Keppel's community project helps to lift Philippine families out of poverty

Keppel's community project helps to lift Philippine families out of poverty

PHILIPPINES - Going by the profits, the women running the village store at the Keppel-Gawad Kalinga Eco Village know a thing or two about return on equity.

Shortly after the village - a two-hour drive from Manila - was set up just over a year ago for 60 impoverished families, 49 households each stumped up the equivalent of $6 to set up a store in one of their homes selling common household items such as canned goods and noodles.

At the end of its first year of business, the venture made each household a net profit of $36. Instead of pocketing the money, they decided to pool their profits to build a proper store.

That success says a great deal about how these former squatters and slum dwellers were able to transform their once dire circumstances with help and guidance.

The village of brightly painted semi-detached units was built by Singapore's Keppel Corp. Keppel, which operates a shipyard a few kilometres away in Batangas province, partnered Gawad Kalinga, a local charity experienced in housing projects for the poor.

The Straits Times visited the village in June last year, shortly after the last families given units had moved in. They were relieved to be living in decent homes and looked forward to boosting their slender incomes. But there was little sense of a community then.

A lot has changed a year on. "We've become a barkada (group of friends)," says Ms Carmencita Balbuena, who heads the village council of five elected officials.

The council oversees community projects like its pre-school, manages a village fund of home owners' weekly contributions and is in charge of settling disputes.

As the 300 or so villagers enjoy a stable environment, breadwinners have found it easier to secure jobs or leverage their skills as micro-entrepreneurs. One of these is Ms Balbuena's husband Rogelio, who sells taho, a Philippine dessert snack, in a nearby town.

Average monthly household income has doubled to about $290, markedly higher than the region's $191 minimum monthly wage.

"Before, all our income was spent on rent, food and paying off debts," says home owner Analiza Macalipaye, the wife of a community organiser. The Macalipayes have since been able to afford a refrigerator and a television set.

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