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SariCycle: Continuing a cycle of change

By Ysabelle Asuncion Published Sep 30, 2022 5:00 am

The story of SariCycle began nearly three generations ago, with Mikaela Lim’s grandfather. He had owned a sari-sari store, like many others. This business grew as he increased his stock of goods and made connections through those he encountered in his ventures. He later expanded to become a wholesale grocer, and what Mikaela would know as her family business. Taking inspiration from her grandfather’s story, she would go on to start SariCycle. 

Founded by Mikaela Lim in 2020, SariCycle is a student-led non-profit initiative that aims to create financial literacy and sustainability in the Philippines through means of sari-sari stores. Together with her classmates, Mikaela put forth the SariCycle organization, helping over a hundred underprivileged Filipinos across four different communities to achieve financial stability. 

Mikaela Lim was inspired by her grandfather who once owned a sari-sari store.

The team consists of student leaders, Mikaela Lim (founder and executive director), Matthew Chua (president and finance director), Diego Reyno (public relations officer), Zen Osorio (creatives director), Juanpaolo Velasco (assistant finance director), and John MacLennan and Shray Gupta as project associates. Young STAR caught up with the SariCycle team to discuss the establishment and impact of student-led nonprofit organizations.

YOUNG STAR: What inspired you to create SariCycle?

MIKAELA LIM: The idea came from my grandfather. He used to own a sari-sari store and that’s how he formed our family business. In my freshman year, I thought of the idea to create an organization that allowed unemployed Filipinos to have a source of income and achieve financial stability through sari-sari stores. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome in establishing SariCycle during the pandemic?
The SariCycle team: Diego Reyno, Juanpaolo Velasco, Matthew Chua, Mikaela Lim, Aeden Walker, John Maclennan, Shray Gupta

We had to go to the different sites to conduct orientations and give out supplies but due to COVID restrictions, we couldn’t really do that. We couldn’t do online orientations either because many sites we worked with were remote with not much access to good internet or WiFi. That was the main challenge, but once restrictions began to be lifted, we were able to visit the different sites more. 

We’re taught to step outside of our comfort zone and find something we’re passionate about. For us, that’s helping underprivileged Filipinos. 

How do you fund the opening of these sari-sari stores?

JOHN MACLENNAN: We run a fundraiser. The most recent one we had was a basketball fundraiser. 

SHRAY GUPTA: So the basketball fundraiser was for building sari-sari stores in Cavite. It was a whole-day basketball tournament consisting of two divisions: the Under 14 division and the Under 18 division. We raised roughly P50,000 in total. 

How do you choose the communities you work with? 

MIKAELA: We do it based on whom we know amongst different communities. This is followed by interviews about the different community members’ situations, and that’s how we decide on our beneficiaries and which communities to help. 

The team’s favorite moments are when they do orientations and visit the store owners.
How will you ensure the longevity and quality of these sari-sari stores through the years?

MATTHEW CHUA: After sari-sari stores are opened, we keep in contact with the store owners and we ask for weekly updates for the first four months about how the store is doing and which products are selling out. We help them with their budget and where their profits should go. After the first four months, we let them go on their own. 

How do natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes impact the process of opening these sari-sari stores?

MIKAELA: We open up stores in response to natural disasters. The most recent one we went to was in Pampanga and the beneficiaries there lost their homes. They needed a source of finance to help rebuild the homes that were lost. The funds from the government were not enough so they needed the sari-sari stores to help them. 

SariCycle has changed the lives of over 100 Filipinos. Have you met anyone throughout this process whose story might have changed your life?

For me, personally, it was Ate Elena. She was in one of our first communities. She was actually a widow who lost her husband pretty recently. She’s a single mother. She said the sari-sari store would be very helpful for her. She became one of our most successful store owners, having been able to expand. I think it just goes to show that what we’re doing actually works.

Do you have a favorite moment from working with SariCycle? 

MATTHEW: I think my favorite moment was learning more about each family. We met a single mother on our last trip to Laguna. She had two young kids and she was driven by the need to support her children. She used the money she earned from the initial startup that we gave her to expand her business and open a pizza shop, encouraging the store owners around her to do the same. 

MIKAELA: My favorite moments are when we do orientations. We get to visit the store owners’ houses and it’s personal to be in someone’s house. You empathize with them and see how they really need the sari-sari stores. 

When did you feel like you were all making an impact?

SHRAY: The first community we visited was Barangay Sapang Uwak. Every time we interviewed members of the community, they were all incredibly thankful. The gratitude that was given to us really showed how we impacted their lives. 

JOHN: A common theme we noticed amongst the different communities was that everyone had been massively affected by the pandemic, and a lot of them had no formal source of income. They had all struggled a lot, and after interviewing them, they had all been really happy that we were able to help them. It’s rewarding to see that we have been able to change their lives.

There's been a rise in student organizations in recent years. Do you think it's reflective of this generation? 

MATTHEW: It’s definitely reflective of this generation. More and more people are taking initiative. In our schools, we’re taught to be the change we want to see. We’re taught to step outside of our comfort zone and find something we’re passionate about and do something about it. For us, that’s helping underprivileged Filipinos. 

JOHN: There are people out there who deserve more than what they have. Being able to see that evokes a sympathetic response from those in more privileged positions. It makes the students of our generation take initiative and help those in less-fortunate situations. 

What do you find impactful about student organizations? 

DIEGO REYNO: I think the biggest impact is that it inspires other students to create organizations. This inspired me to create an organization of my own. For example, last year, I started this club where we read to children in local elementary schools.

JOHN: Student organizations give students a voice and an inspiration. Seeing students become empowered is inspiring.