Katie Gard in Manila, Philippines

a window into my new home in an informal urban settlement

What happens when Katie comes home from the Philippines? October 14, 2014

Summer Camp 2014


The After School Program at OCCCDA (Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association) in Philadelphia is in full swing!
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a writer for MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) this morning, and it was invigorating to reflect on all that’s going well in our program, …so I thought I’d share it with you too.  :)
1)  Our after school program was born about 5 years ago, not out of our ideas about what the community needs, but from a research process of knocking on doors in the neighborhood and asking what the perceived needs (and assets!) were in the community — (one of the ‘best practices’ we learned about in grad school!) — and the most common response was: “we need educational support for our children.”  And the facts back it up:
The Philadelphia School District is notoriously distressed, with an unprecedented budget gap of $81 million this year, which has already forced the closing of 64 of Philadelphia’s 250 schools, and upcoming options of either laying off 1,300 staff (mostly teachers), or shortening the school year (Philadelphia School Network, 2014).
On top of this, our neighborhood is one of the most ethnically diverse in Philadelphia, and many parents, who are struggling to learn English themselves, consider themselves unable to help their kids with homework.
This sentiment is backed by:  70% of the elementary-age kids are scoring below “proficient” in reading and math, 1 in 6 are enrolled in ELL classes, and the drop-out rate is such that 50% of men ages 18-24 in our neighborhood haven’t graduated high school.
Therefore, the free after school program at OCCCDA.
2)  For 3 hours every day, Mon-Fri, we offer an Arts & Educational Enrichment program for 60 kids from the neighborhood, with hands-on Math, English, Science, Technology, plus Art, Cross-Cultural, Conflict-Resolution, Nutrition, Recreation, & Music Therapy.
And we carve out Homework Help as a class period, in which volunteers from the local high school and community circulate to help kids with their homework.
3)  Although the program is free, we ask parents to volunteer at least 1 hour per week per child.  This gives us a chance to get to know the parents, and gives them a chance to “give back,” so though they may not have been able to afford a this program if it had tuition, they can maintain dignity and ownership by contributing their time and talents.
We’re seeing that quite a few parents, when given a task that if they weren’t there to do it, it seems there would be no one to do it — end up choosing to come on more days than their minimum requirement, so as to see that niche fulfilled.
For example, when there are parents to staff an extra room, kids who have finished their homework (and begin to get antsy & distracting), can go to a separate room to write paragraphed letters to any of their after-school teachers, which we then respond to the next morning.  Parents have complimented the potential impact that this individualized communication with teachers can foster.
4)  Finally, we have monthly meetings with the parents, in which we gather feedback about programming, and brainstorm about what they’d like to see happen and how they can be part of making it happen.
Needless to say, I’m very happy about where this program is heading, and I’m rejoicing as I look back on the goodness of God, and how He has been guiding the formation of this program, from its beginnings.  And even though I’m not overseas, I’m in awe of the continuities between the driving forces behind this work, and the international community development work I’ve been studying.
Praise God for what he is doing in our world — right in our neighborhood.

How to Change the World. Bornstein. April 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Katie in Manila @ 1:09 pm

An inspiring collection of stories about Social Entrepreneurs:

Bornstein, David (2007). How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.


A ‘teaser’ to give you an idea what it’s about:

TUL 640 – Proj 3.1 – Lit Review & Reading Log – post to share


Theology of Entrepreneurship March 9, 2013

In much of the developing world, the number of able-bodied workers far out-weighs the number of jobs that have been created to employ them.

vach kariton pusher manila-500Two situations result:

First, many of the poor defeatedly resign to the fact that there are no jobs for them, and make do eeking out a living as best they can, with a day-to-day, hand-to-mouth mentality.
Urban poor Filipino culture does not typically lend itself to long-term risk-taking, accumulating capital that could be invested in a start-up business, nor pushing oneself to dream big and work for that dream. Many Filipinos (who are capable of working but don’t have work) live off the good graces of family members & relatives who do have a job, thereby spreading the meager wages thinly.  The income is enough to suffice from day-to-day, but if (when) an emergency arises, they are often forced into cycles of debt.

