Since 2007, Leslie Nabong has been leading Project Life Subic. While he was in the Philippines, director Tobias Schüßler conducted an interview with her based on questions that donors and members sent him.
So you have been living in the Philippines for quite some time. Can you explain some of the challenges of living in a developing country?
There are some cross cultural challenges, values and goals of the people here are simply different. Filipino culture is relationship based while we westerners focus more on tasks. To give you an example: its perfectly okay here to be terribly late with something as long as you did something related with another person.
What about corruption?
One of the things we do here is also teaching about integrity. So it is vital for us that our staff do not engage in any activities where they are in a position to have to deal with that. When its asked of us to bribe, which of course happens, we simply smile, stay friendly and refuse in a kind way. Or once I simply thanked a policeman who was obviously waiting for a bribe, and said „thank you for standing for a non-corrupt government. I bet you are an example to your colleagues.“ he smiled back, thanked me and I could leave. So if you handle it well and smile, it often solves the problem here.
What do you value most about the people here?
Peoples willingness to help others. Also family has a really high value here and people are so helpful to older people. Seniors like us are treated very well and respectfully here. Thats just a few short examples.
Last year, the Filipino President was often in the news with his drug wars. You live and work in the poorest areas of the region. What happened here?
We had six people shot in our very street within a week. It was just a few months of that, now things have calmed down again. Also, the population of the local jails, where we do some projects, too, has increased extremely.
But also, curruption or demands for bribes, have gone down a lot.
As a foreigner among Filipino colleagues, are there some cultural issues that still come up?
People here are non confrontational. So they rather lie rather than saying something upsetting, so often they dont mention problems if they think thats an issue. So sometimes you are in a meeting and everyone agrees with you, but later, if they dont want to do it, they just do something different. Thats how things are here and we adapt to it.
We work together on micro loans and sponsor students in the sewing training. One of our supportrs asked, if there are admission criteria for participating in general?
They must be 17 or older. We prioritize those that would benefit most from our training. That could be a trafficking vicktim who has no skills yet. Or a trash scavenger. We take both men and women and do not decide based on religion or anything else. Of course we have a limit of who we can take in in terms of material and budget.
So is religion considered?
No, I wouldn‘t even be able to tell you what faith they have as we don‘t ask or record about that.
What difference does that make for someone to participate in the training? Why would anyone want to work in the textile industry?
We are situated right next to the Subic Freeport zone with over 200 international companies from various industries. A number of firms hire sewers. Firms are paying good wages there. Through our program students can get a certification, which makes it easier for them to work there or even abroad.
Well, the asian textile industry has a really bad reputation in Europe. How do you ensure that your graduates don‘t get into abusive situations?
To be in the freeport, firms must meet ISO criteria and firms are paying good wages there in order to get students. Which is different here also, is that if there are any complaints, workers can go to a neutral authority and voice issues. To get hired, you need a special medical certificate, be reffered by an agency that also approves your birth certificate. So it would for example be next to impossible for children to get a job there. Some of our students who wanted to work there used their produce from our training to pay for those tests and checks.
Here, it is really hard for people to get jobs if you are older than 35. So we went to the agency most of our students go through and lobbied them into accepting older people, too. That was a major breakthrough for us.
Lastly, lets speak of the micro loans. How do you find out what training anyone needs?
They need to communicate a business proposal. So from that and the interview that follows, our staff can evaluate the need for training. And of course whether they are ready to start a business.
We gave out the first loans almost four years ago. What are some of the long term changes that you see in participants that can be attributed to them taking a loan?
Definetly more self-confidence. They learned that they can change their own lives. It And they did. We have seen really dramatic results for single mums who were able to work from home and were really independent from others. Some are now able to support their families through the business. And one of the first participants have even taught others in their family and community to run small businesses!
Do you see a need for more micro loans in general? What can GMI do to reach more people?
We work with the poorest of the poor here. Circumstance has sometimes left them in incredibly hard situations. But those people are often very intelligent and creative. So getting the capital is often the catalyzer for a long term transformation. It offers them hope. So yes, there is still a huge need. To the second part of the question, I think if we had someone who could really focus on that aspect of our cooperation, I believe we can reach a lot more people, too.