Being a Trainer in Tonga

Posted by on 2:52 pm in From the Field, Skills Training, Tonga | 0 comments

Being a Trainer in Tonga

Malo e lelei!

My name is ‘Ofa, I am 23 and am a Centre manager and team leader for SPBD in Toga. I feel very lucky to be a member of my team- both staff and trainees are so dedicated and motivated and I am always inspired by them and learn so much- even though I am supposed to be the teacher!

At each of our centres, all trainees are split off into groups, who they complete their training with. Last year, one of the borrowers had a great idea: that everyone should wear their team colours! There is a yellow group, blue group, green group etc…. and the idea has really caught on and stuck. If someone shows up in the wrong colours, they are in big trouble with their team mates! It is quite funny, but also great that they are so involved and committed to the training and to their group.


Team colours!

There has been a lot of excitement at our centre lately. We were very lucky to be the first centre in Tongatapu to receive SPBD’s new financial booklets- because of the great enthusiasm of our members! I use these books as a training tool, to coach and motivate my members. I am so thankful that we have these new booklets; it makes my job a lot easier! The women can record their cash flows; see their loan and savings information and other SPBD policy information. Before the booklets, my members had to draw their own cash flow diary every week and a lot of them would ask me “Ofa, why are we doing this?” It was much harder to motivate them. Now that the women have their booklets and financial goals written down, they come up to me and tell me why it is good for them: “Ofa with the booklet and training you give us I know where all my money is! I can save for my goals!” It is so great to hear.




Client Trainer: A Day in the Life

Posted by on 10:00 am in From the Field, Livelihoods, Skills Training, Tonga | 0 comments

Client Trainer: A Day in the Life

My name is Jerry Whippy and I am very excited to have just been given the position of Team Leader with SPBD in Fiji. I have been a Centre manager for a while now, and my role has encompassed training SPBD’s clients as well as doing loan and savings collections at each village. Like all Centre Managers, I have one hour at each centre, so I need to try to be efficient and good with time management, as well as be able to empathise at all times.

A normal day for me involves getting to the office at about 7.30am to plan and catch up with paperwork before going out to the field. Today we left the office at the ‘late’ time of 8.30am with another Centre, Manager Vilitati, in a 5 seater ute with our driver. We always go out in teams of 2 or 3 to cover centre visits in the same area. We are one Centre Manager down at the moment (due to staff turnover) so Vilitati and I were busier than usual to cover extra centres.

My first centre for the day was Vanuakula, a small centre of 10 ladies who are all part of one extended family living in the same village. I’m busy with loan and savings collections, but always take the time to answer the questions the ladies ask. While they are only a small centre, they are completing their cash flow diaries well (a key measure of SPBD and Good Return’s financial education program) and have established their own visions and financial goals for the future. The centre’s Financial Education Facilitator, Pasita Vakaloloma, is one lady I am especially proud of. She not only takes the time to coach and guide her own village members, but she also visits nearby villages at their request to help them out too. She’s even had to sleep over at other villages on two separate occasions just so she could train them!

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The vehicle had gone with Vilitati to his next centre, so I walked for 20 minutes along the road before cutting through sugarcane and cassava fields to get to my second centre of Bila. Luckily it’s the cool season at the moment and the sky is overcast. The car is waiting for me when I finish, and I head to my third village of Senibua. The meeting is held outside under a lush clump of bamboo. As a new centre, they had only just finished their training on basic financial education. This is one of the centres I am covering for, so I have not had a chance to train them before. I explained the reasons for recording cash flows and for setting financial goals to work towards. I had to spend a long time with this centre because unfortunately a few members did not pay their loans, so I had no choice but to ask the other members to pay on their behalf (SPBD works on the Grameen group lending principles whereby centres act as guarantors for their members). This is probably the worst part of my job, but it has to be done.

By the time I got to my fourth village, Vatalau, I was quite late for their meeting and it was already almost 1.30pm. This is the village where I once had an incident with a man with an axe threatening to attack me, and the whole centre nearly collapsed because of this one man who had stolen his wife’s loan money. Thankfully, we were able to resolve the issue and since then the centre has flourished. Seven new members have just joined, so I took some time to educate the new ladies on the importance of setting financial visions and goals before moving on to the next village. I hadn’t had any lunch yet so I bought a slice of custard pie from the Centre Chief – it was quite delicious.