Secondly, those who are employed are not often treated fairly, but they don’t complain, because they could easily be replaced, as 10 other people are likely waiting to apply for their job.

In the Philippines, most major food chains, stores, and government labor jobs function under a system of contract labor.  Jollibee, (the Filipino competitor of McDonald’s) for example, will often hire workers part-time for only six months at a time, paying them “training period” wages closer to P250/day (minimum wage is P426/day), and clocking them as working 6-hour days, though they are given ‘stay-until-you-get-the-job-done’ assignments that usually keep them there 8+ hours.  (Contract labor is not legally required to pay benefits.)

In bringing about justice, one of the best areas we can target is job creation.

Entrepreneurship has the potential to not just help the ones starting an enterprise, but the additional people they might employ in the future.

In the long-term, nurturing the supposed 10% of the population who have innate entrepreneurial skills could off-set the disproportionate job-to-worker ratio, making the unjust jobs less competitive.  Theoretically, given enough rise of entrepreneurialism, unjust jobs may be forced by the market to reform.

But even on an individual level, from the start, entrepreneurialism can imbibe a certain self-confidence and a breath of new life.


Katie’s story of Ate Rebecca:  Manila, Philippines.

In the urban poor community I live in, I have a good friend named Ate Rebecca.  (Ate means ‘older sister.’)  My host mom had been employing her for a while to wash our family’s clothes, but when that stopped working out, she began asking to borrow money from me, with a pitiful pout.  I knew better than to get on a lending spree with her, but agreed instead to support her short-term while we explored alternative job possibilities for her.  We visited a ministry that counsels in livelihood options, and she chose to try soap-making.  We attended a free seminar and invested in a small kit for making dish-soap.  We kept meeting together to check-in as Ate Rebecca led the way on selling soap to her friends and neighbors. 


I soon noticed a marked change in her attitude.  She now felt more in control of her financial situation, commenting, “I hadn’t thought of this as something I can do, but now… I’m doing it!”  We discussed what portion of the earnings ought to go back into capital for the business, what part to set aside for saving & repaying long-overdue loans, and what part could be spent on a conservative but healthy lifestyle for her and her family. 

It all seemed very promising until we discovered that the quality of soap was noticeably inferior, and none of her friends and neighbors were coming back for more.  This was our first major hiccup.  After much consideration, we upgraded to a bubbly version and tried again.  But the momentum had been lost, and the nearby friends: disinterested. 

We’re currently shelving the project, but the experience was not a waste.  It gave Ate Rebecca a taste of taking charge of her lack of employment, and me a window into the hurdles & responses, and transformation of one trying out entrepreneurship. 

God calls us to:

  • Seek justice for the oppressed.  

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”  -Isaiah 1:17

Job creation and nurturing entrepreneurship is a good way to work towards this justice.

  • Wise investment of capital.

The ‘Parable of the Talents’ in Matthew 25:14-30 points us toward a responsibility for creative investment and money management.

Another, (more often overlooked), key feature of this story is the lending of capital.  The church should consider how to engage the poor in business skills training, and careful lending of funds.  Funds could come from either a revolving loan fund initiated by wealthier members of the church, or accumulated by the poor themselves in a ‘paluwagan’ style savings cooperative.

* Paluwagan is a Filipino system in which members agree to each put small amounts of cash into a kitty weekly, and then lend the kitty to a different member each period.  It’s a useful way for the poor to collect capital without outside intervention. 

In sum, enabling entrepreneurship can be a central component to the church’s response to seeking justice for the poor.

For the printable Word doc version of this post, click here:
TUL 640 – Proj 2 – Theology of Entrepreneurship short – 3-9-13


A Worldwide Phenomenon: Informal Private Schools serving the Poor March 6, 2013

proj 2 - indiaschool2Across the world, it’s commonly accepted knowledge that private schools are for the rich, and public schools are for everyone else.  However, research by James Tooley, documented in The Beautiful Tree, shows otherwise.  In case studies globally, a surprising majority of school-age children, supposed by statistics to be ‘out-of-school youth’ are electing to attend informal local neighborhood low-budget private schools, rather than their sometimes far away, under-performing public school counterparts.


