Monday, February 1, 2010

One Step Further and Stand Up

In Manila in 2009, the striking contrast between beautifully decorated Makati with high-rise modern buildings and run-down informal settlements along the river with shacks struck me as a visual evidence of wealth distribution inequality in the Philippines. Two mega big modern shopping malls we visited were crowded with people, mostly the Filipinos. These malls certainly provide jobs to Manila residents but I wonder who are the ones profiting from these developments and who are the ones spending money on expensive clothes and food at the malls. Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports that in 2003 the share of income accruing to the richest 10% of the population was still more than twenty times the share of income of the poorest 10%, and the level of inequality has not changed for more than 20 years. When we look at the world, the Philippines is not the only nation with inequitable wealth distribution; 20% of world’s population owned 74% of the wealth, and 10% of the U.S. population owned 80% of the wealth. The reality of the world, we have to admit, is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer being accelerated by the thick population growth among the poor. These numerical facts made me feel powerless in our fight against poverty.

However, when I met with the community VCSR members at Southville 1, Cabuyao who welcomed 11 DePaul University graduate students with cheerful singing, dancing and beaming smiles, I was encouraged that we could bring changes together if we set our minds on it. These community members were former slum dwellers in Manila who were relocated to suburban Cabuyao by the government’s Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project. They joined the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) movement which was started in 2007 by the Institute for Community Extension Services of Adamson University in Manila under the leadership of Fr. Nonong. Adamson University under the slogan, from academic social responsibility to academic social entrepreneurship, made full use of its academic, social and human resources and equipped the Southville 1 VCSR members with knowledge, tools, skills and networks. Adamson was not a material provider but a catalyst and facilitator. The community VCSR members commented that Adamson’s volunteer facilitators reminded them and brought out what they have possessed in them: faith, value and self confidence. I heard many members say that Adamson has been their hope for the future to stand on their own. When we asked the Block 20 VCSR members whether they would be able to run their programs on their own without any assistance from Adamson University, they answered confidently that they could manage them because they had fully understood from the beginning that they were the primary actor of the program. Their concern expanded from individual to community. To our question of ‘what their goals are’, their answers were:
1. Life time service to the community;
2. Pray to God for health to them as well as to the neighbors; and
3. Children receive higher education and support the family financially.
Some of the members told us that they have started facilitator trainings to serve for neighboring communities. They are the social capital as ADB defines: social capital comprises the social resources on which people are able to draw, through networks and connectedness and relationships of trust and reciprocity. Social capital is the foundation for informal safety nets among the poor.

Yet, there are still many issues to be solved at Southville 1. Lack of quality education, health services, garbage collection service, access to clean water, sewage system and job opportunities are among them. Evidently, these issues require political will to provide necessary framework. The ADB 2009 report advocates that mainstream development and macroeconomic policies are ultimately the main determinants on whether poverty alleviation efforts will succeed or fail.

Then what can we, the civil society, do about it? I think the key is to let the government see the poor population as invaluable assets that the nation has. The nation’s 27.6 million poor people can be active agents of development. Then, where do we start? We can start from further strengthening the capacity of the Southville 1 community members to fight for their rights, communicate their decisions, and negotiate with related entities. Next step is expanding the VCSR movement to other communities, to other regions and ultimately to nationwide. Through sharing of the VCSR movement experiences with other institutions including universities, governments, and business, the program would foster an effective linkage among the poor and other stakeholders. Deepa Narayan notes that “Empowerment can promote social cohesion and trust, qualities that help reduce corruption, reinforce government and project performance, and provide a conducive environment for reform, with consequential benefits for development effectiveness and economic growth” When the materially and psychologically empowered poor unite, the Philippines will become a nation with abundant and competitive human resources. I believe the VCSR movement can bring changes to the poor and to the nation.

by Toyoko Sakamaki

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