I received the following analogy from a member concerned about poverty in the Philippines:
The Analogy: Years ago an old man was walking along the beach after a storm. The beach was littered and a young girl was throwing star fish back into the ocean. The old man asked her why and she said she wanted to save them. The girl told the old man that she only had a few hours to work before the sun became too hot and would kill the marooned star fish. The old man pointed out that there were miles of beach and that she as an individual could only save a few star fish. The girl bent down, picked up a star fish and held it lovingly in her arms. She then said to the old man, true, there are many and true, many are in need… but what I do for this one is what counts.
As long as we focus on throwing starfish back in the sea, one by one, the beach will be littered with dead and dying debris, for the ocean throws starfish back faster than one person, or many people, can deal with them. When the waters are toxic it is best to address the sources of the poison.
It is easy to blame corruption for poverty in the Philippines. Is this not the same story the world over where the many struggle for livelihood with meager resources while the few live in luxury? Ethical governance is based on sufficiency; corruption is born of want.
In a 8/6/08, there was interview on the Culture of Corruption on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" with Raymond Fisman, who co-authored with Edward Miguel "Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence and the Poverty of Nations” and Robert Klitgaard, President of Clairemont Graduate University in California. Klitgaard described a "Fatal Corruption” that infects basic institutions such as economy, justice, and banking. Fisman focused on the importance of leadership: Transformation occurs with buy-in from the very tops of government. Klitgaard added that reform programs from the bottom up are generally ineffective. He called for, instead of focusing on a few "bad guys", realizing that corruption involves economic crimes with an institutional perspective. Klitgaard said that when people, armed with real examples of improvement, address corruption systematically, it can be reduced. What is needed is an environment of strong leadership and people outside the government who can report on facts in a safe place. Klitgaard concludes, "Corruption is a bad thing is most cases; and yet there are things that we can do with this corruption. The principles are economic in a context of leadership and effective institutions."
Meanwhile, what can the ordinary person do in the face of systemic oppression, of which we are a part? We can choose voluntary simplicity, to get things right with us as individuals to begin with. In my retirement, I hope to work in the United States and the Philippines to lend my talents as an educator. My effort is to help people learn about imaging abundance and partnership in diversity as the basis for building a world of conviviality and social and environmental justice.
II. And to this concern entitled "starvation" in an internet group I belong to ...
“I don't need a survey to tell me of the poverty in the Philippines. When the tears from my eyes no longer run after first arriving there then I know things are better for the Filipinos.”
I am sure most members of this group have taken individual responsibility to help put food in the mouths of extended family members who otherwise would suffer hunger. Sadly, this only helps the few fortunate enough to have had their family members marry into the comparative affluence of the U.S. culture. World hunger is a painful yet all too avoidable situation. Abundance thinking and partnership in diversity enable conviviality, whereas gluttonous excess plays to our deep-seated fear there really is not enough for everyone.
III.My Letter to the National Catholic Reporter:
The feature article of the NCR or October 19, 2007 concerned the rise of China and India to examine the place of Catholicism among the “emerging Asian superpowers”. There is a place in the Asian/Pacific Island region where Catholicism is firmly entrenched: the Philippine Islands. That the Philippines have not approached the status of “superpower” is indicative of problems of poverty and oppression that inhibit social and economic progress. The Catholic Church can establish greater global relevance if Filipino Catholicism could beacon a faith that truly liberates and establishes social justice. Nor should the failure of the Church in those areas be lightly written off. Heroic and largely unrecognized efforts of enlightened clergy and lay members witness a Church of justice and solidarity with the poor, even at times to the risk to their lives.
IV. Poverty and Abuse
In a 2001 Country Report entitled “HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE CAUSES OF POVERTY IN THE PHILIPPINES,” the situations of child abuse and domestic abuse were examined. Regarding child abuse, Offenders and victims generally come from lower classes: 77% of the offenders and 90% of the victims. (Though child abuse also happens among the middle and upper classes, many of these go unreported.) In regards to domestic abuse, “conditions such as those associated with extreme poverty, strained relationships among members of the victim’s family, and a previous history of abuse all seem to contribute to the likelihood of violence being committed within a household. The influence of alcohol or drugs is also a major aggravating factor in domestic violence, cited in one out of every four cases.”
According to the Report, “ Environmental factors” contributing to abuse refer to the “physical, social, cultural and economic factors creating situations that increase the likelihood of abuse such as poverty, lack of support system in the community, stresses brought about by unemployment, poor housing, prolonged illness, accidents among others. Media particularly pornographic materials were mentioned as having a strong influence.”
V. Environmental Justice
Social Justice demands an end to the disparity between the rich and the poor. One area where the Philippines struggle to model social justice to the world is environmental consciousness. Despite a critical problem with urban pollution, the citizenry is generally protective of, and is willing to exercise stewardship for, the great natural beauty around them. I see this concern for the environment throughout the county. I see this in the City where I am based, Los Baños, in Laguna Province, that proudly announces itself as "The City Where Science Embraces Nature". Since any effort at justice can positively affect the whole, a focus on developing a sense of environmental justice, in practice as well as in awareness, can indeed begin to chip away at an inequitable social system.
The Philippines has been described as a matriarchal society. A characteristic pointed out by Lodo-Platone in describing an investigation of Universidad Central de Venezuela into families of poverty is the central role of the mother in the family. The urgent need of rearing children may assign an executive function to the mother or grandmother. The role of the woman in a family of poverty may be described by some sociologists as a “deficit” and some therapists as a “family pathology”. In the Philippines, many fathers(and even large number of mothers) have to leave their country to provide a livelihood for the family. What is perceived as an “abandonment” by those left behind is eventually appreciated for the sacrifice it entails. “Community and Families: Social Organization and Interaction Patterns”, Maria Luisa Lodo-Platone, Leadership and Organization for Community Prevention and Intervention in Venezuela>/u>, edited by Maritza Montero, The Hawthorne Press, Inc., 2004, p. 85