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My fifth village for the day was Waiyavi. I was over an hour late because of the delay at my third centre, but they are were still waiting for me. They prepared me some lunch of roti, samosas, cakes and fruit. I think they think I never eat enough so they make sure I eat a lot! This is a dynamic centre, and I’ve helped them to organize fundraising events for their communities such as a walkathon, which I took part in too. The next one planned is a ‘work-a-thon’ at an elderly home.

My final centre for the day was Saru village. I was almost 2 hours late, so I was not surprised to find that a few of the ladies have had to leave before I finally get there. They are very understanding , though, and give me cakes and tea while I do the collections. Too much food!

Finally, at 5pm the driver collects Vilitati and I and we head back to the office. I’m keen to get back because I have rugby training at 5.30pm! After training I return to the office and work on my paperwork (Centre Manager reports, planning, loan submissions etc) until 10.30pm.

I often don’t get a chance to go through the financial education training with my centres in sufficient detail, but I arrange to come back and train them during my time off on weekends to make sure they understand and can apply what they have learned. I work long hours, but I am continually inspired by the ladies I work with, and seeing the impact that a small loan and some training can have on their lives is what keeps me going.

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Hello from Sigatoka, Fiji!

Posted by on 3:38 pm in Fiji, From the Field, Partnerships, Skills Training | 0 comments

Hello from Sigatoka, Fiji!

Hello Good Return blog-readers! My name is Vaseva and I am a Banker for SPBD (Good Return’s partner in Fiji). Good Return’s FSO, Esther, interviewed me recently after conducting a ‘Train the Trainer’s’ session at the Sigatoka branch. We’ve written it below so you can read about what a SPBD Banker gets up to in Fiji. I hope you find it interesting and informative!


What is a typical work day like for you?

I usually come into the office at 7:30am to do my paperwork, process loan applications and such before I leave at 8:30am to go to the centres. On Mondays to Thursdays, I usually have 4 (or 5) centres to visit each day. I spend an hour at each centre, doing loan and savings collections, updating their records and teaching the ladies. I get back to the office after 6 or 7pm. I write up my daily reports and other paperwork and then leave the office at around 7:30pm or 8pm. On Fridays we have staff meetings and do our paperwork.


Has anything funny happened lately on the job?

Last week, we got stuck up in the Nakosa region when our vehicle broke down on the way to our first centre! We were up the valley road in the remote hinterland, where there is no mobile reception. We had to walk about one and a half hours to the nearest village. Once we reached the village, we tried to call the office to tell them what happened, but to make calls from the landline in the village you need to have a telecard, and no one in the village had one. We had to wait in the village for any kind of transport to pass by. We were there all morning and afternoon!

At around 3pm, one of the Centre Managers (Vereniki) -who was waiting for us to pick him up to go to his next centre- gave up waiting and caught the bus back to Sigatoka. Luckily for him there is a bus twice a day to where he was, but the bus does not go up to where we were. When Vereniki got back to the office, they managed to make some phone calls and called the Centre Secretary at the village we were waiting at, so we could tell them what happened. They tried to arrange for another vehicle to pick us up, but in the end a mechanic from the village managed to travel back to the car in a government vehicle and finally managed to fix it.  We got back to the office after 8pm that night, and I eventually got home after 9pm!

We had to go back to all the centres we had missed that Friday to do the [loan and savings] collections for that week. It was not funny at the time, but now it is funny to look back on!


What was your toughest day on the job?

I’ve known many of the SPBD borrowers and trainees for a long time- one and a half years now. When one of the members died, that was the toughest day I’ve had. It was very sad. I’ve had two experiences with this. One member just got buried today, and another lady was buried last month. It’s hard, but I have to cope and move on with life.


What do you do apart from work?

Every Friday after work I go back to Navua, about an hour away from Sigatoka by minivan, to spend time with my family. Sometimes I go shopping, or play a bit of netball on Saturday if I’m feeling energetic. Otherwise, about once a month I take a boat ride up the river from Navua to my home village. My brother has a family boat, and if he happens to be going to the village on Saturday and coming back on Sunday then I go with him.

 Vaseva photo

Vaseva Naibena is a warm, good-natured young woman with a big heart. She has been a Centre Manager with Good Return’s partner SPBD Fiji for the past one and a half years and loves her job. Her role involves travelling to villages around the Coral Coast and Sigatoka Valley four times a week to take collections, help ladies apply for new loans and teach them about financial education, amongst other things. 

Communication blunders

Posted by on 4:43 pm in Field Support Officers, Fiji, From the Field | 0 comments

Communication blunders

Time is not the only thing that’s different here in Fiji.

