How much do you trust your neighbor?
By Burnley Truax
writing from IloIlo City, Philippines
You might trust them enough to give them a spare key to your house or let them water your plants while you’re on vacation. I know my family lets our neighbors have the tinniest smidge of responsibility in our lives; it doesn’t really matter if our plants die or if we lose a set of keys. But Merlin, who lives in a rural area of Iloilo, takes a risk with women from her community about the very thing I, as an unemployed American teenager, would ever trust my neighbor with: money.
Merlin is 54. Her husband, Alberto, is 60. This couple has four kids, three of whom are through college, which speaks to their parents extremely hard work ethic. Before Merlin oped her own “sari-sari” store (similar to a seven eleven) she worked as a farm laborer: waking up early every morning to avoid the scorching sun. Alberto is construction worker who not only built the straw roofed hut ( which is where we had the pleasure of hearing their story), but it is also where his wife holds her weekly meetings with fellow trust bank members. Alberto also built their concrete house using materials bought with the profits of their sari-sari store.
Merlin heard about OI through her community. She asked if she could join a group of women who pay off their loans together. This I think is the first leap of faith that occurs during this process. The existing group of 22 women have to believe that Merlin will have her repayment money on time every week. They have to trust her enough that she wont simply stoping paying – leaving the rest of the group responsible for her unrepaid loan.
Merlin joined the group because they all trusted her. Over her past 5 years of owning her store, Merlin has seen a few women be unable to repay their loans on time. she has seen this happen to other women. When this occurred, Merlin explained how the rest of them must shoulder the loan — together.
After tilting my head to the side, squinting my eyes so much that my unibrow came to life- my mom was able to whisper that “shouldering the loan” quite literally meant to put the loan on everyone’s back. I pictured the women slowly walking down a road when a large stone is dropped onto each of their shoulders. It slows them down but they don’t stop moving.
In Merlin’s community these businesses work as a team; if one goes down then so does everyone else. They all have to trust each other.