Tuesday, Oct 26

The business of giving love and care

August 20, 2018 | Jonas Trinidad

All that Arlene Pempeña has to sell for a living are sandwiches, at least for now. The mother of five has been struggling to revive her business since the recent flooding. Thanks in no small part of Tzu Chi's cash relief program (CRP), she would be able to use the money she earned as capital. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Arlene Pempeña joined Tzu Chi’s cash relief program (CRP) in hopes of restoring the family business after the recent flood washed it away. Her family could’ve joined in to maximize what they would earn from the CRP, but she insisted on giving their slots to others who would need the money more.


Other than sandwiches and juices, there’s nothing much the store of Arlene Pempeña can offer. Her part of the community is finally free of the mud, due in no small part of the combined efforts of the community, but she and her family still feel the disaster’s effects. For instance, the store has yet to offer her signature banana cue and turon (fried banana rolls), which patrons from the outside usually come for in droves.

The family store used to be bigger than this, even long before Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) struck. The family enjoyed the fruits of a booming business, which sold staples such as meals and groceries. After Ondoy, they restarted the business but were never able to fully restore it due to their finances.

Little by little, they reinvented the store to offer some food along with groceries. However, the recent monsoon struck, washing everything away. This time, the pull of Tropical Storm Yagi (Karding) against the monsoon is to blame. For a time, Arlene was robbed of her only means of paying for the education of three of her five children.

When Tzu Chi’s cash relief program (CRP) came to her community of Barangay Banaba in San Mateo, Rizal, she wasted no time signing up. Since the CRP had no limit on the number of participants per family, her husband wanted to join, as well.

Arlene convinced him to report to his day job instead.

“I convinced him to go to work instead, even if the pay’s less. At least his slot was given to others who need the aid more,” she said.

Shovel on hand, Arlene spent her time clearing her community of the mud in exchange for a daily cash assistance of Php800. It was twice as much as she received from Tzu Chi’s CRP following Ondoy nine years ago. This inspired her to work twice as hard.

Having saved over the course of the CRP, she plans on using the money to revive her business a third time. Her family stands to gain a lot from selling food. For instance, of 100 servings of juice, she would be able to recoup the cost if she managed to sell half. Her banana snacks will fare better, as she will be able to earn two to three times the cost of 200 pieces of bananas.

Her eldest child managed to finish college through her business. All the more reason she has to strive for her store to flourish again.

Blessed with a steady livelihood and a loving family, Arlene cherishes her blessings and shares them with others. She could’ve allowed her family to join the CRP, earning enough capital, but she put others first.

“If I’m free and see a neighbor in need of help, it’s only right to help them out,” Arlene ends.

  • With her fellow participants, Arlene clears this street of the mud left by the flooding. She finds time to help out in the community, especially when she has nothing to do at home. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Arlene receives the fruits of her labor from her group leader. In exchange for a day of cleaning the community, CRP participants receive Php800 in cash assistance to help them afford basic needs. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Arlene pours half of the pack of powdered juice to make juice to sell. Using up the entire pack will not only recoup the cost of the powder but also help her earn half of said cost. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】