The noble act of sacrifice

By Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, PhD

April, almost at an end, seems portentous. It is a month that resonates with sacrifice. April 9 was “Araw ng Kagitingan” or “Day of Valor,” while April 5-11 was “Philippine Veterans’ Week.” These holidays commemorate the heroism of Filipino fighters during World War II.  And then there was Holy Week, which started on April 10 (Palm Sunday) and ended on April 16 (Black Saturday).  It was a sacred week for Christians, observed with special solemnity as a time of devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ. These are wonderful examples of the spiritual practice of sacrifice, that intangible that compels us to pursue a path of service to others even at great cost to ourselves.

As I write this piece, a mother somewhere has skipped a meal to feed her hungry child; a laborer with co-morbidity has gone out to work despite the risk of COVID to provide for his family; a rural development worker was gunned down on his way to help an indigenous community in a far-flung area; an individual has sacrificed privacy and security to be a public servant.

Selfless acts happen around us all the time. Yet, many seem unaware that it takes a lot of courage and integrity to sacrifice one’s needs for the benefit of another individual.

This reminds me of the conversation I had with one of my colleagues. I met Leslie Marcaida in the course of my field visit to Masbate, where she has recently returned as CARD Bank Regional Director.  Leslie is one of our best-performing staff from the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD).  Her journey has not been easy, having grown up in one of the country’s poorest provinces. Masbate is an island province at center of the nation’s archipelago, serving as Bicol Region’s gateway to Visayas and Mindanao. Being an island province, it is vulnerable to storm surges and typhoons. Masbate City is the province’s main commercial center and seaport. Although rich in natural resources, poverty persists in Masbate because the poor lacks the access and control of critical resources needed to improve income in various economic engagement.

Because of its socio-economic profile, Masbate has played a strategic role in CARD’s evolution as a social development institution.  It was one of the most difficult provinces to penetrate in the early days, when CARD was just starting its microfinance operations. Poverty was widespread, insurgency was high, and financial literacy was low.  Even government agencies had difficulties in implementing projects in the area. CARD invested time and resources to make the people understand the benefits of their social development programs. It was not easy; and at some point, sadly involved loss of lives.  But CARD persevered, and after some time, Masbate became one of its best success stories.  CARD Bank opened its 94th branch in Masbate in 2019, attesting to the growing financial and social development needs of clients, especially the micro-entrepreneurs.

Leslie considers joining CARD as one of her greatest blessings, as this allowed her to help many people.  But this entailed a lot of sacrifices on her part. Leslie valued her work even at the start, seeing how CARD’s services are transforming the lives of her poor kababayans. She rose through the ranks, becoming the Acting Unit Manager of CARD Bank in Masbate City. In 2007, she was reassigned to CARD Bank in San Pablo City, Laguna. She approached this assignment with misgivings, never having left her hometown before. But the call of duty was strong, and so, she left her family behind.  She reverted to being an Account Officer in San Pablo, but this did not discourage her. She put her strength in rehabilitating problematic centers and was able to raise the repayment rates in areas she was handling. She was promoted and given the full rank of Unit Manager within three months.  She was given a lot of training and exposure, learning the ropes from other CARD branches nationwide. She was able to recruit many clients, teaching them about financial literacy, credit discipline, microinsurance, and other safety nets to help their families and micro-enterprises. Her colleagues and the clients of her centers became like her family, as she was far from her own. Given the support and opportunities that she was providing to people in need, she deemed it a fair trade-off.  Her husband died in 2014, and with the help of relatives, she raised her children in absentia. Being away from family was hard, but Leslie said the positive impact of her work on the lives of thousands makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

“Being able to help other people transform their lives is a reward in itself,” says Leslie. Apart from that, she noted that her personal sacrifices have enabled her to support her family through the years. Her children studied in private schools.  She built a house for her parents. She also supported her siblings’ education. More importantly, her years of being away for the multiple roles and assignments given by CARD have expanded her horizon. The exposure to different aspects of operations, the travels in many areas, the trainings she was given all served as opportunities for her to build expertise along the way. Leslie has returned to Masbate with a Master’s Degree and a wealth of experience that would surely redound to the benefit of the communities she is now working with.

Leslie’s story of sacrifice is typical of many parents and rural development workers everywhere. They are like seeds. A seed planted in the ground spouts and grows into a tree. The seed sacrifices itself to the tree, outwardly destroyed. But that seed which has been sacrificed is absorbed and embodied in the tree, its branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits. It continues to live, paving the way for other seeds to come into being.

That is the beauty of sacrifice.  As we walk a path of service to others, our actions gradually change who we are.  Sacrifice transforms us, releasing strength within us that connects us to something far greater than ourselves.

And on that note, as we approach Election Day in the next few weeks, I send my wishes to the universe. May we all be imbued with the spirit of sacrifice as we make our choice of the country’s new leaders. May our decisions and actions of today not compromise the welfare of our children and the next generation of Filipinos yet to come. Above all, I hope that we will select leaders that will reduce poverty and promote inclusion, especially for sectors that are marginalized. I pray that we can all be seeds, ready for that noble act of sacrifice, to give life.