The municipality of Nueva Valencia in the island of Guimaras was once among the poorest places in the Philippines. In 1981, Save the Children set up its very first program in the country here, and it focused on multi-sectoral development in health and nutrition, education, and agriculture, among others.
One of Save the Children's many interventions to help address the prevalent poverty in the area was a training on savings and entrepreneurship, which led to the establishment of the Nueva Valencia Women's Savings Group. Edna Gabayeron, founding manager, said women back in those days were mostly dependent on their husbands for income. "That's why Save the Children came up with a way to help them," she said.
To start the savings group's funding, the women of Nueva Valencia started putting aside 5 to 10 pesos per month. When the fund came up to PHP 800, Save the Children contributed an equal amount, bumping the total up to PHP 1600. "Back then, you could start your own business with just PHP 200," said Edna. Members availed of small loans from the group, and its capital grew from the interest.
"Our objective was really just to help the women in Nueva Valencia to grow their livelihoods, and to teach them how to save," said Edna.
In 1988, the savings group evolved into the Nueva Valencia Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Inc. (NVMPCI). Though they now accept male members, women still comprise about 90% of its membership.
Since its founding, NVMPCI has not slowed down in its efforts to help improve the lives of people in their community. "We were continuous in the capital build-up," said Edna. "But if we depended only on the contributions of our members, we would not be able to sustain our operations."
From providing loans, NVMPCI expanded its operations to catering services. Members ran the cooking and delivery, and they served various government offices all over Guimaras. It was so successful that they were able to purchase a vehicle specifically for that service.
In 1999, through funding from the USAID, NVMPCI was able to construct a training center that can be rented out for different functions. Able to house up to 45 people, the center employs 13 full-time staff—all of whom are members of the cooperative.
Through the many efforts of NVMPCI, countless women's lives were improved. "One of our former cooks was able to send her kids to school, one of which now works in Saudi. She was also able to visit him there," said Edna. "She used to be very poor."
True to its origins from Save the Children's intervention, NVMPCI now also has services for children. They started a children's savings fund, which now has about PHP 500,000 in capital. Every year, they also allocate PHP 40,000 for its Children's Day celebration, where they give out school supplies to children just before the start of classes.
Because of their contributions, NVMPCI won two national awards: one for community service, and another for best practice in community-based enterprise. Their success also inspired a barangay in the municipality of Buenavista to establish their own cooperative, which is composed mostly of women as well. "I believe Save the Children's investment in us proved to be worthy," said Edna.
From just a handful of people when they started, the cooperative now boasts of thousands of members. And though Edna is no longer in the cooperative's leadership, she wishes them to continue becoming better. "We've had our ups and downs in our 31 years of existence," she said. "I hope the cooperative will reach 50 years or even more."