Hi! I am Leslie Galano, 23 years old, small and petite like most Filipinas. Many would mistake me as a highschool student than a young professional. I cannot blame them; my young innocent looks can truly be deceiving. Well, I can easily brush that off with my witty remarks, quiet confidence and drive for excellence. I also have stable credentials to back me up – I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with experience in finance, accounting, business processing and audit. I am young and still have so much to learn and give to life. I am eldest to a brood of three. Franklin, the one next to me, is a tattoo artist. Vanny, our youngest, is still schooling. Franklin’s little girl, Justin, is our angel and source of joy. Mama and Papa – they are simple and hardworking parents. I hold fast to all of them for inspiration in this deep journey of faith and in my quest for us to be freed from dire poverty. Here’s my story.
I grew up in a tiny rented house, 30 square meters in all I guess. We had one receiving/sala/kitchen/dining room, one bedroom and a comfort room. We covered the dirt floors with linoleum to keep the mud out. The ceilings were low and quite dilapidated. Our bedroom had thin curtain for a door. Inside, dresses and shirts hung in a corner. We all shared a plastic cabinet for our other stuff. We also had one double-deck bed. The top bed was my special cozy nook where my drawings and Anime picture cut-outs lined up on my portion of the wall. Franklin and Vanny shared the bottom bed. And Papa and Mama slept on the floor. At night, I would sometimes see a mice peep through the ceiling, but it did not bother me much. What mattered was we were together.
I forgot to tell you that our walls were made of assorted wood clippings. Not a sturdy material, but it was good enough in keeping us from heat or rain. Thin plywood sheets separated our bedroom from the sala. You would know and hear everything that happened inside and outside the house. When you sit in the sala to watch TV, you would also hear the radio playing in the bedroom at the same time... plus a cacophony of sounds all around - from my neighbor’s TV playing, dogs barking, children shouting as they play patintero, women gossiping, to men joshing and jesting over bottles of beer at noontime. Sometimes neighbors could get more rowdy, but Mama made sure we were safe inside. In fact, she would insist at most times that we come with Papa in his trips. Those trips were our bonding time. For me, it was relief.
My Papa was a private driver of a well-to-do family. I remember one particular day when he brought home lots of Lego blocks from his boss. Franklin and I were totally exhilarated. We made big houses with spacious lawns. Franklin had skycrapers. We built cars and parks. We played day in and day out for I think about a month. I could never forget that. Though we did not have much, we were happy.
But little by little our laughters were slowly dulled by the whispers of worry. Papa and Mama worried a lot about where would get money for school payments, daily transportation expenses, electricity bills... they worried a lot about almost everything. Their talks seemed endless. Our money problems whirled around our heads, slumping on our shoulders like boulders too heavy to lift. I would catch myself staring blankly at the wall as their silent talks turn to heated discourse. Why did funds always come short? I mean, Papa and Mama were industrious people. Why was their income not commensurate to the strength they expended? I could do nothing about those problems. I did not have answers to my questions either. So I turned to solving math problems for solace. Each formula paved way to the right answers. There was always an answer to every problem, when the formula being used was right.
To solve our money problems, Mama went to microfinance institutions for help. The money she loaned from CARD MRI and Center for Community Transformation (CCT) brought in trickles of additional income from her small store. When Kabalikat para sa Maunlad na Buhay, Inc. (KMBI) came to our place, she became its member for five years. It helped maintain the business, which in turn provided steadily for our daily needs like tricycle fare and school supplies. The KMBI loans were of biggest help when I went to college. Amazingly, loan releases were always in time for the purchase of my books! So every year in my four years in college, a steady flow of funds for the books came. It was like a refreshing stream easing us from our burdens.
As eldest daughter, finishing a degree in college was critical for it meant an able hand to help the family. Mama did not finish elementary education and Papa was a graduate of a vocational course. So my college education truly meant something for us. When I received my diploma with the help of the KMBI loans, it felt that I was handed the first key to our dreams. I knew I will become the youngest CEO someday. Papa would no longer beat himself to so much hard work, Mama would no longer cry. Our money problems will soon end with my perfect formula, i.e. Diploma in Accountancy + Topping the Certified Public Accountant’s (CPA) Board Exam + a High-Paying Job = Success!
