I didn't need to ask her name

by Enrico Gaveglia, Deputy Country Director for UNDP Philippines

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A Scottish novelist once said: “There are not foreign lands, is the traveler only who’s foreigner”, his name was Robert Louis Stevenson. As I pass through Marawi City a year after the war broke out, people from the said city are still trying to build up from the rubble. Heading towards our Financial Inclusion for Recovery Project site, I just have enough the time from the window of our car in transit to snap a few shots of what the war had done to the city. One of the many shops in the city marked by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as “clear” to open.

Since the conflict has been declared over, it is estimated that more than 208,000 people have returned home to date and now station in transitional shelters and camps of Sagonsongan, and the two comps of Sarimanok. According to Task Force Bangon Marawi. Every day, challenges in providing the basic needs, like access to food, water and sanitation facilities, are still present. The coordination within the national and international community still needs to keep up with the demands for assistance. In January 2018 our partner Oxfam has conducted a study saying that displaced people of Marawi preferred cash transfers over relying on emergency relief. When I meet some of them, they seem to be comfortable having the possibility to choose how to square the day with “cash transfers-like” of assistance

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Despite global practices that has brought cash vs in-kind assistance as preferred method in bridging humanitarian and early recovery, it has been important that we partner with Oxfam and its national conterpart research arm to implement our financial inclusion programme. Through the aid digital platform PayMaya, the cash transfers are being distributed with the use of electronic prepaid VISA cards called iAFFORD (Inclusive and Affordable Financial Facilities for Resilient and Developed Filipinos).

With the objective of:

  • Increasing access to affordable and integrated digital financial services that respond to social welfare needs, saving and livelihoods expansion;
  • Expanding choices in electronic payment solutions alongside building financial literacy capacity to transform the wat people manage and control their finances and
  • Developing and innovating digital financial services so providers continuously offer and improve on products that create opportunities for poor and vulnerable to save money and grow income

The Card is a first for many of these Internally Displaced People in Marawi. Industry jargon of the month likes talking about this as “leapfrogging’ current access to technology with a new emerging scheme enabling people to skip steps into the future. Regardless of the one liner easy tweet on this, these 88x55 mm cards bring an impressive ecosystem of features such as: a) Utility of the card as both an identification card and a personalized prepaid card with a chip for security when making transactions; b) Ability to save money without being concerned about a minimum maintaining balance; c) Being able buy goods and services through mobile point-of-sale and person-to-person through a mobile app; d) Access to micro-insurance and micro-credit packages for asset recovery, business, property, accident, health and education coverage; e) Use the card as cash-out and or money transfer card and; f) Being able pay bills and monitor funds received and spent in real time.

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Looking at the group assembled in number, I cannot help noticing, with satisfaction, the quasi full gender disparity of the group in front of me and I was able to talk to one of them about what she would do with the first load. She looks at the card and asks me, “Can I get a reload from abroad too?”. I glanced at our technical guy and his answer is “Yes, remittances can also be plugged into the cards”. She smiles back at us and replied back to me: “I will prepare iftar for my family this evening”. I didn’t need to ask her name, in fact I felt shy to do so, and left the site back to Manila.

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