The poverty I saw in Manila changed my perspective on work and wages. It is the strangest thing to see men and women work for a whole day, giving up all their energy to earn a small living. I compared this to my own jobs in which I am not particularly lazy, but in which I absolutely did not give up all energy for the day. Work is a powerful key to comparing lives in similar situations in different geographic regions. Cleaning toilets, making coffee, doing sales at a mall, all of these are activities done both in the Netherlands and in the Philippines. However, the abhorrent difference in gratitude expressed by wages for very similar jobs is one of the ways to understand the dramatic difference of lived reality in a core country compared to a periphery or (arguable semi-periphery region).
My response to this cruel reality is not necessarily one that empowers. Manila was for me a wakeup call to the harsh realities that will be unfixable in one or two generations. The problems I read about seem so large and looming. It is staring in the face of hundreds of years of colonial history, racial exclusion, and the self-deceiving methods of the capitalist system. It makes me think: what if the core countries were able to see the direct results of their trading choices and consumption patterns, a large outcry should rise up and end it. This is historically speaking what happened in the United States where the exploitation of one race (African Americans) was to close for comfort; sadly Asia is geographically too far away.
This harsh reality of poverty, however, did not dampen my idealist personality, but instead fires it up to the max. The immensity of the amount of people working under harsh conditions, living in poor neighborhoods, with bad food quality, and large number of food related diseases, such as diabetes is troubling. But on the other hand the amount of small, creative, and well-intended initiatives brought tears to my eyes and inspired me without end. Remembering these initiatives and discovering more every week, even loads of them based in the Netherlands continue to force me to think of my own role in this innovative social society of NGO’s.
It was for me very interesting to see that when I was present in the slums, I was not touched by the poverty, but by the initiatives that were started to improve people’s lives. Examples are a basketball field in the middle of the slums, a project to provide lights powered by sun energy, and food programs to increase the quality of children’s diet. These initiatives touched my heart and changed me the most. It is really the initiatives that I saw that keeps me from passively staring at the brutal reality of poverty. The projects inspire me and assure me that change is possible. This change will not be the solution of poverty, but will make a whole lot of difference for a whole lot of people.