Wednesday mornings at 8, 24 women crowd into Leticia's Eatery in Muntinlupa City, a poor Filipino community on the southeast edge of Metropolitan Manila. They sing "Lupang Hinirang" ("Chosen Land"), their national anthem, recite a pledge of commitment, pray, and sing Christian songs. After that, 52-year-old Letty, who owns the eatery along the narrow San Guillermo Street, leads a Bible study.
Finally, the women get down to business. They belong to Fellowship 3 of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), a community development organization that focuses on fellowship members' spiritual as well as economic needs. Almost exclusively women, CCT business owners earn money selling fish and bananas, trading inexpensive products, operating mobile phone stations, and selling consumer goods door to door. All are facing new struggles to make ends meet: About 35 percent of the Philippines' 97 million people are destitute, living on $1.25 or less a day. The global financial crisis has only compounded their plight, as the national economy is down 30 percent.
Keys to the success of the center's many fellowships, which function like cell groups, are its microloan program and its instruction in Christian living, coupled with teachings on sound business practices. The average CCT loan is $300, enough for one woman to launch or grow a local business. During the business end of the meeting, women solve problems and encourage each other. Each woman harbors high hopes of making a small profit and paying off her loan on time. At the end of each weekly meeting, members sign the general ledger, and a local pastor closes with prayer.
In Fellowship 3, most of the participants come from a Roman Catholic background. A growing number of them have ...