Henrylito D. Tacio
Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.
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“Whether our task is fighting poverty, stemming the spread of disease or saving innocent lives from mass murder, we have seen that we cannot succeed without the leadership of the strong and the engagement of all.” – Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan
Twenty-two years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared 1996 as the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. James Gustave Speth, then the administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), pointed out that poverty eradication as the organization’s “job number one.”
But what does poverty really mean?
Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the man behind Grameen Bank, considers poverty as the denial of all human rights. “It is not created by the poor. It is created and sustained by the ‘system’ we have built around us,” he explained.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, says poverty comes in many forms: “(It) is lack of opportunity, lack of freedom. It is hunger and malnutrition, disease and lack of basic social services. It is a policy failure that degrades people – those who suffer it, and those who tolerate it. It is an equity gap between countries and within countries. Poverty is still the gravest insult to human dignity. Poverty is the scar on humanity’s face.”
Denis Murphy, who has mentored generations of community organizers in the Philippines on how to empower the urban poor so that, being organized, they could effectively pressure the government to be more responsive to their plight, observed: “Poverty is the squatter mother whose hut has been torn down by the government for reasons she cannot understand.
“That night, she sits amid the ruins of her home, listening to her children coughing in the dark. She doesn’t know what will happen the next day, but she fears it will be worse than what happened that day.”
It is due to poverty that drive some people, particularly children, to commit suicide. In Davao City, a few years back, 12-year-old Mariannet Amper captured the attention of the country when she hanged herself with a nylon rope. She left a letter under her pillow describing her failed hopes and aspirations:
“I wish for new shoes, a bag and jobs for my mother and my father. My father does not have a job and my mother just gets laundry jobs.” She added: “I would like to finish my schooling and I would very much like to buy a new bike.”
So many Filipinos are living in poverty these days. A press statement said: ‘Currently, more than one out of five Filipinos are living in extreme poverty, while around 60% of Filipinos households need to be raised to more decent levels of income and welfare, corresponding to 13.6 million families with monthly incomes of P18,333 or less.”
Extreme poverty, defined by World Bank as getting by on an income of less than US$1 a day, means that households cannot meet basic needs for survival. They are chronically hungry, unable to get health care, lack safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford education for their children and perhaps lack rudimentary shelter and basic articles of clothing, like shoes.
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread,” observed Mahatma Gandhi.
The other two types of poverty are moderate and relative. Moderate poverty, defined as living on US$1 to US$2 a day, refers to conditions in which basic needs are met, but just barely. Being in relative poverty, defined by a household income level below a given proportion of the national average, means lacking things that the middle class now takes for granted.
“It is time we recognized poverty for what it is: a brutal denial of human rights,” urged Speth. “The poor are deprived of many things, including a long life.”
Will giving cash to those who are poor solve the problem? P.J. O’Rourke, author of “A Parliament of Whores,” doesn’t think so. “You can’t get rid of poverty by giving people money.”
Eradicating poverty should not be done by government alone. Everyone must be involved. involved. “I know that government doesn’t have the all solutions that real solutions do not come from the top down,” surmised Kathleen Blanco. “Instead, the ways to end poverty come from all of us. We are part of the solution.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who ran for president in the United States against Donald Trump, has the same idea. “We can only overcome the scourge of poverty if, as a global family of nations, we commit to investing in the world’s greatest resource: our people,” she said.
“Giving all men, women and children the tools of opportunity – education, health care, employment, legal rights and political freedoms – does not just serve humanitarian purposes. It is the key to economic, social and political progress,” she added. “When individuals flourish, families flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish as well.”
So who are poor and who are rich? If you have a hard time answering the question, read the story below:
As head of some of the top business corporations in the country, he has no time for his only son. But lately, he was a little bit worried that his son was growing up fast and they never had the opportunity of bonding together.
So one day, he took his 7-year-old son on a trip to the province with the intention of showing him how poor people live in rural areas. The father and son spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.
“How was the trip?” asked the father on their return from their trip. Great, the son replied. The father asked again, “Did you see how poor people live?” The son answered affirmatively. “So, tell me, what have you learned from the trip?” asked the father.
The little boy did not answer his father immediately. He was thinking and then shared this thought: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
The son continued: “We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, yet they have friends to protect them.”
Hearing his son’s answer, the father was completely speechless. And even before he could say a word, the son added, “Thanks dad for showing me how poor we are.”
Again, here’s a timely thought from Speth: “The world, on many fronts, is divided between rich and poor, between haves and have-nots, between the wealthy and the dispossessed. A house against itself cannot stand.”
June 2018 Health and Lifestyle