For some reason, both my husband and I have (on completely separate occasions) asked two different ladies if they have children, and have been told no (or so we thought). After we got to know each lady better, we found out that each has one daughter. That is still a puzzle to us both. One aspect of this is the non-verbal communication. It is said that Fijians can carry out whole conversations this way, and I am evidently quite lost!

When agreeing to something, for instance, I have noticed a lot of Fijians use what I would consider ‘flirty’ eye movements- a ‘suggestive’ lift of the eyebrows followed by a ‘modest’ look at the ground is apparently a ‘yes’ although I would have thought it was a coquettish gesture! Another example I have noticed is that when talking about someone/something else, they often raise their eyebrows and tilt their heads in the direction of that person/thing, where I would probably point with my finger. Plenty of other eye movements appear to have meaning but I am still illiterate in those! Then there are the sounds used to convey meaning. There is “sssst’ sound, similar to ‘shhhh’ which is used to get someone’s attention, or tell a child off (from what I can see). There is also the “mm-emm” which is used as “yes” or “uh huh”, which I have taken to using too.

Of course there is always the ‘Fijian yes.’ The ‘Fijian yes’ is something I have to get used to. A good example of this is that my neighbor booked some tickets for us to go to a local dance performance. We were told that the tickets would be held for us, but when we tried to collect them just one hour later, they were gone! Apparently it is common for Fijians to say ‘Yes’ because they don’t want to disappoint you, without  realising that it’s much more disappointing to find out later that their yes was actually a no.

WTF! They say… Welcome to Fiji!


Esther is our wonderful FSO in Fiji. Read more about Esther’s adventures.

My first Barangay fiesta

Posted by on 1:57 pm in Field Support Officers, From the Field, Philippines | 0 comments

My first Barangay fiesta

So, what exactly is a Barangay fiesta? My account of it included minimal sleep, loud and I mean LOUD commercial pop music and lots of food! It’s an important time in every barangay (community), most often coinciding with summer, and is the one time of the year where everyone can relax, do nothing and catch up with family. Well…. except for the female head of the household who stays in the kitchen cooking for the duration of the fiesta!

It’s commonly known that during fiestas everyone’s house is open. Meaning any person at the fiesta is welcome to enter the household and have a free meal. (The poor mother cooking!)

I spent the night at a friends place with other friends in Buenavista, Guimaras Island, sleeping in a traditional nipa hut. We arrived just before lunch and spent the remainder of the day eating native manok (chicken), arroz valenciana (paella), local vegetables and sticky rice which is glutinous rice normally cooked in coconut milk and served with sliced mango on top, it’s delicious!

As eating is incredibly exhausting work, we retreated to spend the remainder of the day lazing on the lush green grass ironically under a mango tree playing endless Monopoly games. All whilst listening to loud disco music that didn’t stop until 2am the following morning, recommencing at 5am! Suffice to say little sleep was had, our stomachs were filled and our ears ringing.





Zena is our FSO in the Phillipines! Read more of her adventures here.

It all starts with a vision

Posted by on 1:42 pm in From the Field, Tonga | 0 comments

It all starts with a vision

Malo e lelei

The financial education program at SPBD Tonga begins at every centre with a vision exercise in which clients are asked to draw their vision for the future. I had the privilege to see and hear some of the clients’ visions this week ahead of the introduction of the new financial booklets in all of our centres.


It is such a powerful exercise. Some of the women can get quite emotional, this is their opportunity to express their hopes and dreams and why they have come to SPBD.

All of the dreams centre around family. The women simply wanted to be able to provide for their families by sending their children to school, or being able to build a home in which the family could feel safe and secure. This was a clear example of why SPBD and much of microfinance focuses on women. The benefits are filtered to all parts of the household and community.

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Centre manager sharing her vision with the centre

It is important also that the Centre Managers share their own vision and that of SPBD, to demonstrate that we all have goals. “No goal is to big”, they explain, “but we must have a plan”. Financial education and recording cash flows enables the women to have a plan and have a structured approach to reaching their goals. With these first steps and further planning, SPBD has helped, and will continue to help women achieve their vision for a better future.




Zac is our wonderful FSO in Fiji. Read more from Zac.

Help International Field Trip

Posted by on 10:00 am in Field Support Officers, Fiji, From the Field, Social Performance Management, Volunteering | 0 comments

Help International Field Trip

I have been working for the past couple of weeks with some student volunteers from Help International, an American NGO that sends student volunteers to a number of countries across the world during university holidays. SPBD is currently hosting four volunteers, who are assisting me with the Financial Education Program. We are working together to conduct an evaluation of the effectiveness of the financial education program, which will be done through a combination of client surveys, client focus groups, staff surveys and focus groups etc.

