Diesa and her family live in Mabinay, in the Philippines. The municipality is one of great natural beauty: tourists come year-round to explore the cave systems and splash in its many rivers, one of which gives the area its name. Legend says that the river, Mabinay Spring, was formed from the tears of a woman mourning her lost love.
Visitors might admire the Mabinay for its beauty, but for Diesa, the land is more than its looks. She is a farmworker who helps harvest others’ crops. Her husband, Jeson, digs sand and gravel to sell to supplement his primary job as a carpenter. The hours are long, the labor is hard, and the pay is minimal.
Sometimes, too, the land turns against them. Diesa’s family home is made of light materials and weak against the elements. They live less than a tenth of a mile from the nearest river, and the house is situated across from an empty lot that was formerly used for dumping sugarcane. Flooding is therefore more common and frequently severe.
By the time Feed the Children arrived in Mabinay, Diesa and her family had already weathered many storms. Money for rebuilding was always tight. So, while Diesa was happy for her son Jeejay to participate in Feed the Children’s sponsorship program, which provided him with otherwise-unaffordable school supplies, she was more hesitant to enroll in another program: the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) group.
A VSLA is an alternative to a bank, for individuals who don’t have access to a traditional financial institute or qualify for a loan there. A small group of individuals from the same community join together to create a pool of funds into which all parties regularly contribute money. Members can take out loans as needed.
Diesa didn’t initially like the idea of parting with her hard-earned income, but she knew her family was on shaky financial footing, and that access to loans might come in handy. After participating in Feed the Children’s two-day VSLA training session, Diesa felt empowered and made the decision to join.
In December 2021, Typhoon Rai struck the Philippines. Diesa and her family were forced to flee with only what they could carry: Diesa and her son holding light bags; Jeson carrying their seven-year-old daughter Agnes. Water levels rose up to four feet as they staggered across the sugar cane fields, rain-blind and praying.
Everyone in Diesa’s family survived, but their home and all the possessions they’d been forced to leave behind did not. They had nowhere to go, and no food – but thanks to Diesa, they were not without resources. The money she’d set aside in the VSLA was ready and waiting to be used.
In fact, every member of Diesa’s VSLA had been affected in some way by the typhoon. So, while no single individual could make a large withdrawal, they were all able to access their own shares of the savings to use while waiting for government assistance.
“The truth is, I am still traumatized by what happened,” Diesa says. “Every time it rains, we pack up our stuff. But I am grateful I decided to be a part of the savings group.”
Today, Diesa, Jeson, Jeejay, and Agnes are back in a house. Jeejay and Agnes attend school, and their parents continue to work hard to provide for their future. Diesa is still part of a VSLA and working towards increased financial independence.
“My family is proud, being a part of Feed the Children’s programs,” Diesa says. “I want to lead by example, as a good saver to my children.”