CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A bit of knowledge spins your money further

HONG KONG (SE): The CARD MRI Hong Kong Foundation celebrated the graduation of the 31st to 33rd batches to take part in its financial literacy courses at the Diocese Centre in Caine Road on May 29.

A total of 369 people qualified to receive certificates at the afternoon graduation ceremony, which took place on the anniversary of the very first course that was run back in 2011.

In that period, a total of almost 1,700 have completed the course, which the Philippine labour attaché, Jalilo Dela Torre, called a sign of hope, as he sees the inability of migrant workers as a group to manage financial affairs as something of a national problem.

He pointed out that while it may not be the immediate goal of a migrant worker and definitely not the original one, the final goal by necessity must be reintegration back into Philippine society.

Dela Torre related that during his last appointment in The Philippines, he visited and interviewed over 100 returned successful migrant workers and was amazed at the diversity of the skills that they demonstrate and are able to bring to the challenge of resettling and integrating back home.

However, he pointed out that on the down side, returned migrant workers who start a small business have an extremely low success rate, with around 95 per cent of them failing.

In this context, he said that he is delighted to see a group like CARD encouraging migrants to equip themselves with financial literacy skills, which he called an essential thing both from the point of view of returning home and also using their money effectively while they are still working abroad.

The vice chairperson of CARD Hong Kong, Alex Aquino, told the Sunday Examiner that financial literacy is a must, not just for the migrant workers themselves, but also for their families, because what they earn is their income as well.

He pointed out that it is primarily about learning how to budget, distinguishing clearly between needs and wants, setting goals, saving money—especially to avoid the pitfalls of unforeseen emergencies—debt management and investment.

“None of these things can be done successfully by the worker alone,” he said, “the cooperation of the whole family is essential.”

One of the unique things about the course that CARD runs in Hong Kong is that it does incorporate the whole family, not just the migrant worker.

As the biggest micro-credit group in The Philippines, its staff also visits the families of CARD members back home, to reinforce with them what the breadwinner in Hong Kong is learning and trying to do.

An extensive survey of those who have graduated from a CARD course carried out last year shows that the bulk of them are aged between 30 and 50, with over half married, approximately one-third single and the remainder separated.

The majority have dependents in The Philippines, 71 per cent of whom are children, 53 per cent parents and 34 per cent siblings, with a bit over 33 per cent having a dependent husband.

Almost all are the primary breadwinners for their families, but the most commonly cited priority is to provide for the education of children, which in many cases is seen as more important than providing for daily needs.

Almost all who responded to the survey are at least college or high school graduates, with only two per cent saying that they only finished elementary school.

Of those who have completed the course, around one-third have been in Hong Kong for less than five years and around equal numbers between five and 10. A slightly bigger percentage has chalked up more than 10 years.

However, the survey also shows that it does not matter how long they work in the city their salary does not vary greatly, as few said that they earn more than the basic wage, although for some the household income is supplemented to a small degree by other members of the family.

However they remain the primary breadwinners.

But does the CARD programme work?

The survey reveals that over half say they experienced a positive change after doing the course. 

However, 80 per cent revealed that the big change was in their knowledge of what budgeting means, as they still struggle with changing their perspectives and habits in every day behaviour.

However, many noted that because of the extremely limiting circumstances they were in, it was not possible to make a sudden change in their activity patterns overnight.

However, what the survey shows as a sign of success is that around 90 per cent say that they work hard to adhere to the dictum, “I determine first my financial goals and strive to achieve them.”

Two other dictums with almost equal force are, “I set long term goals and strive to achieve them” and “I pay my bills on time.”

However, risking money to make an investment proved not popular, which maybe indicates that many have been burned in the past.

Those who have been through the programme were adamant that for anyone coming to the course they will certainly enjoy themselves and are guaranteed to learn useful things.

The percentage who ticked the like box in the survey for the topics covered is in the high 90s and this was accompanied by several requests for other topics to be added. A number also said they hoped that more time could be spent on some of them as well.

Another unique feature of CARD is the development of its own group of trainers from the ranks of migrant workers who have taken the course.

They have been highly trained and have made a big difference to the way in which the courses are constructed and presented.

All say that they find their new found vocation empowering and that it truly strengthens their sense of self-worth to know that they are doing something constructive for their fellow workers.

They also contribute the powerful dynamic of peer mentoring to the courses.

The survey shows that migrants place a high value on insurance, especially health insurance, with some running more than one policy and those without any insurance attributing it to financial restraints.

The founder of CARD, Jaime Alip, explained to the group that one of the services the organisation offers is insurance, and he believes that by making sure that policies are affordable and tailored to people’s real needs, CARD will be able to have 40 per cent of the country insured within the next decade.

Saving did not out come out as a popular choice, with the pressure of expenses cited as the stumbling block, although the organisers recommend people to try, if only to avoid having to borrow when some emergency arises, as debt is the biggest crippling factor experienced by migrant workers as a group.

Three graduates gave testimonies of their experience and spoke of how they are working to change their lives, with three others outlining the different types of outreach that CARD in Hong Kong is making.

The afternoon was emceed by Vics Munar and Emma Bautista, who was making her debut behind the microphone with all the aplomb of a veteran.

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