It is surprising how a simple questionnaire can be challenging to properly administer in the Fijian village setting, due to understanding of language, education levels and the cultural desire to please (and hence only give positive responses to any questions!). To address this, we are developing and testing out objective questions, translating the survey into Fijian, and administering the survey with a consistent each to assist with explanation.

I took the volunteers out on a couple of field exposure trips to test out our questions, and also to give them a chance to meet some of the ladies and get to know them better. We were able to visit a total of six village centres over two days around the Rewa and Korovou areas of Greater Suva. Each of the villages welcomed us in different ways – we were garlanded in one village, given sevusevu (kava ceremony) in another, treated to songs and meke in others and almost without fail we were offered food and drink.

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First ever ‘kava’ for Nikki and the other Help International volunteers


The visits were eye-opening for me too, as I had not had the opportunity to visit some of the centres, and observing the different styles of the meetings was quite interesting. Some were very structured- for example Naganivatu actually has a centre mission and vision for the next few years in the same way that a corporation would. Others have a more relaxed approach. We watched as the Centre Managers conducted financial education training and collected loan payments.

Each of the Help volunteers and I administered a few trial surveys to a couple of ladies in each centre, which gave us useful information about what the ladies learnt and still needed help on, and how to change the questions to be easily understood.

The clear highlight for the ladies in each centre were Help International volunteers Matt and Ryan- the ladies were clamouring for photos! Even more entertaining for the ladies was that both the boys were wearing ‘sulus’ (traditional  wrap around ‘sarong’ skirts for men) for the first time and were clearly having difficulties sitting cross-legged on the floor without revealing all- this was apparently the funniest thing ever for the members!

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Esther is Good Return’s Field Support Officer and is living in Fiji for the year. Read more from Esther here.

FSO diaries: This month in Tonga….

Posted by on 1:57 pm in Field Support Officers, From the Field, Tonga, Travel | 1 comment

FSO diaries: This month in Tonga….

1. Cycling to secret beaches

I’ve bought myself a bike in Tonga. It has zero suspension, a rock hard seat, the gears don’t work, and has crooked front wheel alignment… but it has survived. This weekend I took it out with some friends and visited a secret little beach and a spectacular land bridge about an hour out of town, through farms with tall grass and coconut trees.

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Beside the road people sell watermelons, taro, yams, coconuts, as well as clothes and perfume. We pass pigs, chickens and dogs frequently and hear the voices of Tongans shouting ‘bye’ to us as we pass.

I have never been much of a cyclist and the ride gave me sore legs and backside but it was worth it. I can’t wait to take the bike out again, especially when this is the reward at the end of it:

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2. Rain

The rain just keeps coming.

Although the cyclone season is the 6 months from November to May here in Tonga, we are still having significant downpours, and it’s the end of June! The front garden is flooded in minutes! It is all quite spectacular, watching the power of the elements through the window or out on the porch.

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3. Tonga: free range

I absolutely love seeing chickens and pigs roaming around everywhere here. I always have chickens, often with little chicks, coming into the garden. Pigs roam the streets freely and there is a constant sound of roosters cock-a-doodle-doo-ing and pigs oinking. Fantastic!

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4. The day at Oholei

Every quarter the SPBD staff here in the head office get together and do something social. This quarter we spent a Friday afternoon and evening at Oholei beach resort on the East coast. It was a long afternoon of football, touch rugby and volleyball on the beach. It was a change from the usual Friday afternoon volleyball sessions, where we string a net between a coconut tree and the air-conditioning unit in the SPBD car park.

The sun went down in the evening and a huge red full moon rose over the water. It was Friday 13th. The evening entertainment was fantastic; we had a few drinks before dinner and danced as a live band played a mix of Tongan and ‘palangi’ songs. The dinner was an absolute feast of Tongan specialties; ota ika (raw fish with coconut and lime), lo’i feke octopus, kale moa (chicken curry), lu (corn beef in taro leaves), yams and sweet potato from the umu oven, and of course roasted pig.

After dinner we were treated with some traditional Tongan music and dance inside a cave. The men showed us their war dances with sticks to the beat of drums, and fire dancing which was quite impressive, while the girls danced dressed in tapa (made by beating and decorating the bark of the mulberry tree) and covered in oil.

