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Love, education and poverty
(Valentine ruminations)

February 12, 2022

There are many reasons to celebrate this month. February 1 marks the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated across the world until February 15. Omicron may have given us an inauspicious start in January, but I am so glad that we are kicking off the Year of the Water Tiger with news that COVID-19 cases are declining nationwide.

February 14, of course, is Valentine’s Day. Many lucky couples will celebrate this holiday with love, flowers and chocolates. My wife and I will make do with our usual morning tête-à-tête over kapeng barako and pandesal, our weathered hearts full of celebrations past. With our kids and apos, the love of friends and colleagues who are like extended family to us, every day feels like Valentine’s. And we are grateful for that.

I am also praying that the IATF will brighten our hearts on February 14, when it announces the updated alert levels as it continues to monitor existing restrictions in light of the decline in COVID-19 infections. The Philippines is now back to moderate risk status, an improvement from the previous high and critical risk classification. I hope that we can all look forward to the reopening of the economy. Let us show our love for others by following health safety standards like frequent handwashing, observing physical distance, and wearing of face masks.

There is another reason to celebrate February 14. It is the 21st anniversary of the CARD-MRI Development Institute (CMDI), a globally-recognized learning institution grown from our humble corner of the world, the scenic province of Laguna. How CMDI came about is also a love story, hewn from our decades of rural development work with the marginalized sectors.

CMDI began as the training unit for personnel of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), a non-government organization, which provides microfinance and related services to poor women. As CARD grew into several mutually-reinforcing institutions (MRIs) in response to the needs of our expanding clientele, our capacity-building needs also became more complex. We were rather naïve when we started CARD in 1986. Full of idealism, armed with limited funds and boundless hope, we thought we only needed to provide microcredit to transform the lives of our clients. But things were not that simple.

You see, poverty has many roots, and lack of education is one of them. Working directly with the poor --especially those in the rural areas -- we saw this firsthand. Our clients suffer many forms of deprivation and their needs go beyond microfinance. Providing them with funds for livelihood is good, yes, but more is needed: financial literacy, training in microenterprises, marketing support, microinsurance, and a host of other things.

Thus, we established the CARD Training Center in 2000 in Barangay Tranca, Bay, Laguna. In there, we trained not just our staff, but our clients. Later on, other organizations also approached us for their training needs. And this is how our training unit evolved into the CMDI: a learning resources network that provides an array of practitioner-led training and education services to our staff and members, as well as other microfinance practitioners seeking advanced education in applied microfinance. It is now a government-recognized educational institution with facilities in Baguio, Pasay, and Masbate, as well as a campus in Tagum, Davao.

Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” The story of CMDI certainly proves this truth. As of December 2021, CMDI has trained 1,570,848 clients under its Credit with Education (CwE) program. Imagine the multiplier effect that more than a million individuals trained on health, business, microinsurance, disaster preparedness, and credit discipline could have on their communities. The impact of these trainings had been felt not just by our clients and their families. Through many disasters and emergencies, our clients have become community leaders, sharing with others what they have learned from us.

To help break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, CMDI now offers affordable education to clients and their children. It offers Senior High School, TESDA-accredited courses and baccalaureate programs. CMDI has granted more than 15,000 educational scholarships to poor and deserving students.

Why focus on education?

Education is crucial because it directly correlates with many solutions to poverty, including economic growth and reduced income inequality. It is also the highest aspirations of our clients: that their children get an education. To poor parents, sending their children to school is the greatest act of love.

Many Filipinos lack access to education. According to DepEd, more than 3 million were not able to enroll last year, while the latest PSA data (2017) show that we have 3.53 million out-of-school youth, half of them from families whose income fall within the bottom 30 percent of the population. Based on PSA’s 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which serves to complement the income-based measure of poverty, indicators on educational attainment consistently had the highest incidence of deprivation among Filipino families.

CMDI, then, is our humble contribution to filling this educational gap. Providing training to clients empowers and enables them to change their lives. We provide affordable quality education to help our clients realize their dream of securing their children’s future. It is also an act of love on our part.

And because February is the month of love, let me end with this quote from Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire: “Education is an act of love, thus, an act of courage.”

We are courageous in our love.