Why Poverty Exists: An Emerging Economy Experience

June 3, 2013 | Czarina, DVM, AFS Internculture Canada, Philippines, Gawad Kalinga (GK), Program Development Assistant

Quick, don’t think, just respond: Why does poverty exist?

Did you say “exploitation”? Did you say “colonial legacy”? Did you say “corrupt governments”?

Or, did you say “laziness”? “Dependency on the government”? “Lack of will of the people”? “Lack of education”? “Self-defeating prophecies”?

If you had chosen the first five responses, you would have been me at the beginning of this internship. If you had chosen the rest, you would have been one of the local population who have told me of their experiences.

If there is one thing the Philippines has taught me, it is that the so-called Global South, are very much not merely “victims” or “survivors” of the current global political system–they are active, hopeful agents. None of the Filipino people I’ve talked to have given up hope that their country can finally be clean, slum-free, with a legitimate and responsive government, and wherein the basic needs of all people are met. While there might have been some pessimism, there is the underlying belief that poverty can be eradicated if only the mindsets of people can be changed–if all Filipino people stop looking at themselves as victims so that they may be ready to avail the opportunities that will help them find sustainable means to be finally free of (material) poverty.

And what’s exciting to see is that the work of transforming the minds of Filipinos, of reminding them that they are agents of change, is central to the work of Filipino development practitioners (even those outside of Gawad Kalinga–that is, even local government officers and the media). People I’ve talked to are not looking for dole outs–they actually reject dole outs (including foreign aid outside of emergency situations, a very interesting perspective to me)–they believe that the Philippines can rise out of poverty, and they believe they have the capacity to make change themselves.

For a short-term volunteer who wants to “make a difference” without a thorough understanding of the Philippine context (history, culture, current affairs, geography, etc.), this development perspective (that the “Global South” can…) might pose a challenge. But for me, coming in with the perspective of “I’m ready to serve wherever you see me fit,” it’s perfect! I’ve visited five villages across two provinces; ate, played, and conversed with so many local Filipinos; created learning modules for elementary-aged children; been on brainstorming sessions… and the list goes on!

The next two months is going to fly by fast. I already know I’m going to miss the Philippines–and I haven’t even left it!

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