What’s going on in this global but off-the-radar system of alternative schooling?  Why are paid alternatives preferred by poverty-stricken parents to free public schools?  What are the benefits and shortcomings of each?  If we (outsiders) aim to help, ought we keep pouring into improving the public school system, or are there ways to help support the informal schools?  Ultimately, what might an ideal model look like?  And how might external funding be put to best use (if at all)?
Click here for the rest of the story!

TUL 555 – Proj 2 – The Beautiful Tree + Oxfam – Katie Gard – 3-5-13


Fire in the Slum! A story of clever recovery. November 25, 2012

Dec 26, 2011.  11:00am.  Fire breaks out along the river bank of the Legarda Esteros, totally gutting 89 wall-to-wall shanty structures home to 186 families.  Every person was able to escape the flames with the clothes on their backs, but not much more.  Most had been in their homes resting from a full Christmas celebration the night before, while many families were off visiting relatives in the provinces.

By 3pm, the fire was declared “controlled,” and the community members gathered themselves at the scene.  Barangay captain, Filomena Cinco, immediately called a meeting of all the head-of-households (mostly fathers).  “There’s a pattern,” she said, “among slum communities who are stubbornly resistant to eviction:  fire, then barricade.”  There was little doubt in their minds that the fire was a strategic, last attempt to dis-empower a community that was on the verge of its ground-breaking event (Dec 30) that would begin erecting permanent houses on the land and solidify the community’s long-sought land tenure.

But this community on the banks of the Legarda Esteros, after a decade of cleverly mediating a plan for permanent rights to the land they were living on, was not about to be out-done.

Captain Cinco called all able community members to immediately begin clean-up.  By the end of the day, any and all scrap material that could be sold had been brought to a central location.  Then the men of the community took posts barricading the border of the community so that no one could enter to barricade them out.

The following day, the gathered junk was at once sold to a junk shop, generating P240,000 ($5,854 USD), which was immediately divided equally among the families.  It was just enough for each family to purchase plywood (for floors and walls), and roofing for a skeleton of a shelter.

Captain Cinco then gathered the carpentry-wise men and posed the question, “How many of these shanties can we build in a day?  3-4 per work crew?  Let’s get to work!”  By the end of the 5th day, every family was equipped with the bare bones of an erected structure.

On the sixth day, the antagonistic LGU (local governing unit) sent representatives to deliver the message that no one should build new houses on the land.  “Well, see for yourselves,” replied Captain Cinco, “all the houses have already been rebuilt!”  The representatives toured the site of the freshly-finished houses, taking photos to document the facts.

On the seventh day, Captain Cinco and her crew were summoned to the LGU offices and charged with insubordination.  “You’re building houses and you weren’t supposed to!” they chided.  “Sir, when we got the memo, all the houses had already been built!”  Once again, the LGU was appalled and frustrated at the cleverness and unified cooperation of the stubborn residents of the Estero.

Twelve years after their first eviction notice in 2000, the community is still working on gaining land rights… and is almost complete!
This was the site of my advocacy internship this semester with MATUL.   

Click here for the rest of the story!
Adv – Proj 1 – Internship 10 pg report – 11-25-12


Saving for the “What Ifs” September 7, 2012

Filed under: Community Economics — Katie in Manila @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Adversity to Saving

It’s been a curiosity to me that more people don’t save money when they’re in times of plenty so that they’re not destitute in times of want.  Aside from being today-oriented, and the fact that others just might come asking to use your savings for their emergencies, it’s a deeply embedded worry in the culture that maybe something bad will happen to you if you save just for the sake of saving.


Story #1:

A few months ago, Romeo started saving what was left of his lunch money at the end of every day.  After about a month, he got sick, and his entire savings (plus some of his parents’ money) went toward a doctor’s visit  and medicine.

