Built On Unity

Filipino mothers group unites under strong leadership for their journey to establish an impoverished community’s first cooperative

May 18, 2022 | Be Informed

This article is the first of a three-part series on the creation of cooperatives in the Philippines and the role that they, and Unbound, play in helping communities in poverty realize economic self-sufficiency.

On IBP Road in Quezon City, just a few meters from the Philippines House of Representatives, rests a small two-story home with distinguishable mint-colored siding and an inviting balcony outlined with tropical potted plants. At the stairway leading up to the second-level doorway, visitors are greeted with a business name in Filipino, Yakap Aral, Pag-Unlad Alay sa Kinabukasan, which translates to “Embrace Lessons, Progress for the Future” Credit Cooperative, or Yapak CC for short.

Behind the lofty name stands the collective wisdom of a group of mothers from Unbound’s Quezon program, who, after taking the lessons they learned in their self-help parent group, began a mission to help bring economic self-sufficiency to sponsored families and their impoverished community.

A credit cooperative is a financial organization owned and controlled by its members, allowing them to borrow at low interest rates from an amount of money they have saved as a group. Though cooperatives in the Philippines associated with Unbound are nothing new, when Yapak CC received government accreditation in March 2022, it became the first of its kind in the Quezon program in Metro-Manila.

Serving only Unbound sponsored families to start, Yapak CC has a core goal to improve the quality of life of each of its members, leaving a “legacy of unity and cooperation” with each member, their families and the greater community. More than 20 members had joined Yapak CC, the Quezon program’s first urban credit cooperative, by the time it had gained full accreditation in March.

Unbound Quezon Program Coordinator Susan Espiritu said Quezon staff support parent groups by providing comprehensive trainings and assistance that help them build and develop their livelihoods.

“[Unbound] empowers sponsored families by believing in their vision, as well as their skills,” Espiritu said. “[We] make them realize how great an opportunity this is to unleash their talents, [which builds their] confidence and increases their determination to amplify their voices toward creating a better life for their families.”

Leading the group of mothers as chairwoman of the newly founded credit cooperative is 63-year-old Francisca, who is the mother of five former sponsored children and no stranger to the Unbound way of empowering those in poverty to not just simply “have more” but to “be more.”

In fact, Francisca’s history with Unbound paints a picture of a family legacy of leading by embracing the lessons to achieve economic self-sufficiency for the betterment of an entire community.

Photo 1: The second-floor landing of the home that houses the Yapak CC office in the Philippines.

Photo 2: A look at the main highway, called Litex Road, right off of IBP Road.

Photo 3: Francisca, mother of five former sponsored children, is pictured at her desk in Yapak CC. She is the chairwoman of a group of parent leaders in Quezon City who established the Quezon program’s first urban credit cooperative.


Every community on a mission to create lasting change needs strong, inspiring leadership and a safe space to call “home” where collaboration can commence. If the walls of the home on IBP Road could talk, they would tell a story of a place with a longstanding history of bringing those of all ages in the Unbound Quezon community together under one roof — motivating, guiding, supporting and walking with each other on their journeys through and out of poverty.

Owned by 75-year-old Unbound sponsored elder Rosalina, the older sister of Francisca, the house is located in what is known as a “squatter’s area.” Rosalina worked hard from the age of 20 to make payments on the lot her home now sits on to eventually realize home ownership. She divided the lot into two, giving her younger brother the other parcel of land to build his own house upon.

The upstairs space that hosts the Yapak CC office, though small, doubles as a community venue now mostly used by the local Unbound program’s elder sector of which Rosalina is president. The cooperative contracted the space from Rosalina rent free for their first three years.

Resourcefulness and love of community are just part of the sisters’ DNA.

The eldest and youngest of 10 siblings, they grew up in a farming family, both with dreams of obtaining an education. Rosalina wanted to be a teacher, while Francisca originally wanted to be a nurse. However, only Francisca would get close to realizing her dream.

At the age of 16, Rosalina dropped out of school to work as a garment seamstress in a factory to help support the education of her younger siblings. Francisca received a scholarship to study economics in Manila, but only made it through her third year before she, too, would have to drop out.

Francisca is the mother of seven children, five of whom were sponsored by Unbound until their retirement from the program. Throughout her 26 years participating in the parent groups with Unbound, Francisca has been a parent leader managing more than 50 families, a cluster leader, president of the local program’s officers and, finally, chairwoman of the credit cooperative. Despite her last child graduating from the program in 2020, Francisca continues to participate with Unbound’s parent group, sharing the knowledge she has gleaned from the various seminars and trainings over the years.

“For me, Unbound is a fulfillment,” Francisca said. “My eagerness to take part in all the activities of Unbound remains the same even if my children are already out of the program. I am happy and grateful serving sponsored families and our communities.”

Francisca hosted Unbound parent meetings and activities at Rosalina’s house on IBP Road over the years, and Rosalina would eventually become a sponsored elder in the organization.

Now, as president of the elderly sector, Rosalina at one time was serving over 120 elders and gained the reputation as “a leader who gets things done gently.” Many of those things involved livelihood projects for her community, such as working with a group of elders to open a mini-store in the neighborhood and starting a business weaving straw baskets, which the elderly sell at events.

Rosalina never married or had children, but through her work as an elder leader, the dream from her youth of being a teacher, a person others can look up to and learn from, has been realized.

“I study my position in the elderly sector of Unbound so that I could contribute what is expected and needed of me,” said Rosalina in a 2020 interview about what she’s learned through Unbound. “Every time I’m having a meeting with my fellow sponsored elderly, I always ask them what they want. I always listen to them … and try to make it happen. Even if we are old, even if we are elderly, we can still do something for our family and community.”

Part of her doing “something for our family and community” now involved offering a safe space to unify her community through a cooperative, the rent from which will one day also provide her with a sustainable, consistent income as she ages.

But, in 2018, Yapak CC was just an idea. For the next four years, Francisca and the other mothers of her group would face this challenge — and a pandemic raging globally — with courage, as they looked toward doing their own “something for family and community.” With newfound knowledge of the benefits of a cooperative, their true journey began.


Photo 1: Pictured left to right, sisters Francisca and Rosalina in 2020. Rosalina’s home on IBP Road has been the location of Francisca’s Unbound parent group meetings and Rosalina’s elder sector meetings for many years.

Photo 2: Rosalina (left) and parent volunteer leader Milagros (right) in 2020. During an interview in 2020, Milagros said she thinks of Rosalina as her own mother. Milagros said, “[Rosalina] told me once, ‘I’m addicted to Unbound,’ then we laughed together. Then she told me ‘Mila, you will also be addicted to Unbound,’ then we laughed again! Whenever I have problems, I seek her for advice because I know her words will help me to stand again and face the challenges with courage.”

Photo 3: Rosalina exits her original one-story home on IBP Road in 2020 carrying one of the brightly colored straw baskets she weaves with her elder group as part of a livelihood project. Her neighborhood is home to more than 40 other sponsored families. A few months after this interview, seven homes in the neighborhood were lost to fire, including Rosalina’s, but with the help of Unbound, she was able to rebuild her current two-story home, which now houses the Yapak CC office.

Whenever I have problems, I seek [Rosalina] for advice because I know her words will help me to stand again and face the challenges with courage.

— Milagros, Unbound Parent Volunteer Leader, Quezon program

See part 2 of the Built on Unity series: Unbound communities in the Philippines thrive after taking collective action to establish cooperatives.