But this formula got challenged when I asked my parents to extend their financial support for me for another six months so I could take the CPA Board Review and Exam after graduation. Papa vehemently told me I should not be staying at home. I should be off already looking for a job. I could still hear his voice. I wanted to shout, “…but this is for you!” My shoulders slumped, my eyes fixated on the floor. When Papa was that decisive, you should not argue. Mama supported the decision and told me to apply for a job in KMBI. Hands down, I left the house. I walked and walked and walked. I did not know where my feet brought me, but my mind was bursting. My friends, their parents supported them. Why could I not be afforded the simplest opportunity I needed? Why would it be different for me, for us? This was only six months. Just six months. I needed to top the Board Exam. I knew I had what it took. I had the drive, I had the knowledge, skill and wits. This was the ultimate path. This was my only path. If I did not insist this, I knew I would never have a chance again.
My thoughts were stopped when I saw in my bag the Blackberry phone my aunt gave me for my birthday. Without second thought, I sold it at a mall entrance for two thousand pesos, just enough for the needed funds for the Review Class. It was sold in a jiffy. The man who brought it was even grateful I sold that to him at that price. With the needed cash, there was no stopping me. I went home, and told Mama what I just did. She said selling the phone was unnecessary. Papa gave me a chance, and she already got a loan from one of the neighbors. She also needed a copy of my resume.
Mama applied a job for me in KMBI. I got in as Accounting Assistant in one of KMBI's branch offices by July 2012, in the middle of the review period. I worked in the morning. I studied at night. The setup was mission impossible for me. I lost confidence in topping the exam. It was difficult, but I kept going and rendered myself to a tight discipline.
The hard work paid off when I passed the Board Exam and became a Certified Public Accountant in October 2012. Step two in my perfect formula, achieved! The third step is to find a high-paying job. I began searching for another job when my immediate superior mentioned a job opening in KMBI Audit Department. I grabbed that opportunity and was accepted by January 2013.
My career in KMBI went smoothly. I dedicated myself to work, and got promoted as I was transferred to KMBI's Finance and Accounting department. I was then able to sufficiently help my family. We also were able to make gradual improvements in our tiny home. We added a second floor, and had divisions to our bedroom. The structures were not yet concrete, but we were glad to have separate rooms on our own. Little by little, my dreams were coming true... until something happened in 2014 that totally changed how I view things and how I view my life.
Upon a painful break-up with my boyfriend, I accepted an invitation of a friend to come to a Christian church in January 2014. There, I learned about Jesus Christ and His love for me. I heard that before, but that moment I felt something different happening within me. I could not explain it but I began thinking about what I really want in life, about my dreams for my family, about what really matter in life unto eternity. I still could not grasp everything about the Bible, but now, all I dream and pray for is for my family to personally know and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Success is no longer about making lots of money so our problems can be ended. Success is to live for Jesus Christ, fulfill His purpose in my life and make a difference as a Filipino.
That same year, God led me to invest on a brand new house and lot for my family. I would need to pay its equity for two straight years so that by 2016, we will be able to move in. My salary was barely enough to pay for the monthly amortization, but I needed to prepare for a new abode. The place that we are renting has a new owner, and we were given until 2016 to move out. Instead of renting again, a new house would be a wiser investment. Papa was quite dubious in my capability to fund it, but he supported my decision. I closed the deal as an act of faith. And it felt good when I signed the papers. I felt good because it was not merely a "house" for me. It meant a new start for my family. It meant the start of the fulfillment of our dreams, and of our experiencing abundant life.
Also in the same year at work and upon my secondment to ServeFirst Philippines, I was opened to a big Vision from God about making a Christian economy. It was not just about providing microfinance loans! It was providing clear solutions for poor families to pursue their passions and be given what they deserved. This was a place where their efforts yielded enough or more than expected. This was about truly helping the poor get out of poverty. This hit close to home. I would certainly be a part of this!
