Saturday, September 4, 2010


The gentleman to left is Mr. Rolando B. Victoria, Executive Director of ASKI. Known as "the Boss" around ASKI, Mr. Victoria rarely stopped by the office due to traveling around the Philippines and Asia in order to attend microfinance seminars and meetings. I knew I was lucky that he was at the office and I couldn't leave Cabanatuan City without meeting him.

After his meeting with the visitors with Cambodia, I went to his office and he instantly opened the door and welcomed me. I was nervous at first, knowing his significance not only in ASKI but also in microfinance throughout Asia. Surprisingly, when he began to talk, I felt more comfortable and he seemed like any other Filipino adult I've met before. He talked passionately about the purpose of ASKI and told me in an instructing tone to get my friends involved back at Peddie. Right then I knew that my Summer signature had to become more than a presentation to the community; it would have to play a role within the community. After all, Peddie and microfinance share a common goal of respect and service. Therefore, by introducing the two, I knew I could create a potent combination filled with students and teachers eager to combat poverty. It would take a lot of work, but meeting Mr. Victoria proved that the ends will justify the means in microfinance.

Another shot of the ASKI Cabanatuan branch. Opposed to Mallig Plains Rural Bank, ASKI is not a bank. Although it operates five different business units, which include insurance and training in both business and social aspects, ASKI does not offer the traditional services of a bank, including a savings account. It is one of ASKI's future plans to institutionalize a banking sector by 2012. As the plan suggests, ASKI continues to grow.

Another picture with Mr. Victoria and two visitors from Credit MFI in Cambodia.

One unique aspect of the Cabanatuan branch: it has its own convenience store located right below the offices. However, the products seen here come from ASKI clients. Going beyond food and drink, the store also sells clothing, decorations and souvenirs that were created by clients. ASKI actively helps its clients through this convenience stores and other methods due to the Marketing Cooperative, one of ASKI's business units. Through Marketing Coop, ASKI provides its clients with strategies and opportunities to bring their goods to the market.

This is the general meeting room where Morning Devotion and other events are held.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Morning Devotion

Mr. Chan Mach, a visitor from Cambodia, also spoke at the Morning Devotion about his first experiences in ASKI in 2000 and the startling differences today. Mr. Chan also works at a microfinance institute in Cambodia. ASKI is seen as a leader in microfinance not only in the Philippines but also in Southeast Asia.

The band prepping (below) and playing (above) at Morning Devotion. The lyrics of the song are projected onto the wall, allowing everyone to sing along.

Upon arriving at ASKI, I was asked to attend Morning Devotion at the main office. Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to see a band prepping up for their performance, sound-checking their instruments as employees began walking into the general meeting room. Approximately 50 employees congregated in the meeting area as the band began to play Christian rock music. While I was not accustomed to Christian rock, I began to feel the vibe of not only the band but also everyone around me. They sang to songs of Christ, clapping and dancing to the melodies. One could feel their appreciation and their devotion to Christianity.

I read that ASKI was a God-centered organization but attending Morning Devotion truly displayed the organization's commitment to being a religious institution as well as a microfinance one. Ms. Garlitos told me that Morning Devotion not only created the God-centered culture within the staff but also served as a "character and confidence builder." Immediately following the music, a lecture about "Leadership and Listening" was given by the Human Resources Department head, Ms. Divina "Joy" Santos. The lecture was insightful, contained Bible references and provided the staff with comprehensible lessons. I learned from the lecture as well, scribbling notes onto my little journal.

Morning Devotion is conducted in all the branches of ASKI and defines one of the unique characteristics of ASKI. My impressions from Morning Devotion were that ASKI strives to not only provide the needy with the opportunities to uplift their socioeconomic status but also to empower both its clients and staff to transform their lifestyle. As a result, both clients and staff members work together with the goal of servicing others. After the one hour Morning Devotion, all the employees and staff members returned to their respective offices with ASKI's mission and vision ingrained in their minds.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Week Two - Alalay sa Kaunlaran, Inc. (ASKI)

My grandmother (in yellow) and I smile with the Cabanatuan branch of ASKI.

Signs of ASKI and its five other business units.

Apart from the Cabanatuan branch, ASKI's main office is also located in the same building.

The sun slowly crept over the still sleeping city of Cabanatuan. It was early Monday morning and the main office of ASKI was still closed. My mind was half-asleep as I waited with my grandmother and my driver in the van.

While the weekend trip to Cebu was a nice break, it was time to return to work. Cabanatuan City was a three-hour car ride away from Manila and I had to arrive at the ASKI office before 8 o’clock in the morning. My grandmother, ever the drill sergeant of the family, vigorously woke me up at 3:30 am, turning on blinding lights and instructing me with her stern voice to “get up and dress up.” After waking up to the soft sounds of waves crashing onto the white sand beaches of Cebu, I was shell-shocked by the sudden wake-up call. Eventually, I was up and ready to go, not really worrying about the long commute.

We arrived at the ASKI office at 6:30. Without any local traffic in the usually busy streets of Manila and Cabanatuan, my driver was able to breeze through the national highway and cut the three-hour car ride into two hours. While I was upset that I could have woken up later in Manila, the van proved to be a comfortable place to nap in. As the clock hit 7:45, I got out of the van and climbed the stairs to the ASKI headquarters.

