippines field staff. The group called themselves the “Organization of New Hope in Pulong Visava.” In their native Tagalog language, “Samahang Bagong Pag-asa sa Pulong Visaya” or SBPPV. SBPPV is made up almost entirely of unskilled farm laborers who lack their own land from which to generate income. They earn, on average, roughly $4 US daily, but only during planting and harvest seasons. This leaves months-long lulls where earning regular income from farm labor isn’t possible.
Even in harvest months, when income is all but guaranteed, the money covers only the basics, with very little left over. In rainy months, farm work is unavailable and temporary jobs in construction or domestic service don’t bring in enough money to make ends meet. Many families are forced to take out loans. Interest rates keep borrowers buried, collecting from what little money comes in from the next paycheck, deepening the cycle of debt.
Low-Interest, High Enthusiasm
Most group members were affected by unstable sources of income and usurious loans. They decided amongst themselves to prioritize this need above other issues in their village, which would be addressed in future projects. For now, they voted to sell the broken-down Suzuki and use the proceeds to found a community-managed loan fund. Proceeds benefitted 20 families in Luzon.
Applicants for loans are required to fill out a checklist on a card that lists approved groceries and supplies. A nice bit of wordplay referenced the reduction of stress made possible by more expansive access to basic supplies. The community decided to call the system ReLACS, short for Relief Loan Access Card System. Loans total roughly $22 USD, with half allotted for educational costs (transportation to and from school, supplies, clothing). The other half earmarked for family groceries and basic household supplies. SBPPV agreed that loans should be repaid within six months, at an interest rate of 10%, or 1.7% monthly.
EVERYBODY JUST ReLACS
While this is a small story, it’s symbolic of a big difference. The results of Outreach’s unique approach to sustainable change within communities last longer than the results that would likely come from a gift-based process to developing impoverished communities. The broken-down Suzuki could have been a gift with no follow-up to a community who lacked organization, it likely would have remained unused. It would be parked and rotting until it was swallowed by the landscape or scavanged for parts and scrap metal. Instead, SBPPV discussed their options and found a way to capture the remaining value of the vehicle. It was itself the centerpiece of an earlier project to transport children in their trips to school. Members used profits to sustain their progress through the loan program ReLACS, to continue providing benefits to their group into the future.
When members of SBPPV found themselves empty-handed, they chose to feel around for anything they could use. They mobilized to benefit their community, rather than throwing their hands up in surrender to circumstance. Their success tidied up their community by selling the Suzuki. And they used the proceeds to benefit everyone involved in working to sustainably break the cycle of poverty.