The Center meeting in Tacloban of member clients and the CARD accounts officer started promptly at 8:00 AM. The roll call, though, showed that this meeting was not the same as most of those that came before. One man attended to represent his wife, who had recently died. Several absent members had left the city and would not return for a while. A few had not yet moved back to the barangay from the evacuation center and, due to the limited transportation, had trouble getting to the meeting on time.
Seventy-five days after typhoon Yolanda tore through the Philippines, destroying homes, robbing businesses, and taking lives, CARD’s member clients at the Center meeting were not interested in talking about their savings or loan payments. They spoke of fleeing their homes as water rushed in, able only to grab their children as they fled with just the clothes on their backs. They talked of neighbors who thought that their stronger cement homes would protect them—neighbors who perished when the storm surge rose too fast for them to get out.
They recounted harrowing hours huddled on a hillside, shivering in the rain and hiding behind rocks, as the 300 kilometer-per-hour winds felled trees and turned debris into missiles. They shared the empty feeling of returning to their neighborhood eight hours later and finding everything gone, with massive tanker ships driven onto the land where their houses had stood. And so began their scramble to survive, to find shelter and food, and to hope that outsiders would bring help soon. “We need rice and water (and yams),” they wrote in large letters in English on one of the stranded ships for the international aid organizations to see. Below it they wrote in their own dialect, “Don’t put trash here, this is our neighborhood.”
For a few days, they survived in an abandoned cement home in their neighborhood that still had a few rooms standing until aid agencies reached them and told them where evacuation centers were set up, offering food and cash-for-work programs. Some moved to these centers, while others went to family living far enough away to not be so badly affected by the storm.
They worked together cleaning their city, removing debris and dead bodies from the streets so that emergency workers could do their jobs. And, they used the relief supplies and the money they earned to restart their businesses, knowing that they would need money to start rebuilding. Those with food shared with those who had little. Those with shelter provided housing for those with none.
All of the member clients mentioned their surprise that their accounts officer had looked for them and found them. He visited the evacuation centers and the homes of relatives to locate each client. He explained when the Center meetings would begin again and where they could get the emergency rice, sardines, and vaccines that CARD provided to help them survive until they could start providing for themselves again. To those who had lost a spouse or children, he reviewed the simplified process for making claims, reminding them that CARD would maintain its 1-3-5 day payment-processing system once it could bring in cash to make the disbursements.
Slowly, they began reestablishing their businesses, buying a few extra items at inflated prices to sell in their sari-sari stores. They purchased rice seed to replant their fields because Yolanda hit just as the last crop had been harvested and set to dry. Many had started to rebuild their homes, while trying to run their business on the side. CARD also joined other microfinance organizations to provide teams of medical volunteers, nurses, doctors, and therapists to help clients with the physical and psychological traumas they sustained from the storm.
Today’s discussion at the Center meeting focused on the “calamity loans” that CARD offered to its clients who survived Yolanda. The accounts officer carefully explained the terms: 6- or 12-month repayment periods with a 1-month grace allowance, lower interest rate, and weekly payments. The women immediately probed for more details.
What if they did not have enough to make full payments at the end of the grace period?
Partial payments would be accepted.
Would they be required to maintain a savings balance with this loan?
How much could they get?
Up to PHP 10,000 (Philippine pesos), or USD 220.
Could they use the loan for their businesses or was it only for rebuilding their homes?
They could use it for anything they needed to get back on their feet, including their businesses.
The women huddled together, calculating what they could afford and what they could do with the money. “We like this loan,” they told the accounts officer, “and most of us will take it. But we think you should call it a rebuilding loan rather than a calamity loan. We don’t want to be treated like victims.”
Later that afternoon, a line of people filled the lobby of the CARD offices and continued out the door, doubling back on itself three or four times until it reached the street. People waited patiently to receive their calamity loans. The doors of the office officially closed at 2:00 PM, but the staff let all those still in line outside come inside. After 9:00 PM, the staff made the last disbursement for the day and then began to quickly total the sums and balance the books, hoping to finish and get home by 10:00 PM.
In the 2013 State of the Campaign Report, we wrote about the vulnerability of people living in poverty. Living with little margin, they often suffer most when the economy fails, war erupts, or disaster strikes. Yet this experience with calamity can build resilience, as CARD’s clients in Tacloban demonstrate so clearly. A few weeks after the most devastating storm to ever hit land, the people there are rebuilding, stocking up their store inventories, selling to and buying from their neighbors, and sharing what little they have with those still in need. They pool the relief that has made it to them, turning it into assets they can use to reconstruct their community.
This response to Typhoon Yolanda also shows the transformational impact that a financial institution can have when it focuses first on getting clients back on their feet, rather than concentrating on recoveries and write-offs. CARD was the first financial institution to bring cash back into Tacloban. By injecting a mix of capital and care, they helped give their clients the hope, energy, and resources to get moving again. And CARD was not alone in this. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) in other parts of the Philippines provided similar supportive programs that included loan moratoriums, food and medical aid, quick insurance payouts, and new capital for rebuilding. This type of assistance has sped the recovery of Tacloban, where every neighborhood is busy with people working to rebuild their homes and businesses, while also taking care of everyday tasks, like washing their clothes and cooking their food. They suffered unimaginable losses, but working together, they have found the strength to get back on their feet and start over.
Note: For the purpose of this report and the Summit’s 19-year fulfillment campaign, any mention of “microcredit” refers to programs that provide credit for self-employment and other financial and business services (including savings and technical assistance) to very poor persons
 CARD’s 1-3-5 payment policy is a pledge that guarantees payment for a claim within one day of the presentation of the required documentation, with payment provided no later than the fifth day from when a claim was filed.
 A sari-sari store, from the Tagalog word meaning “variety,” is a convenience store found in the Philippines.
 All interview excerpts and direct quotes not cited in the text are from interviews carried out by the Microcredit Summit Campaign.
Photo credits: Larry Reed for the Microcredit Summit Campaign