BULSA: Shifting Mindset Towards Women’s Economic Freedom

At 31 years old, Helen Pagado ensures she fulfills her duties as a full-time mother to her 8-year-old and 5- year-old children, while also maintaining her role as a Barangay Health Worker (BHW) in Brgy. Monte Calvario, Buhi, Camarines Sur. Despite finding both roles fulfilling, Helen faces financial challenges, even with her partner’s support as a public market vendor in Quezon City, Metro Manila.

Admitting that she never truly grasped the concept of saving money, she acknowledges the added hurdles it brings. Confronting the hardships resulting from this mindset, she decided to participate in ADRA’s Project TOGETHER, particularly to learn about Barangay United Loans and Savings (BULSA).

“I wasn’t keen on saving before because I was used to spending freely, especially back in Laguna where I could buy whatever I wanted. Every payday was all about spending here and there, but when I learned how to save, that’s when I realized how satisfying it can be,” Helen admitted.”


BULSA is a community-based and self-organizing loan and savings mechanism designed to enable women and communities with low access to financial services to be able to save, have access to micro- loans, gain incomes, and ultimately be economically resilient. Additionally, BULSA strives to assist these communities in addressing their needs relevant to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

As a member of the Savers BULSA Group in Brgy. Monte Calvario, Helen has seen its growth from 14 to 22 members, mostly housewives. From January to February this year, they saved Php. 98,300, which will increase with their monthly savings before the group’s share-out at the end of the year, marking their third cycle.


Being a BULSA member has helped Helen in many ways, including supporting their children’s school needs. However, a significant event taught her even more about the importance of savings when her family discovered that her mother had stage one cancer and needed to undergo an immediate operation to prevent its spread. Unfortunately, even their combined income wasn’t enough to cover the expenses.

“I didn’t know where to get the money because, at that time, I approached almost all our relatives to borrow money, but it was really tough during that time,” tearful Helen expressed.

With the hospital demanding a downpayment for the operation, Helen turned to BULSA for financial assistance through a loan, which successfully facilitated her mother’s operation. She managed to repay the loan within a few months thereafter.

“My mother is okay now. She’s back to normal. She just takes medication. That’s the support we’re giving her.”


Helen earns around Php. 700 to Php. 1,000 monthly as a BHW. Their combined income with her partner isn’t enough, particularly with two school-age children and ongoing house repairs, which consume most

of her partner’s earnings. To supplement their income, Helen decided to invest her share-out money from two cycles into a small piggery business. When managed effectively, such a venture holds significant potential for profitability, particularly within rural settings.

“I bought piglets to raise and eventually sell. Now, I have a small business where I dedicate my time and a bit of income. Aside from BULSA, that’s where I get money for my savings.”


For Helen, an improved financial mindset and a willingness to take risks are the keys that have helped her and her family. She not only aims for economic empowerment but also wants to demonstrate that a woman equipped with knowledge and strategy can achieve anything. This mindset resonates with her BULSA group, where they value not only financial power but also the solidarity they formed through Project TOGETHER.

Hopeful for the future, Helen shared that their group is committed to continuing BULSA even after Project TOGETHER concludes.

She shared her story during the BULSA Summit held by ADRA in February this year in her barangay in Buhi where three other groups joined for a day of celebration and inspiration.

“ADRA has inspired us. They serve as our motivation to save independently, proving that even individuals with modest means can build savings without relying on others. We have learned so much. Not just for ourselves or our families, but for everyone,” Helen expressed gratefully.

Project TOGETHER (Uniting 𝗧𝗢wards 𝗚ender 𝗘quality for Enjoyment of Women’s and Girl’s 𝗧otal 𝗛𝗲alth and 𝗥ights) is a 6-year multi-sectoral project funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) that aims to increase the enjoyment of health-related rights for the most vulnerable children, adolescent girls and boys, and women and men in Cambodia, Kenya, the Philippines, and Uganda, especially those with intersecting vulnerabilities in indigenous, remote, or resettlement settings.

In the Philippines, Project TOGETHER is being implemented in the province of Camarines Sur, targeting the municipalities of Buhi, Caramoan, Garchitorena, Ocampo, and Siruma

Author: Veblen May Reynes, ADRA TOGETHER Project Behaviour Change Communication Officer