Dreams of life beyond a landfill | Jovelee’s Story

Aug 1, 2023

This story originally appeared on HOPE International’s blog in June 2023. Written by HOPE communications specialist Kristine Frey.  

Jovelee Maala didn’t know the Payatas Controlled Disposal Facility as the largest open dump site in the Philippines—for her, it was home.  

Opening in the 1970s, the site served as a fixture in Jovelee’s hometown, Quezon City. Local families built their homes there, and thousands more traveled to the site to pick through the trash, searching for items to sell—and when she turned 18, Jovelee joined them.  

Over time, Jovelee noticed that others had turned their daily salvaging into a more steady business, opening shops to resell what they recovered from the Payatas dumpsite. She decided to do the same.  

In 2003, Jovelee opened Ryan and Daday Junkshop—but both inventory and sales were unpredictable. When sales were down, she needed to access capital quickly to keep the business afloat, yet reliable financing was hard to come by. And she rarely saw her children, since she’d work in the shop from sunrise to sunset.  

“God found us.” 

Three years in, a shop employee told Jovelee about how she could access the capital her business needed and learn how to save through the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), HOPE International’s partner in the Philippines. Despite feeling shy, she joined her friend at one of his CCT fellowship meetings, where she was immediately encouraged by the biblically based message shared during the time.  

Wanting to know more about the Lord and His Word, she joined a local church. Today, Jovelee’s entire family—including her husband, Ryan, and their three children—follows Christ.   

“We still talk about how grateful we are that God found us and that we joined the church,” she says. “If we didn’t, our children could have been misguided and gone astray, because their parents were too busy.”  

In addition to nurturing her faith, CCT taught Jovelee how to save, and she started putting aside $1.81 (U.S.) weekly. In 2007, she took her first loan ($72 U.S.) from CCT to expand her store and eventually open more locations.  

Then, a deadly landslide occurred at Payatas, causing the government to shut the dumpsite down permanently. The decision directly impacted those whose livelihoods depended on the dump, including Jovelee’s.  

“When the government closed the dumpsite here in our area, I also had to close one of my junkshops,” recalls Jovelee.   

But rather than being an ending, the newly empty space created an opportunity for the Lord to move.   

Jovelee says, “But God is so good because He replaced it with something bigger—we turned the place into a church.”  

Trusting God in new territory 

When the pandemic hit the Philippines in 2020, Jovelee had to temporarily close her junkshops.   

With her source of income halted, Jovelee says she relied on the Lord—and tapped into the years of business training she’d received to come up with another plan. “[CCT taught us] how to handle our business, how to engage with key people, how to pick the right location—I was able to use all of those learnings.”  

And so, while the rest of the world seemed to be shutting down, Jovelee launched a new business: Free Tea.   

Today, Jovelee’s venture not only survived the pandemic but is flourishing: With CCT loans, she’s expanded to 43 locations, selling tea and Takoyaki, a popular Japanese snack food.  

Since starting her first business in 2003, Jovelee has provided employment to nearly 100 other people. She and her husband saved enough to send their three children to school without financial strain, and they can take care of Jovelee’s older aunt, who experiences serious health issues. Her family has used profits from the milk tea business to build a new house. They’ve also given funds to help with several building projects and outreach initiatives through their church.   

While celebrating her business success, Jovelee says that her real treasure is life in Christ. “I always thank the Lord that because of certain people, and through an organization, my entire family was saved. 

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