Anna (center with hat) with other Columban lay missionaries.
Saving for a Brighter Future
Noh Hyein, better known as Anna (pronounced En-na), a teacher by profession, came to the Philippines in April 2011 with three other Korean women. After a year of studies in Tagalog and English, she was assigned to St. Peter Parish in the Diocese of Novaliches.
In the beginning of her ministry and with the advice of her parish priest Fr. Tony Labiao, Anna together with her fellow Columban lay missionary Juri rented a big, two bedroom house outside the mission area.
When Juri returned to Korea, Anna immediately and gladly packed her bag and moved to a much smaller space in the mission area. This was not exactly her ideal room, but she felt more comfortable there than in the big house. However, she later realized that the space was too small for her to move around. This prompted her to look for another room. Now she is settled in her new room which is twice as big as the last.
At first, she found it difficult to fit in the new culture which is very different from her own. However, her commitment to embrace her new life in the mission with all the challenges that went with it overcame her difficulties. And with this positive attitude, Anna slowly and happily conquered most if not all of the obstacles that might have proven difficult to get past at first.
Early this year, Anna spearheaded the candle-making livelihood project of the parish. She related how it all began. “From the very start, Fr. Tony Labiao empowered me to choose my ministry. I chose to work on the Social Service and Development Ministry (SSDM) and Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) Ministry. I was involved with the parish feeding program, pastoral care for women and children, and its livelihood projects. I became more involved with SSDM when Tito Donald (Donald Geocaniga) invited me to help him present the livelihood budget to the parish which I gladly accepted. Tito Donald knew that I had always been interested with livelihood projects. And since he has 21 years of business experience in livelihood projects, I look up to him for direction and advice for my ministry. We have disagreements and misunderstandings due to language limitations and cultural differences, but we always agree that what we do is for God.”
The candle-making project started as an idea from St. Peter Parish priest Fr.Tony Labiao who saw that while there were many candles being sold in the church, not one actually came as a product of a parish project.
There was a great potential in candle making which could be a source of additional income for families and a venue for values formation. Anna took on the responsibility of doing the ground works for the project. With 75,000 pesos ($1,578.00 U.S.) capital coming from the parish, Anna started working. She used 35,000 pesos ($736.40 U.S.) for the purchase of supplies, materials and equipment and for training for the candle making project; 5,000 pesos ($105.20 U.S.) were set aside for the values formation seminar-workshop, and the remaining 35,000 pesos ($736.40) were earmarked for the basahan (rag) making project.
Tito Donald asked for help from the Quezon City hall in training the participating mothers. “I asked four kawan (group/cluster) leaders and the SSDM head of each kawan to recommend five mothers who didn’t have any job and income. I believe this is one way to empower leaders and give them responsibility,” Anna related. The training proved to be very helpful as a starting point. Anna also sought the help of Vietnamese Sr. Maria of the Little Sisters of Jesus. Sr. Maria has extensive experience in candle-making, and she wanted to be part of this parish livelihood project. Anna also checked online and learned from internet videos the proper process of making candles from priming a wick, to preparing a mold, to dyeing wax and safety tips to avoid accidents in the workplace. Anna practiced on her own and with the mothers. They discussed what tools were helpful and the best candle to make based on the needs of the parish. They continuously and patiently experimented until the end result gave them enough confidence and made them ready to produce the candles. At present there are sixteen mothers working in the project. Each is given 120 pesos ($2.52 U.S.) for a half day’s work. This amount is due to increase as the project takes off. When a mother has emergency financial needs, she may be given temporary additional work to allow her to earn more money. Anna is quite strict with the work schedule. She discourages absences and tardiness. And as an incentive for those with perfect attendance without being tardy, she gives 3% more of their earnings.
Achieving Holistic Growth
The community development is geared towards achieving holistic growth in the economic, political and spiritual aspect of the members. The livelihood project is only part of the bigger community development of St. Peter Parish. Bernadee Uy of the Habi Footwear Foundation helps facilitate the holistic formation of the mothers in the area of goal-setting. Members are helped to set goals for themselves, individually and for the entire team. Included in the holistic formation of the mothers are investing wisely, saving money from their earnings and planning ahead for the future. To emphasize the necessity of savings, Anna has incorporated into the candle-making project a saving scheme where 5% of the members’ earnings are put in the “Light the Life” fund.
“The Light the Life” fund is the savings fund of the members. The budget for the project expansion is also taken from this “Light the Life” fund and partly from the income of the special products. Special products are items sold in the parish religious store and office. Proceeds from the special products shall also fund the mothers’ outing, recollection and retreat. A significant component of this program is the values formation. Members are being helped to understand their role as political members of the society and are encouraged to become responsible citizens. At the time when an election is approaching, the mothers are helped with how to choose their local government leaders wisely. And lastly, the members are being helped to assess their faith and values and are empowered to empower others too. This way, it is not only they who are transformed but the whole community as well.
One of the challenges that Anna faced while starting the candle-making project was when two mothers left the program. They had very clear reason then. One was preparing to go abroad and was often absent from work. The other one wanted other jobs that would bring in more income to her family. They were not in line with the mission and vision of the parish livelihood project and the holistic development of its members.
Anna admitted that there were some misunderstandings between her and the mothers due to language barriers and her communication skills. At first, Anna felt guilty. This made her sit back and reflect on the experience. And because of this experience, she learned one valuable Filipino trait which is patience. Now she is finding ways to better communicate her ideas without hurting anyone. She believes that the whole process made her a better leader and a better person.
Without a doubt, Anna is happy where she is at in her ministry. Her excitement, her voice and her facial expression while describing the livelihood project and the values formation workshop all show how fulfilled she is in her work. She loves to see the smiles of the mothers when they receive their earnings. It warms her heart when mothers approach and thank her.
Help from God
Before coming to the Philippines, Anna knew that livelihood would be her ministry. The basahan (rag) making project is soon to start. She is also working on the next formation modules for the mothers which will be on attitude, health and food, women’s health and computer literacy. “How do you do all these?” I asked and she said, “With a lot of help from God.”
Anna also credits Fr. Tony Labiao for the autonomy and empowerment to choose her ministry, the kawan leaders, SSDM heads, and mothers for their commitment and hard work, Tito Donald, Sr. Maria, Bernadee Uy and the many people who support and want the project not only to get off the ground but to soar. Anna gives special credit to Brother Mike of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary who spent his apostolate in St. Peter and who helped her in the procurement of materials for the candle making. It was Brother Mike who came up with the “Light the Life” title. She also acknowledges the help of her friends and the parish she belongs to in her native Korea for their donations to keep this project up and running.
For those discerning to answer God’s calling and be like Jesus, Anna has this to say, “Don’t be afraid. Come and see. Be a Columban Lay Missionary. Whatever you expect, God will give you more. Whatever you heart desires, God will give you more.”
Marivic H. Mercene is a Columban lay mission staff member.