The unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities
The Philippines has long been under fire for the vast wealth divide inherent in the country. It is easy to think of the Philippines for its luxurious white beaches and resorts, but that is only one side of a two-sided coin. Once in country, the amount of poverty, homelessness, pollution and slum housing could not but bring me annot but bring you to a halt with shock. During our time in Cebu we would go to get supplies and food in Ayala Shopping Centre at the weekend, an amazing Shopping centre bigger than any in Ireland. Once inside I you stepped in the doors of Ayala, there was no sign of poverty, y. Yet, once you walked 100 metres down the road, the reality showed. the reality hit you all too hard. Practically next door to this centre people begged on the streets and lived in shanty housing. In wooden huts, families tried their best to sell their merchandise and food products.
Many Filipinos are forced to survive on c.300P a day, the equivalent of roughly €6 per day. As part of a development education exercise during the SERVE programme we were challenged with thinking of how we would use such income to survive day to day, taking into consideration necessities such as rent, education, food and drink, clothing etc. As you can imagine, we found it extremely difficult to come up with a budget on this income. The thing about this exercise is that it was completely hypothetical for us, however, for too many Filipino families it is all too much a reality. Even more shockingly, we even spoke to individuals, in and out of the Badjao community, who were forced to survive on even less than this.
It is easy to feel anger when you see the different scales of affluence and poverty as described above, to ask how the government allows for this and so on. However, we must also look at ourselves, our spending habits, our behaviours and how they are contributing to inequality in our own country and across the world. As a people we are quick to point the finger at those in power, however, we need to recognise the role we play and how industries and policies are geared around the demand we put out there. We need to stop and think about what we can do going forward to demand equality rather than demanding cheapness and convenience, willing to accept these without transparency or recognition for the consequences they hold, denying our part in promoting an unequal society.
What is heavily related to the issue of wealth inequality is the issue of the unequal opportunities this imposes on Filipino people.
Looking first to the Badjao community; they not recognised as being Filipino on their death certificates and access to public services such as education, healthcare and even waste disposal is difficult. If we take out the issue of money, they still face many challenges. The Tribe are widely stereotyped as being beggars and beggars only. While some are forced to beg on the streets to earn some income, many provide for themselves through fishing, diving and selling fruit, veg, clothes, pearls etc. Since education has been introduced to the community c.14 have graduated from college, and now work as teachers and engineers. However, they are often bullied because of their ethnicity and treated unfairly by those in authority at school, hindering their development.
There is a shortage of support and facilities available to enable each student to get focused attention in areas of difficulty. The Nano Nagle and Childcare Centre has two computers that students can use to complete assignments, however due to the demand for them, time can be limited. During my time with the Tribe I introduced excel to some of the older high school students and a girl in her third year of college where she was studying social work. She described an assignment she had previously been given whereby one of the requirements required the use of excel. Unfortunately, the student had no knowledge of excel and its functions, nor was there a great knowledge of it by the Sr. in the Centre. Therefore, she was forced to leave this section of the assignment blank, losing out on portion of the marks simply because the support was not available to her. We also learned of the many times that members of the community have been treated unfairly by those in the healthcare industry, where they have not been seen to or sent home without treatment for serious illnesses. Sometimes this is due to a clash with their culture, whereby they have changed their name and so documents do not match the hospitals records and other times it is due to those in charge taking advantage of their status and non-confrontational nature.
I think a big way of improving the opportunities available to the Badjao people is to change societies perception and understanding of them. The Cebuano Badjao population originally came from Mindanao, leaving to escape ongoing conflict on the island around the 1960’s. Extreme poverty forced many of them to resort to begging as a means of survival, and so the impression of them as beggars was formed in people's’ mind, an impression that has had a lasting effect, despite the low levels now depending on begging as a means of income. One thing I love about the SERVE organisation is their commitment to working in solidarity. Part of our volunteer experience involved staying with a Cebuano family who lived in the city. It was interesting how many of them spoke of the Badjao as a whole as being beggars etc. without meaning any offence by the stereotypical classification. They, in some cases, were shocked to hear of their talents, successes and ambitions. I think this is an important aspect of the programme as it spreads the positive message of the Tribe and helps, even in a small way, to end some of the unfair prejudice that they are often subjected to.
Unequal opportunities are not something that is limited to the Badjao alone in the Philippines. As mentioned previously, there is a prevalent shocking wealth divide in the country with widespread astonishing levels of poverty and overpopulation. Many people face the threat of having their homes demolished by the Government, which would leave them homeless. Speaking with members of the Redemptorist Parish, this was something which has already happened in some of its communities and is a very real threat for more within. Water is often cut-off for large portions of the day, weeks at a time, forcing families to wake in the middle of the night to fill canisterscannisters for the day ahead. Access to healthcare is a major struggle for people of low income, both in terms of getting access to medical assistance and maintaining costly medical support. With some families trying to survive on c.300P a day, sometimes they cannot afford the ongoing medical bills and instead those who are sick are urged to ‘let go’. While some of these inequalities could be greatly reformed with a more equal distribution of wealth alone, the government needs to place a greater value on the needs of all those in its society in order to provide them with the opportunities to grow and develop.
Again, it would be easy to read the above and connect it only to my own observations and interpretations in the Philippines, however, inequality and prejudices can be seen worldwide on a daily basis. what can we do to be more active citizens in promoting equal opportunities for all in our own countries and the wider global community? We currently face a refugee crisis due to atrocities taking place in Syria, Myanmar and other areas of conflict, yet we can see that where such people go to seek safety and refuge, they are often met with resilience and hate. A powerful video called ‘Escape from Syria: Rania’s Odyssey’ where a 20 year old woman films her journey from Kobane in Syria to Austria is available on ‘theguardian.com’. whereby governments determine toy with the numbers of refugees that countriesthey are willing to accept through its borders, can we as citizens do more to help these refugees? What if it was Ireland who was torn apart by war and it was our children we were trying to bring to a different country in the hope of a future? Look at ethnic groups in Ireland such as the Traveler community and the stereotypes we often subject them to, the unfair treatment they receive simply because of who they are, the opportunities they fail to receive. There are also stereotypes and unfair stigmas placed on ethnic groups in Ireland such as the Traveller community. According to the All Ireland Traveller Health Study of 2010: 40% of Travellers have experienced discrimination in accessing health services, 62% of Travellers have experienced discrimination at school, 55% of Travellers have experienced discrimination at work, 61% of Travellers have experienced discrimination in a shop/restaurant/pub, and 50% of Travellers have experienced discrimination (http://www.paveepoint.ie/document/racism-and-discrimination-factsheet/). We too cannot give up on each other, but rather look for ways to make our societies, on a community, country and global level equal for all.
Name: Leonie O Donnell
Award: Silver Award