The field office in Negros Oriental... Recalling the early days and where we are now.
After five years of working from just the one office in Bacolod city, we opened a field office in the seaside village of Guba in Santa Catalina in 1992. As with the Bacolod office, the start was very low key; One day in October, 1991 PSHF trustees, John Wilson and Bernie Gampay happened to find themselves in need of shelter in a downpour and were taken to the home of the Blazo family who resided in Guba. Unbeknown to them, visitors to the area were viewed with suspicion, as Santa Catalina was seen as a stronghold of sympathy for the New People's army (NPA).
Our two PSHF visitors stayed one night and left the next morning, without having attracted any undue attention from armed locals, known as "vigilantes" the lowest order of the Government's counter insurgency. The visit had however achieved its aim of locating a potential site for a field office. The village of Guba comprised fishing families as well as refugees who had fled the fighting in the hills. It was felt our livelihood loan assistance would most likely be welcomed by the local people.
In June 1992, a few months later, Richard accompanied Bernie for a return visit to Guba and organised a community meeting to discuss the prospects for a co-operative venture. It was clear that the will to work together was absent so it was decided to select one person, there and then, who could be trusted to be the first PSHF loan recipient in the village. Her name was Levy Balbon. Not only did she pay her loan for fishing supplies back, but she was also later to become our field coordinator. A position she retained until June 2008, when her daughter Jocelina (Leklek) took over.
Bernie was the overall coordinator for Negros Oriental from 1992 until the middle of 2013. During this period, the PSHF provided 484 livelihood loans to groups and individuals and a further 37 education loans to students. We also provided grants to 33 children and adults for medical treatment.
In June 2013, Bernie relinquished the management of the Negros Oriental field office to Hazel Mascañuna. The position has always been part-time with both Bernie and Hazel being based in Bacolod city. Our field worker, Winelin de la Cruz, is however on site and looks after the day to day affairs of the office.
We are entering a period of transition in Negros Oriental as Hazel will be retiring after 18 months of faithful service. She did a good job in maintaining the 90% repayment record on loans and the quality of client relationships built up by Bernie over the years. We are in no immediate hurry to find a new coordinator; Ireen Ingles from our Bohol office will oversee things in the interim and we are exploring the possibilities of partnering with a University by offering OJT (on the job training) to graduating students in social work.
This photo was taken during the first meeting in Guba, led by Bernie (far right). Looking at her, standing, was Mr. Blazo (grey shirt).