It’s because he was saving,” commented his friends.  “Bad things happen to you when you hoard your money.”


Story #2:

I cross-checked this story with a friend from another circle, and she verified it with one of her own:

This bamboo “alkansya” is a typical traditional Filipino piggy bank. There’s a hole at the top to drop in coins, and you have to break it to get money back out.


“A few years ago, I started a little piggy bank, with no explicit purpose; just to save.  On the same day that I filled it to the top, my dad got in a taxi accident, and the amount in my piggy bank was exactly the cost of the hospital bill.”  She of course surrendered her entire savings to the family’s cause, and couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that maybe the accident was because of her savings.

Maybe it was God’s or fate’s way of telling her, ‘don’t tuck away money for yourself for no certain reason, or fate will give you a reason, and it won’t be pretty.’


It’s OK to Save when… 

* My friend added that it is culturally acceptable to have a piggy bank if you’re saving for something specific, even if it’s just a toy or something you don’t need — just as long as it has a purpose.

* Culture has also adapted to sanction saving in a bank, where the money is supposedly out of sight, out of mind.

* The problem comes when the piggy bank becomes an end in itself, just ‘having money’ being the object of our desire.


Saving for the “What Ifs”:

This helps explain one more reason why trying to talk my friends into saving for the abstract ‘future’ is so difficult — when “you never know… something might happen and you’ll need cash” doesn’t sound like, “ooh, therefore I should save” so much as “yeah, if I save, I bet something will happen!”


Cause & Effect Interpretations    – of –    Saving & Negative Incidents:

Interesting how interpretations of the above events can vary with cultural upbringing.  My natural reaction to both stories was, “well, given that something bad happened, it sure is good that you have already what you need to cover the cost, so that you don’t have to go into debt to pay for this emergency.”  And theirs is, “if I don’t want to incur an unexpected expense, I should probably refrain from saving aimlessly.”



Our happy medium:  plan a goal you want to save for.  I’m happy to report that I have about 5-6 friends setting aside vacation money in my care, and 2-4 saving up for Christmas.  I’d noticed before that everyone comes with a distinct purpose for saving… now I know why.  :)


Angel’s Burger March 5, 2012

Filed under: Community Economics — Katie in Manila @ 5:25 pm

Food Too Popular
Angel’s Burger is a favorite (in fact, the only) chain hamburger shop in Botocan.  It has great patronage, especially because it’s in a prime location — right next to the central basketball court.

Two days ago, the corporation decided to close down their Botocan site.  Apparently, its delivery truck had started having problems getting all the way to Botocan.  Reportedly, kids in a neighboring community had practiced their hold up skills on the truck recently & stolen all the buns.  I don’t know if the incident was repeated or not, but without negotiation, Angel’s decided that was beyond what they wanted to deal with, and pulled out.

Opportunity for Entrepreneurship

As disappointing as the loss is to the people who like to hang out at the court and eat burgers, a few of us are wondering if this might be a good opportunity for the workers to go from employees to owners/operators.  It’s popular enough.  They’d survive.  They just need the capital to start.

There are plenty of micro-credit organizations around that offer loans — some at fair rates, and others at ridiculously high rates.  I did some research, and it looks like the low-rate ones available in Manila (like CCT.org) are so into the slow work of community development that it would be difficult to get a quick loan from them on-the-spot, to keep up the momentum.

Lending agencies available from the US (like KIVA.org) use “field partners” (like CCT.org), so you can’t get a loan directly from KIVA.org anyway.
Hmm… options, options.  This is all happening at the same time that a few of us were musing about some of our church members who don’t have jobs, but hang around the Angel’s Burger area a lot.  I wonder if they’d ever want to pool their resources & go into business with the Angel’s Burger’s employees…

Fun to think about.  But I know it has to be their idea — no sense in me pushing something where mine is the only enthusiasm.  ;)

Just the same, it’s fun to start thinking about practical application for all I’m learning right now in my Community Economics course about micro-enterprise.  :)