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Field Update: My Trip to India, Part 6

By Mark Lutz

Opportunity's Senior Vice President of Global Philanthropy, Mark Lutz, traveled to India to meet some of our incredible clients. Over the course of two weeks, he is sharing a few of the stories of the powerful moments he experienced and inspiring people he met. Read Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here

After a week in India, we headed to the Philippines to look at a program that serves the ultra-poor. The women we met, rather than borrowing from a bank or microfinance institution, formed informal savings groups in their communities, taking turns borrowing from their collective savings. The 30 members set their own interest rates, elected their own leaders, and made their own rules, including what the loans could be used for. 

I visited one of the members that had taken out 4 sequential loans over the last couple years, ranging from $100 to $150. Theirs were not typical enterprise loans, but for home construction. The husband worked whenever he could as a day laborer. With the economy in their region picking up, and somewhat steady work available, he was making about $40 per week, enough for their family of 4 to live on, plus pay back their construction loans from the savings group.

These informal loans enabled the family to buy the raw materials which they personally installed. With their first two loans, they bought supporting wood posts, basic framing for the roof, and corrugated tin that would keep the future house dry.

Once that initial work was complete, and the roof was up, the family moved in, undeterred by the draping plastic walls or natural dirt floors. Over the next couple years, with their subsequent loans from the community group and the husband's day jobs, they bought cinder blocks and concrete and built their home one layer at a time as funds allowed.

The exterior walls are now more than half finished. Black plastic sheets and quarter-inch plywood close in the top portions. Similar wood panels carved out a bedroom for the parents. Eventually, they’ll afford a door and windows, and ultimately, they hope to pour concrete over the dirt floor. 

What impressed me was the patience of this young family and their pride in what they’d achieved. When my wife and I were their age, we did what most first-time homeowners in our country do. We scraped together for a down-payment, took out a 30-year mortgage, and moved into a completely finished dwelling. Instant housing is the norm for young families.

Many people in the developing world resort to a different rhythm. They borrow from neighbors, buy and build as they go, and when necessary, live through a prolonged construction. Their tenacity and patience leave me humbled, mindful of my unmerited luxury, convicted by my lack of gratitude, and determined to empower more families like this one in the Philippines. Thank you for your concern for “the least of these”.

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