I immediately met Ms. May Garlitos, senior training specialist at ASKI and the hostess of my study visit in Cabanatuan. She wore a smile and expressed a congenial welcome to both my grandmother and me. Over the weeks of communication with ASKI before my arrival in the Philippines, I was able to secure a four-day study visit with ASKI that included studying at the Cabanatuan head office as well as the Roxas branch. With 25 branches spanning 10 provinces and 189 towns, the size and scale of ASKI’s microfinance operations would be comparatively different to the smaller Mallig Plains Rural Bank. Going beyond microfinance, ASKI is also composed of five different business units: ASKI Mutual Benefit Association (MBA), ASKI Foundation, ASKI Marketing Coop, ASKI Knowledge and Skills Institute, Inc. and ASKI Global Ltd. These business units expand the scope of ASKI's mission and vision to serve the needy of Luzon through a God-centered institution.

I knew it was going to be another busy week.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend Trip to the South

In front of Santo Nino's Basilica. Santo Nino is the patron saint of Cebu.

Some whole shrimp in garlic sauce. The seafoods were delectable in Cebu and specifically in Mactan Island.

This is Magellan's Shrine located in Mactan Island.

My cousin and I ponder beside the sea.

Despite the tiresome traveling and early hours, the first week of my study visit in the Philippines was a success. I was thrilled to be able to participate in Mallig Plains’ operations as well as acquire a wealth of information from which I could learn more specific details about the bank’s microfinance services.

However, the trip did leave some room for relaxation. Knowing that week two would present another relentless schedule of traveling and studying with ASKI, I knew I would need some time to recharge. Over the weekend, my cousin’s uncle, who happens to be an executive at one of the Philippines’ mainstream banks, treated us with a trip to the southern island of Cebu, which is a tourist hot spot known for its white sand beaches, delicious seafood and historic landmarks.

For example, circumnavigator Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu during his historic journey around the world. Unfortunately, his journey would end in Cebu as well when an indigenous tribal chief named Lapu Lapu slain Magellan in the Battle of Mactan. Lapu Lapu is now recognized as the first Philippine hero and the fish Lapu Lapu, which is a local delicacy in Cebu, has been named after him.

The trip was a beautiful way to enjoy the Philippines’ rich culture beyond the main island of Luzon. When we returned to Manila that Sunday, I was refreshed and ready to resume my summer signature work.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Masigun, Roxas, Isabela -- Community Service

While the day care center lacked in size, the people within the building definitely did not lack in spirit. The community service activity was a nice break from the hectic schedule of my study stay in Roxas. However, little did I know that the trip to Masigun would be a preview to the mission and vision of another microfinance institution I would be visiting, Alalay sa Kaunlaran, Inc. (ASKI). A leader in the social performance aspect of microfinance, ASKI goes beyond microfinance, seeking to build and develop communities through service and education. There will be more to come about my visit to ASKI in future blog posts.

The children weren't the only ones receiving some presents. The teacher also received some supplies to help educate the children as well as organize the day care center's day to day activities. When I looked at the vivid posters covered with addition problems and the classroom's helpers for the week, I was reminded of my own kindergarten experience and the importance of establishing a sturdy foundation for learning.

Some of the more outgoing children show off their new books and supplies. These children appreciated everything they were given, even if the gifts were school supplies and bible coloring books. However, the parents also expressed their gratitude, returning wide smiles and hugs as I passed along the food and supplies.

In addition to observing the workings of microfinance, I set aside some time for community service. Working with the local Rotary Club, I distributed some school supplies and food to children at a local day care center in barangay Masigun, Roxas. Even though I was once again required to wake up at an early hour, arriving at the day care center and seeing the children definitely lifted up my spirits.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mallig Plains Rural Bank 2

I was lucky to meet Dr. Leocadio Ignacio, the president of Mallig Plains Rural Bank and College. A doctor, soldier, delegate of the Philippine Constitutional Convention, governor of Isabela, educator and businessman, Dr. Ignacio has an impressive resume and continues to impress those around him at the age of 91.

After doing a barangay mapping, the students were required to select one of the house's residents in order to conduct a means test interview. A means test interview allows the students to find out about a potential client's socioeconomic background. The students can then discern whether or not the potential client is qualified to receive a micro loan.

The next day I studied with college students from Mallig Plains College (seen in the background). All the seniors at the college are required to study microfinance courses under the tutelage of the bank's own specialized trainers. After sitting in a class, I went on a field study with the students, walking around the neighboring barangay of Casili. We performed a barangay mapping, which is basically marking down houses on a map of the barangay to locate potential clients in the area.

The women seen in this photo are in a group that participates in the micro-pinay lending program. Interestingly, the program is exclusive only to women with the intentions that these women will help their husbands raise additional income for their families.

This is a pig coral that was funded by a micro loan provided by Mallig Plains. Project officers often check with the bank's clients to see whether or not the loans are being used in an effective manner towards a client's micro enterprise. I was particularly interested with this picture because it helps capture the scope of how these loans are utilized.