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Tears as CARD HK’s ‘Ina’ bids goodbye to her baby

11 November 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao

CARD OFW's officers and  trainors bid their 'Ina" goodbye
The mother of one of Hong Kong’s financial literacy providers for migrant domestic workers has weaned her baby five years after nursing it into a robust, empowered entity.
Edna Aquino’s announcement on Oct 23 that she was finally leaving the group she founded, CARD MRI OFW (Hong Kong), in order to enjoy her senior years in Manila, left many members in tears.
She made the announcement during the latest general assembly and graduation ceremony for CARD OFW’s outreach, skills training and entrepreneurship trainees at the Catholic Diocese Centre.
Aquino has so endeared herself to CARD OFW members that they have taken to calling her “Ina”, the Tagalog word for Mommy.
Its variation, “Inay” or “Nanay” is also the name used for the rural mothers in the Philippines who have managed to start their small businesses with help from CARD MRI, the Hong Kong group’s mother organization.  
In a tribute to the woman who spent her life fighting for human rights and women’s empowerment since her university years before Martial Law, senior CARD trainors described Aquino as a true mother who had taught them so many priceless things that enriched their knowledge and improved their lives.
'Ina" Edna Aquino
Trainor Vicky Munar said it all in her homage: “Ikaw ang aming naging gabay sa aming paglalakbay as trainors, Ma’am Edna/ Aming ina, mentor and friend, maraming salamat sa lahat/ Sa lahat ng encouragement, pag-alalay at, siyempre, ang iyong empowerment/ We salute you, our mentor and friend, we love you/ Ikaw ang aming ina, ang ina ng CARD OFW Hong Kong.”
In an interview with The SUN after the event, Aquino said CARD OFW’s financial literacy program was about empowering the thousands of domestic workers in Hong Kong and that her decision to leave the work to the trainors who are OFWs themselves was intended to empower them.
Kami, sa simula’t-simula pa lang, community development ang aking expertise, very conscious ang aming programa at strategy that we are not
Edna and Alex Aquino (middle) with CARD OFW officers
going to stay here for long. We have to make stakeholders out of OFWs, they have to own the program,” she said.
Thus, in CARD HK’s first year, she and her husband Alex already identified OFWs who could be groomed as special trainors.
“Pangalawa, hindi kami nainiwala na wala silang kakayahang mamuno. Sa tingin namin ay mas credible pa nga ang programa kung ang mga nanumuno ay OFW. So, integrated yung empowerment sa kanila doon sa aming financial literacy,” Aquino said, pointing proudly to the uniformed trainors who were vibrantly coordinating activities during the event. She said they were now experts in what they were doing and were themselves empowering their fellow OFWs.
Aquino recalled the times when she and her husband thought of promoting financial literacy to legion of OFWs long before they actually set up CARD OFW HK in 2010.
Alex said separately in a conversation during the event that he and Edna did a survey of Filipino workers when they set up a remittance business in London in the 1990s, but that they found Hong Kong to be a better launch site for their financial literacy project.
So the couple moved to Hong Kong in 2007 and prepared the ground for CARD OFW HK. They conducted a survey and held group discussions to find out the concerns and needs of OFWs here, with Aquino developing modules for the programs.
“Based on that survey, we designed the curriculums and prepared the modules. We started with a two-day workshop and condensed it to one-day. We adjusted it along the way,” Edna Aquino said.
For example, the entrepreneurship training was part of a two-day workshop. “Ang ginawa namin, inihiwalay yung financial literacy sa entrepreneurship so, ang follow-up workshop nila will be entrepreneurship naman,” she said.
CARD workshops are distinctively not lecture-type but participatory so that the trainees would grasp better the ideas that are imparted, Aquino emphasized. In her modules she injected creativity and diversity in approach to financial literacy to sustain the participants’ interest.
One of the modules, business planning, teaches participants how to maintain livelihood initiatives back home that their relatives operate, as this is where most OFWs have failed.
“Ang pinakamalaking concern ay kung bakit hindi nagiging successful yung maraming negosyo, kasi ang communication with their families back home hindi nalalatag nang maayos” as the OFWs monitored their businesses by remote control, she said.
“Napakahirap, napakahirap,” she said. To illustrate, she gave the example of an OFW going and giving his family capital for business.
“Dahil guilty siya at wala siya sa Pilipinas, kapag nagtatanong siya kung ano ang nangyari sa negosyo, either hindi niya masusing tinatanong, or, sinisita niya to the point na yung other side naman sa Pilipinas ay nagi-guilty kasi parang hinahanapan sila. So, either way, dysfunctional yung nasa Pilipinas, dysfunctional din yung OFW,”   she said.
CARD OFW HK was set up in 2010 and it held its first financial literacy and outreach workshop in 2011. Its 137 graduates highly rated the topics – budgeting, goal setting, needs and wants, savings and unforeseen events, investment and debt management.
The number of graduates rose 28% to 176 in 2012 and jumped 75% to 308 the next year. Entrepreneurship seminars were added in 2013 and drew 54 people. In 2015, graduates in financial literacy and outreach grew to 485 from 409 in the previous year, while those in entrepreneurship tripled to 145 from 46.
So far this year, CARD OFW’s seminars have produced 383 financial literacy and 180 entrepreneurship graduates.
They bring to about 2,5000 the number of OFWs who have benefited from CARD OFW’s programs.
The Aquinos were both activists and human rights advocates and so their becoming OFW advocates came naturally, said Edna.
Going to London to work for Amnesty International, Edna and her husband sought out the “undocumented” OFWs who fled their employers and campaigned for their legalization. Their victory drove them to pursue their advocacy organizing Filipinos.
The Aquinos then set up the Centre for Filipinos, which helped troubled OFWs, and won an award from Queen Elizabeth II and another from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
They moved to Hong Kong after Edna retired from AI and Alex set up a company. They linked up with the community and continued their advocacy until one day they met their compadre, CARD MRI founder Dr Jaime Aristotle Alip. That was when CARD OFW Hong Kong was conceived and its “mother” buckled down to work.

Back in Manila, Aquino is not really retiring yet but is actually working on a new baby, a project for farmers and small entrepreneurs.
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