Marife Mataba a 49-year-old “millennial mom” and president of Noah Homeowners Association, Inc. in Marikina City, manages a small traditional sari-sari store in their community. Prior to the pandemic, her store offers just the basic commodities such as canned goods, noodles, bread, and the likes. Restocking it has never been a priority. “Minimum wage earner kasi ‘yung asawa ko kaya noong pumapasok pa siya walang gaanong laman ‘yung tindahan kasi umaasa talaga kami sa kita niya,” she admitted.

In February 2020, Fhe, as she is fondly called, tried her luck and decided to apply for the livelihood financial assistance program offered by SHFC. She was hoping to be included in the final list of recipients and used the “ayuda” to expand her store. “Naisip ko nung wala na siyang trabaho kung saan namin kukunin ‘yung gastusin, ‘yung mga bills, pagkain, at bayad sa amortization. Kailangan iexpand namin ‘yung tindahan, dapat hindi lang siya basta tindahan,” she added.

It seems like luck favors those who pray and work hard. Fhe was surprised when she was chosen as one of the beneficiaries. It was a sigh of relief as she was informed beforehand that the selection process would be thorough and that her application had no assurance to be approved at all. “Nasa palengke nga ako nung tinawagan ako, tumabi muna ako para lang magkausap kami nang maayos nung nagiinterview sakin,” she recalled. “Tapos sinabi na niya sakin na naapproved ako. Parang gusto ko tumalon sa sobrang saya. Dahil hindi ko talaga ineexpect na may ganung biyaya.”

Even before she got approved, the mother of three already had a firm plan in mind.  Her routine trip to the market gave her an idea of how to adapt to the new normal and apply it to her store. While some people felt burdened by the strict community restrictions, she saw this as an opportunity and took advantage of it. With P10,000 from the livelihood assistance in hand, Marife decided to innovate her store and offered digital services. She introduced the use of a barcode scanner to accept payments just like in big stores at the malls. Fhe even offered additional services such as bill payments and money transfers so that her fellow HOAI members will not go further for their transactions.  “Noong ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) doble ‘yung kita ko dahil siguro nga bawal lumabas, ayaw na din nilang lumabas (kasi) siksikan sa mga banko,” she shared.  “Kahit na papaano naman lahat ng hinahanap nila eh meron sa tindahan ko.”

For Fhe, being blessed is an understatement. She was amazed by how her unassuming and tiny sari-sari store transformed into an almost convenience store. The overwhelming support and appreciation from her members helped her business to flourish, with her initial investment gaining double-digit gains. She attributed her success to the financial literacy training spearheaded by the Insurance and Community Enhancement Division as part of the requirements for the livelihood grant. “Natutunan ko kung paano palaguin ang negosyo at ‘yung tamang pagpepresyo or costing. Dati parang hula-hula lang kung magkano ko ibebenta yung mga tinda ko,” she said. 

Aside from living comfortably in their own house which is under the Community Mortgage Program, Fhe is happy to admit that their financial needs have become more manageable now through the help of their thriving livelihood. And buying a little more than what they need is a nice bonus. 

According to her, hard work, determination, and innovation are the key ingredients that one needs to bear success. The last is particularly important as adapting to change is what keeps us relevant in these extraordinary times. “Hindi talaga ako titigil. Kapag naka-online ako at may naikita akong bagong business, tinitingnan ko ‘yun at tinatanong kung paano. In fact, she already has another business venture in mind. “Kagaya ngayon patok din ang (modern) bigasan. Gusto ko siya pasukin. Gusto ko ‘yung basic commodities ng mga tao,” Marife said.

Although admittedly not a techie, she has been fascinated by innovative ideas and always open to new things. Her willingness to embrace digital adoption got her the nickname “millennial mom” from one of her daughters. The endearment has a nice ring to it, and Fhe wears it with a badge of honor and pride.

Marife Mataba was among the beneficiaries of the livelihood financial assistance program started by SHFC in October 2020. Through this initiative, the agency was able to assist a total of 69 partner-homeowners who lost their job or whose income was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.