Keeping Above Water

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Julie Martinez in her home with two of her daughters, Sharmine (11) and Aubrey (3).

Today we visited another “barangay,” this one just outside Metro Manila. Kalayaan is situated near a lake called Laguna de Bay, which feeds the Pasig River. The river cuts through the town and through all of Metro Manila to empty into Manila Bay via Baseco, the barangay we visited yesterday.

In Kalayaan I got to speak with Julie Martinez, mother of six. She’s the chairperson of a newly formed micro saving group like the ones in Baseco sponsored by CRS. She’s trusted by the community because of her extensive work as a volunteer for the church and the local government.

Kalayaan is another settlement that is extremely vulnerable to weather events and flooding. The area was devastated during Typhoon Ketsana (known here as Ondoy) in 2009 and by the Monsoon Habagat in 2013 when waters rose as high as 6 feet and didn’t recede for months. Julie’s family of eight lives in a tiny wooden shack that stands on stilts about three feet above the ground. To get to her house, you walk along narrow boards suspended in the air. Below is trash that was swept in during the floods and is too overwhelming to clean up.

Julie and I talk in her living room. The space becomes the bedroom at night and the entire family sleeps on the floor. During the monsoon, they were woken in the night to water coming up through the wooden floor. Flood waters remained around the base of the house for three months while the family lived in a makeshift shelter in an open evacuation center. The foundation, walls and roof of the house are all wood and haven’t been repaired since the flooding in 2009. Julie hopes to shore up her house’s foundation using micro loans through the community saving group she will chair.

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The narrow footpath between houses suspended in the air leading to Julie’s house.

However, no one in the community wants to make large investments in their homes’ infrastructure because very few people actually own the land their houses sit on. Julie isn’t sure who the owner is, but there are rumors that it is owned privately and that any day her family could be forced to leave and the house destroyed. But in the meantime, she would like to make minor repairs; when visitors walk along the planks to her house, she says she can feel the foundation shake. The family has lived in the house for 22 years.

The saving group has already had two meetings and are finalizing their by-laws and constitution. The group of 24 women have decided to save just under 50 cents per week. Loans from the collective will be paid back at 5% interest per month. In addition to repairing her home, Julie would like to open her own business selling fried “itik,” or duck using a loan from the group. Now she works in someone else’s stall but she hopes to one day open one of her own.

For Julie, the savings group is more than just access to capital. It’s also a fellowship group where women can talk out their problems and form bonds of friendship. Laughing, she tells me through a translator that they even talk about their marital problems, about their husbands!

“It really helps,” she said. “Because sometimes you need to talk about these things.”

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Aubrey on the pathway to her house.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Keeping Above Water

  1. John Marcantuono

    Joanna, Your work is very difficult and there is extreme poverty in the villages you have seen. Yet it sounds like the good people there accept and ‘manage’ their poverty, with a sense of determination to do better as in the microloan program about to be set up by a number of women. God bless them for their strength and determination, and even their laughter as they talk about their problems and their husbands! Stay safe and be well. John Marcantuono 10/2715 10:30 am

    Like

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