Maria, her husband, his mother.
Did you know that Manilla means “the city of man”? It’s a city filled with men and women who work hard. Really hard. In traveling with Opportunity International, I met person after person who received “micro-loans”. Loans ranging from $100 USD, to perhaps as much as $1,000 USD. The borrowers — like Maria and her husband pictured above — use this money to invest in their businesses – with the hope that the capital infusion will give them greater stability and an opportunity to a better life.
Maria, for instance, used her first few loans to buy a hot plate and some chickens, vegetables, and products. She set up a little food stand by the dirt road which served as the primary footpath for those en route to their jobs in Manilla. With another loan, Maria rented a restaurant space. She now runs a full fledged restaurant operation serving 250 meals/ day.
Maria’s restaurant is open from 4:00 AM to past midnight, 7 days/ week, with either Maria or her husband manning the place. Pretty impressive, right?
But Maria is an isolated example of hard work and a little opportunity bringing demonstrative success. In most of the loan clients I saw, the micro-loans enabled them to keep their families from starving. The loans often allowed their children to stay in the public schools. But the loans almost never actually lifted people from abject poverty.
It didn’t matter how many hours they worked, or how careful they were, loans and work would allow them to lift their heads just above the water line, but it was never going to catapult them up the economic ladder.
But — and it’s a big but— the loans may very well help their children get to the next rung. And if a family (generally the mom) could save enough for the $1,600 US college tuition, then the next generation might just be a game-changer.
This is really what most of them are living for — they work round the clock so their kids can have a shot at a different life. That’s what it’s all about for the women working in the City of Man. Their kids. A few, like Maria, will have a measure of external success. Most everybody else will work and work for a future they may not live to see but in which they are placing all their hopes.