Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Third-World Groups Help Poor Help Themselves `Bridge to Progress' Extends Loans to Filipinos to Set Up in Business

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Third-World Groups Help Poor Help Themselves `Bridge to Progress' Extends Loans to Filipinos to Set Up in Business

Article excerpt

THE streets are barely 6 feet wide; open sewers carry garbage and effluent to a nearby fetid canal. But surprisingly, many homes in this district in Metro Manila have metal roofs, electricity, and running water.

The working poor live here, struggling to survive. Organizers from Tulay sa Pag-unlad Inc., or Bridge to Progress, have chosen this area to help the poor help themselves. Bridge to Progress extends loans, sometimes as small as $50, to assist residents to set up small businesses.

Angelina Pelajio owns a food stall, which consists of two narrow wooden benches under a thatched roof. Serving chicken adobo (stew) to noontime customers, she says many of the poor residents are willing to work hard, given an opportunity. Ms. Pelajio and her family wake up at 3 a.m., she says. They buy food at the market, cook it at home, and then begin serving breakfast and lunch at the stall. Their day ends at midnight.

Pelajio was not able to get a conventional bank loan because the amount she needed was so small. She also had no formal credit history or collateral. She took out a $100 loan from Bridge to Progress and pays back a few dollars each week out of her daily profits of $4-$5. Poverty fighters

Benjamin Montemayor, executive director of Bridge to Progress, calls such women "natural poverty fighters." Faced with unemployment, women want to "preserve whatever is left for their children," Mr. Montemayor says. Women also have a much higher loan repayment rate than men, he says.

Bridge to Progress is one of a growing number of self-help programs in third-world countries sponsored by Opportunity International, an Illinois-based, non-denominational Christian organization. Bridge to Progress understandably draws strong support from conservative businessmen but, surprisingly, also gets kudos from left-wing activists.

In 1982, Opportunity International contacted Montemayor, then a banker, about setting up a program in the Philippines. He says he decided to drop out of the high-pressure business world and use his skills to fight poverty. …

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