It was a great day at Oholei with the SPBD family in Tonga and one I will always remember.


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Zac is Good Return’s Field Support Officer based in Tonga, working with our partner SPBD. Read more posts from Zac’s Tongan adventure!


Adventures on the road!

Posted by on 1:30 pm in Field Support Officers, Fiji, From the Field | 0 comments

Adventures on the road!

Last week, I accompanied Rico (SPBD Fiji’s General Manager) and Nathan on a visit to the Sigatoka SPBD Centre for their first Financial Education Facilitator (FEF) training. A significant part of my role with Good Return will be supporting SPBD in developing this training, which will soon see an FEF trained in each village. These ladies are village women who will act in a coaching/mentoring capacity to other village members, to ensure they understand the training and can apply it to their businesses and households.

It turned into a rather adventurous journey. The car’s engine overheated when we had only just left Suva. Mechanics along the way did not have the parts to correct the suspected problem (thermostat), so we continued on to Sigatoka, stopping every 15-30 minutes to cool the engine down by pouring cold water into the radiator!

SPBD’s Nathan & IT Guy Shadru, our ‘bush mechanics’ cooling the engine down in the rain!

SPBD’s Nathan & IT Guy Shadru, our ‘bush mechanics’ cooling the engine down in the rain!

The training went well when we finally got there, with engaging presentations to the ladies being well received. These women have an important role to play in the success of financial education, so my aim is to support them wherever possible.

SPBD’s General Manager Rico presenting to the Sigatoka FEFs

SPBD’s General Manager Rico presenting to the Sigatoka FEFs

The mechanics in Sigatoka were unable to fix the car either, so after the training (which we were very late for!) we drove all the way back with the same problem! Ironically it was raining the whole journey, and the normally beautiful scenery looked like this:


Nathan & Shadru were mechanical experts by the time we made it back to Suva (very slowly!). On the way back we were following two tow-trucks pulling cars along and we were wondering when that would be us! We arrived back in Suva safe and sound, although more nervous than usual. I’m told it’s the first time something like that has happened, lucky me!

Esther is Good Return’s Field Support Officer and is living in Fiji for the year. Read more from Esther here.

Getting to know Fanie Guarnes

Posted by on 12:38 pm in Case Studies, From the Field, Philippines, Skills Training | 0 comments

Getting to know Fanie Guarnes

Fanie is a Project Officer for SECDEP in the Phillipines. She’s been employed by SECDEP for 4 years and has worked in two branches on Panay Island. The nature of her job sees her regularly on the road, so I was fortunate to be able to catch her on her day off in the office to ask her a few questions.

A little about her role with SECDEP

Fanie works Mondays to Fridays, 8.00am to 5.30pm, with Monday to Thursday being the days she visits clients and Fridays for catching up and processing the weeks work. As she lives in another town on the island, she sleeps at the staff house attached to the office during the week and returns home to see her family, including her son, Emmanuel, on Friday afternoons. She then leaves on Monday morning at 4.00am to arrive at the office by 7.30am.

A typical day visiting the clients at the centres would start with an opening prayer, then the staff and members pledge which helps remind both staff and clients of their responsibilities to one another. She then works alongside the Centre Chief, who is the elected representative of the group of clients to collect loan repayments, issue receipts and write deposit slips. Due to security in the area, her job also exerts a level of caution and planning as she carries cash with her after visiting each center.

Why did she choose to work at SECDEP?

Fanie’s family has had a long relationship with SECDEP, with her mother being a client and her sister having received an educational scholarship. She has experienced the firsthand effects SECDEP’s work has had on her family and wanted to work for SECDEP so that she too could help contribute to the lives of others.

What is the most enjoyable part of her job?

I received a very emotional and teary-eyed response when I asked Fanie her favourite part of the job. Fanie said that she was so lucky to have received the job, as she initially had hesitations about applying as she thought she was too old and had asthma, which could have been an impairment to the job.

She said she loves to serve clients and experience other municipalities at the same time due to the level of travel she has to do. She finds it rewarding when problems are overcome and enjoys the level of flexibility her job gives her, which means when her tasks are done she has free time.

Is there anything she doesn’t like about her job?

A look of confusion crossed Fanie’s face when asked this question. For a second I thought she didn’t understand, so I rephrased. But Fanie had understood- she was just finding it difficult to think of an answer! Eventually, she said that sometimes it’s frustrating when clients are running late to meetings as time is of the essence, with only 1 hour being allocated to each centre and Fanie having to attend 5 centres per day, with plenty of travel time between them.