Sunday, March 11, 2007

Illustrating The Indomitable Human Spirit

For many years, Vicky C. toiled tirelessly to keep a family fed and sheltered, doing odd jobs as they were made available to her. Cooking for other families, cleaning houses, and caring for the disabled or the elderly, using skills and expertise borne out of many years of trying to keep pace with the almost-unending needs of a growing family of several children. While the grueling years may show unmistakable signs of wear and tear in Vicky’s physical looks, still it cannot be denied that she has kept her family together and sufficiently cared for.

But the persistent urge to succeed in life and to try to give her still struggling family more in life than it has been used to, Vicky thought and tried of every possible way to bring this uplift about. In the process, she had to have realized that her depleting ability to care for her family, converting essentially manual labor in exchange for resources for her family, would not last for long. So she started focusing on economic endeavors that would generate revenue that would more than keep her family’s soul together. Entrepreneurship that has proved for many to be key to improving one’s lot under a capitalist system.

She had reminisced about the times the family had when they were settled in another city and both husband and wife were employed in a thriving bakery shop. The husband had worked as baker while Vicky tended to cashiering; and they had thought then that the family was on its way to some real progress. But as fate would have it, the bakery burned down and with it, the family’s hopes were also dashed to cinders.

Before long, the family found itself in a another city in Mindanao, in Cagayan de Oro City, with the family trying to parlay what experiences it had collectively acquired to support the family. But as expected when one’s enterprising efforts are bereft of the main lifeblood, capital, Vicky and her penurious family did not garner much headway, consigning Vicky to taking on whatever jobs were available.

Vicky came to our lives as a caregiver for my disabled mom who had spent over a decade in the US with us. Realizing too late the disastrous effects drastic change in climate may have especially on the elderly, one of my mom’s legs had to be amputated due to problems of circulation. Thus, she was back to the old homeland for proper caring. Vicky stayed on with the family till my mom died several years ago, taking on miscellaneous odd jobs. As a cook for which she had special skills, cleaning house, and taking an 8-hour shift caring for my mom who had given up on moving about on her own.

It was then that we learned of Vicky’s commendable plan for her family. While the odd jobs did provide some measure of care for her family, they offered no long term benefit and their ability to provide was inversely proportional to her ability to do tedious physical work.

While compassion and good wishes could ease a bit another person’s lament and problems, nothing beats real concrete assistance to start a needy but motivated person on his way toward resolution. And we know the one direst lack of the needy is the ability to raise capital funds, beyond just to spend to keep family alive. And we also know that mainstream institutions designed to provide assistance for such persons have practically closed their doors, arguing about bad risks and the absence of proper collaterals.

Sensing the noteworthiness of Vicky’s dreams and believing in her integrity and resoluteness, we started helping her out, at the same time that we also did with the two other caregivers who lost jobs when my mom died. And in the ensuing several years, Vicky would prove that she was made of sterner stuff, as the two others simply made themselves rare and never once getting back to us to explain how the “loaned” funds did for their little endeavors. We have come to accept their failures and continue to have compassion and good wishes for them.

Over time, Vicky, her husband, and a couple of her kids, having eventually “borrowed” 70,000 pesos, started crystallizing their bakery business. Humbly starting with a home-made oven with the husband cooking and making deliveries and Vicky helping out in the sales, their entire house has become a beehive of activity. From the funds provided, the business was able to purchase a good-size professionally made oven, construct a little store shed to display bakery products and complemented with a meager selection of her own cooking and some soda products, and even rent the neighboring unoccupied building now in turn leased out to roomers and housing her bakers now numbering six.

Can we consider Vicky’s plight as more than just a turn for the better, like a success?

Well, the acquired high standards of polite society may squirm a bit in judging her strides. After all, their house premises which are also the bakery’s place of business are still dark, dilapidated, hot and humid, and would be considered dirty by most health standards; though improvements are slowly being introduced. Some walls are now hollow-blocked and the floor having being upgraded from simply being made of dirt.

But one must feel in this case that the greater, more enduring and laudable changes and/or manifestations have been inside the persons involved. Documented solely by a signed hand-written piece of paper, the “loan” with no interest is slowly being retired, commencing from the middle of last year. The installments have reduced the total amount to 80%.

Though far from liquidation, there is earnest optimism that eventually the borrowed funds will be completely retired, giving credence to the experience-proved truism that the needy by and large only need to be given the opportunity; and that outright charity or pure dole-out is typically not the answer.