Where The Heart Is: Tandag, Mindanao and their Self Help Groups
How can a small organized community in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, Mindanao provide loans and financial assistance totalling 3 million Pesos within their own Self-Help Group (“SHeG”) within just three years?
At the Alay Kapwa Launch in Mindanao (Taste on Alay Kapwa), I was specifically drawn to a smiling group who warmly welcomed me into their discussion. They told me all about their Self-Help Group (SHEG)program designed to provide funds and assistance to their members. Little did I know they would also be the community that we would be visiting to learn about best practices in the Diocese of Tandag, a NASSA/Caritas Philippines supported initiative under the Sustainable Agriculture Program.
I was in awe as to how a barrio community group with about ninety members were able to provide loans and assistance totalling 3 million Pesos to members within their SHEG. Their SHEG does not receive any fund allocations or grants from outside their community and all their funds were collectively raised by their own members through weekly savings, donations and other contributions. The SHEG is self-managed and truly lives out the message, “start from where the people are and build on what they have”.
Through their joint fellowship and commitment, they are supporting each other in both their material and spiritual needs. There is a significant number of SHeG groups among the Church’s eighty-five dioceses across the Philippines. SHeg was initiated under a SusAg Program (empowering women in Agriculture) and after this project was completed, NASSA/Caritas Philippines decided to continue the SHeG accompaniment of Tandag with funds raised from Alay Kapwa and from there, a few more Diocesan Social Action Centers (DSACs) were added for SHeG organizing.
The Program Officer (2013-2015) for SHeG, Cheryll Manuel, directly communicates with all the project officers and community facilitators under the program in 9 Dioceses around the Philippines; some of these diocesan community facilitators, like for the Diocese of Tandag, now continue to accompany the SHeG even after the project is completed at the national level. She believes what stands out the most is the inspiration that the members receive from each other. Manuel, further shares that SHeG is able to give meaning and nourishment in the lives of its members; spiritual values formation is strengthened in many who have forgotten and has gone back to the Lord. Harmony and peace is strengthened not only in their groups but in their community.
According to principle SHeG is non-political and non-religious. What is important is that the community respects each one’s culture. Manuel states that SHEG is not only focused on religion but more on values formation. The community decides on topics that they will have because that is what is directly affecting them. They are open to talk about issues and discuss concerns coming from its very name, ‘self-help’ group.
There is a very big advantage for SHeG when the community facilitator lives in the community and become part of the everyday life and encounter.
Barangay Soong in Purok Mangga Uno has a total of ten SHEG groups with inspirational names to keep them going such as“Hope”, “Love”, “Life”, “Star Kids” and “Happy Family”.
Hope is a typical smaller SHEG with about ten members who meet every Sunday for fellowship, mutual support and prayers. They are committed to help each other and their community through the provision of loans in support of personal and family needs, including tuition, health and business start-ups to create new livelihood. Meetings are held in a different member’s home each week so that all members learn how to host, lead and entertain their group.
NASSA/Caritas Philippines Executive Secretary Fr. Edwin Gariguez(first from left) together with Barangay Soong’s most active SHEG couple and Fr. Jazz Siapco (first from right) who has trained various diocesan social action workers on how SHEG is practiced and materialized.
All SHEGs give each of their members the opportunity to speak publicly, listen to other members and express their views at the Sunday meetings. This requires them to “come out of their shells”, be more community-minded and learn about business and financial management which improves their knowledge and self-confidence.
Practicing the spirit of paluwagan — a savings scheme — each (SHeG) member contributes an agreed amount every week into a pool which is distributed to a different member of the group, each week, by drawing lots. Over a period of time every member gets back the amount they have saved to increase their savings and their own emergency fund. Savings are essential so that funds are available when needed for an unexpected disaster, family crisis, accident, serious illness or bereavement.
It is also possible for members to loan (part of) their savings into a community fund which will be available to other membersof the SHEG for business or personal use, by way of loans at a chargeable interest rate of 5% per annum with agreed capital repayment terms.
Money that is loaned from the community (SHeG) fund by members will earn interest and will be repaid to them at a future date on agreed terms.
SHEG members shared their experiences on how being part of this community has strengthened their faith, given them confidence in dealing with certain situations while, at the same time, has taught them how to create their own livelihoods, and to save and be independent.
Looking at the hundreds of people attending the Tandag Alay Kapwa launch, with smiles and openness towards each other, I thought how much this reflected the importance of being part of a happy community.
So much has already been achieved from small beginnings.
SHEG also has expanded to Kids SHEG for them to encourage children how to save even at a young age.
NASSA/Caritas Philippines expands and extends SHEG communities to the different dioceses interested in having SHEG in their community across the Philippines.
Through the efforts of “small things with great love” the community of Tandag was able to build a chapel through their collective savings that is now in the center of their community.
SHeG can teach us that with leadership, team work and commitment, the seemingly impossible can always be achieved
Get to know more about how “Small things with great love” happen when many hands and hearts work together: More about SHeG