A group of government employees is becoming a beacon of hope and dreams as they continue the pursuit of their vision.
We were seated in the dimly lit dining room, leaning against the glass table on which sunbeams passing through the heavily tinted window would bounce occasionally. It was 2 in the afternoon and Ayeen Capao was kind enough to give in to an ambush interview about the growing food processing business that she and her husband Alden humbly started with two things: the longaniza and a P1,000 capital.
"Lajo na kaajo ug giabtan karon ((The business) have now come so far from when we first started)", she admitted excitedly somewhere between recollections of her numerous marketing experiences that she now sees to be instrumental in getting the kind of grasp needed for their operations and the enumeration of things they have reaped from what they've sown ten years ago. Among which are the charmingly modern house that they now live in at the SLEMCOOP Village -a housing project of a cooperative, a vehicle they used for delivering processed meat products to the growingly loyal customers, and the educational plans for their son.
One of the early pivotal moments in the Capao couple's business had been the putting up of the first AlFranz Cuisine station at the provincial hospital compound in Mantahan, Maasin City through the help of the Southern Leyte Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SLEMCOOP).
Thanks to an infusion of funds coming from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under its Tulong sa Tao Program, SLEMCOOP was able to establish its livelihood program in the early ‘90s. Alden and Ayeen Capao were able to qualify in the program, which was fueled by intentions to develop aspiring local entrepreneurs and sustain the existing ones in their income generating projects such as longaniza and ceramic making.
"They had a project and SLEMCOOP saw their determination and potential to succeed so we approved their loan," Jesse Quilantang recalled as he talked about some experiences from 1986-2006 when he served as manager of SLEMCOOP - the 1,400 strong cooperative composed of employees from different government agencies in Southern Leyte.
In 1984, SLEMCOOP was able to pave the way and install its foundations by offering savings and credit services. What started 25 years ago as a small pool of monetary contributions by 50 employees of the So. Leyte Provincial Government has widened and expanded enough to sustain the current operations of the cooperative.
It continues to sustain financial assistance, especially to members who prove to be responsible borrowers. Back in 1984 the early members of SLEMCOOP equipped themselves with a vision to be "responsive to the changing and varying needs of its members" who commonly aspire "to promote cooperativism and to achieve total human development".
There are now 31 kinds of loans that SLEMCOOP are offering. It has expanded its loan windows and created specialized loans such as vehicle loan, educational loan, and grocery loan in order to address the "changing and varying needs" of its members.
"In our 2008 operations, our savings deposits are reduced by 15%. We plan to increase this figure after considering the opportunities that would open up to SLEMCOOP based on the creation of specialized income-generating programs. An example of this is to develop proper matching of our funding source and the loan portfolios that we will be offering to our members. We are confident that being able to utilize our resources, as what the deposits mean to the cooperative, will bring forth good results in our operations," wrote Jesse Quilantang in his report as the ongoing Chairman of the Board.
SLEMCOOP's assets have now reached P120M; share capital at P34M; deposits at P58M; and loans receivable at P69M. SLEMCOOP has one main office located in Bry. Asuncion, Maasin City, Southern Leyte and two branches - one located in Bry. Tunga-tunga, Maasin City and another one soon to open in the town of San Juan, So. Leyte.
Side by side with the business operation runs its social-concern arm - the SLEMCOOP Foundation, which had been established in 2005 for the purpose of developing community-related programs.
"This is our way of giving back," said Wilfred Maco, the cooperative's current manager who began his stint in May 2008. Officials of the cooperative view this development as a way for SLEMCOOP to compartmentalize its business function, which operation entails financial discipline, and its social obligation to the community in which it has become a part after years of operation.
This resulted to the re-structuring of the social programs and services involving mortuary, health care, livelihood, and retirement for the members under the SLEMCOOP FOUNDATION leaving the savings and credit operations under the cooperative as its main profit-generating business.
In 2006 SLEMCOOP participated in the Vegetable Production Project of DTI. It was funded and technically supported by the German Development Service (DED). The cooperative found a dual opportunity to help in the livelihood of the vegetable farmers and to supply the demand for vegetables in Southern Leyte.
"The farmers who are involved are now associate members of the coop," wrote Lino Gonzalez in his report as Chairman of the Board in 2006. The Vegetable Project then became the precursor of the cooperative's experience in implementing developmental projects, which possess great potential and advantage for both the coop and the community but would require more time and effort in terms of research, funding, and implementation.
The Bamboo Craft Project is another existing example of SLEMCOOP's endeavors in this field. The project aims to produce treated bamboo materials, which could later be marketed for the making of furniture and other fixtures in home-building.
"We see a lot of potential in the projects we are undertaking under the SLEMCOOP Foundation," Maco said, echoing the sentiment of other SLEMCOOP officials who sees involving the community in its vision is the direction for SLEMCOOP to take.
Ever positive in its outlook, SLEMCOOP who is approaching its silver anniversary adopted the theme: "Getting Stronger Despite the Global Financial Crisis". Having seen the benefits of continuous learning that can be found in the alliance among other cooperatives, SLEMCOOP is also a member of the Federation for Peoples' Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC).
"The cultivation and dissemination of cooperative education in the country has given great advantage to the growth of cooperative knowledge among primary cooperatives like us," said Maco.
Whether it is handling issues like increasing the savings deposits, designing more income-generating programs, battling the delinquency, or meeting the standards of the Cooperative Development Agency, SLEMCOOP continues to address while becoming more conscious of the challenges involved in operating a growing cooperative and, eventually, the learning that comes with the experience.
As the writer Anias Nin once wrote: we do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations, and SLEMCOOP is one among the Southern light.