By Malu Garcia, Savings Group Program Training Specialist (Philippines)
Several months ago, I joined a savings group that meets in an unusual location: a cemetery.
Since the 1980s, a growing number of people have chosen to live in the Cebu Chinese Cemetery—now totaling more than 100 families, some of whom have even given birth to their children in the cemetery. Some have transformed covered tombs into homes by hanging tarps for privacy—meaning that the gravestone serves as their table for meals and their bed at night. Others sleep on uncovered graves—no roof over their heads, no privacy, and no protection from animals. Some of the tombs are open, meaning that the relatives of the dead person have removed the bones and transferred them elsewhere. Near some of the oldest caskets, pieces of bone are littered on the surrounding area. The children run around these tombs as though they were in a playground. The young people and adults play cards over the tombs. I wondered where they take a bath, where their toilet is, where they wash their clothes.
To me, the heaviest part of their situation is that they expect to live out their entire lives in the cemetery. They have stopped dreaming of owning a proper home someday. But I believe that it is not God’s design for people to live with the dead; it is God’s design for people to be able to dream of more for their lives. He wants people and communities to flourish and experience Him.
I came to this meeting in Cebu right after a board meeting for the Center for Community Transformation (CCT, HOPE’s partner in the Philippines), the song Misyon (“Mission”) still ringing loud in my ears. My heart was asking, “How does the new wineskin meant for pouring translate to what You, Lord, would want us to do in 2019?” All along, my mind had been focused on the 10.2 million Filipino overseas workers who have moved to other countries to earn money doing odd jobs to send back to their families in the Philippines. I had not thought to pray for this group—I had not even known they existed.
Since June 2018, a 31-member savings group has been meeting every Monday, saving 20 pesos each week (the equivalent of 38 cents). The savings group meeting began under a tent—the tent the cemetery uses to cover burial services. Following the 5W’s format, the group starts by singing a worship song, then prays together, discusses the Bible passage they heard on Sunday, collects each member’s savings, and hears a wrap-up from their leader.
The group members told me they’re saving up to start a candle making business together. They also want to allocate for future needs since many of their families do not have a consistent source of income; they want to be prepared when emergencies come.
I pray that as the Lord has inspired these men and women with a dream for a business, He would inspire them to dream of having homes of their own. I pray that their example would encourage other families around them to also work toward opportunities to enable them to move out of the cemetery.
Why am I sharing this with you all? So we can pray together. So that we may ask wisdom from the Lord, to know how CCT can be the hands and feet of Jesus to these people—especially to these 31 believers and their families.
Malu Garcia is HOPE’s savings group training specialist. She started with HOPE in 2007 in Rwanda to help launch HOPE’s first church-based savings group program. Before joining the HOPE team, she worked with the Chalmers Center to develop microenterprise development resources. She and her husband, Benjie, live in Manila and have three children.