I started ServeFirst Philippines' Finance and Accounting records and system. I was also given the opportunity to take part in the Management Information System project that KMBI and many other MFIs would benefit from. Things were growing more exciting until that fateful day in September 2015. Majority of the KMBI staff members, from the main office down to the branches, refused to acknowledge the authority of the Board of Trustees. I was one of the eight main office staff who remained with the Board. Because the breakout group had the funds, we were cut off. We had no salaries and allowances beginning October.
I did not know how to break this news to Papa and Mama. I did not know where to start, how to say it, or what actions to propose to keep up with my responsibilities. I already said "Yes!" to supporting the Vision; I cannot just walk away and leave. It was good that I still had enough savings. That kept me going. But unexpectedly, Papa was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in October 2015.
"Lord, what is happening?" I could not understand. It was like God was letting me eat beef and rice even though I was still a baby Christian. I could not help but spill the situation at work to my parents. I could not no longer keep things to myself. With Papa’s situation, she urged me to look for another job. It was worthless to stay, she said. She asked for my resume. But I could not give it. I could not give it because the Lord told me to stay. How can I say I am a Christian when I do not obey Him? This was my way of saying “I love you, Lord”. Do I have to choose between the Lord and the life of my father?
Papa’s health deteriorated week after week. Mama could not help but prod the need for a new job. Papa needed to undergo chemotherapy, but I cannot provide for it. I could not send him to tests and check-ups. Alone, I struggled to make ends meet at home. I used up all my savings for the payment of house rental, food, electricity, water and other important needs at home. I was about to give up the investment for the new house, but we could not get a refund for all my previous payments. I needed to continue it. "Lord, sustain me!"
In the midst of these difficulties, God made me experience miracles. Papa accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior in November 2015. Mama, Franklin, Vanny and Justin also began coming to church. Closest friends at church at work were there for us. Prayers flooded. I was able to get a part-time job from a friend of ServeFirst. I did not know where the funds came, but our daily needs were sustained. I did not even miss a payment for the new house!
Early in the morning of 17 February 2016, Papa lost his battle to cancer. I did not know what to feel. I needed to keep a clear head because I could no longer rely on Mama for key decisions at home. I needed to plan and seek funds for the funeral. I needed to be there for Franklin, Vanny and Justin. They are looking up to me.
I wanted to ask God, "What is the point in all of this? What does this make me? What lesson do you want me to learn?" I do not want to miss the lesson because I do not want to go through this again. I know the theory. I have the Bible verses, but I cannot understand all of these. Does God just want to inflict pain on me and my family? Is He playing games with me? Will this make me stronger? I feel very weak. Am I backsliding? I want to process everything. Can I just cry? Can I shut myself from everybody? But what about Mama, Franklin, Vanny and Justin? They need me. They need me to be strong. I have hope in the Lord, but my family still do not know the Lord. I want to comfort them but I need comforting myself. They look up at me. I want to mourn, but I have to move on fast because they are depending on me. I still am 23 years old, but now I feel I am 30 years old with a family to take care of. I have to help them. "Lord, give me something to do. Six months is enough time already."
In this journey, there is no turning back for me. If I really believed in the Vision, I will go as far as this. I am a risk-averse person, but in obedience to the Lord, I felt I have put even my family and the life of my father at stake. I fear the Lord more than I fear my parents. I cannot disobey God. I can be so serious in faith. If I got all that it takes – a CPA + a high-paying job + very very affluent – what would be next? I will never spend my time in this life for myself alone. I will always give it for His glory. Others first before myself. From helping my family, I want to help my relatives, my friends, and my community. The dreams I have for my family, I now lift up to the Lord.
Come May 2016, Mama, Franklin, Vanny, Justin and I will be moving in to our new home. I wish Papa were here. He should be the one to open the door for us. This was what we dreamed for together. This was what he desired for us to have. He will not see it, but I know in my heart, he is happy that we will very soon be living our dreams.