Come in - fair out

Chancen, Trends, Aktionen im Fairen Handel

Some thoughts of a young volunteer

Come here and see. This is no TV show. Come see the children in Manilas jails and take a breath of that mephitic air. Come see the girls in the clubs in Subic and listen to the voices of the foreign clients. Come see the street kids living under the bridge in Olongapo and feel the mud they´re living in. And then think.

I come from the economic capital of the country famous for its many banks. I enjoyed an elitist education, a perfectly caring mother and a wonderful house. My biggest problem is deciding between the many opportunities. Living in Switzerland has many advantages. But there is a strong tension between the humanistic views people use to preach and the lifestyle I see us having. (…)

We are in the Philippines. You can read about the painful history of colonization. Read about globalization and its impact on national economies. Read about corruption, political dynasties and their dirty businesses. Read statistics on child sex workers, on rape, on imprisoned minors. You can read it all in the books, and it´ll give you the creeps. Black ink on white paper. What impact do you think will reality have on you?

I hear all these sad stories. One kid living under the bridge tells me he ran away from his stepfather five years ago. With the age of ten he took a bus from Manila to Olongapo, an unfamiliar place with no one he knew. Since then he tries to somehow survive and get some money for glue to inhale. Whenever he's caught by the police, he gets beaten up and is forced to clean the toilets in the jail.

Just recently, two twin brothers came here. Their dad raped their older sister in front of their eyes. Not long after, they did the same thing to their younger sister, inspired by their father. Imagine that family now. Another boy got chained in the toilet by his father for three days, another girl had to dance naked in a bar to support her family. In Preda Center are about seventy boys and girls, seventy faces with seventy stories. Each of these children has lived that story, as you live your own.

So much to learn. What the hell is poverty? This is an enormous question. It's not just about starving bellies. It is a lifetime struggle against overpowering obstacles. The poor is the most defenseless element of society. Whatever the crisis is, the poor are the first to suffer it. They have no money, no insurance, no medicine, not even a proper roof. The slum is the incarnation of the whole wickedness of mankind. And there is no way out.

I don't know in what you believe, but isn't it possible that fortune could as well have chosen you to be born there? In a small cardboard hut? As the seventh child of a jobless man? You'd never have been to school. Instead, you'd be sent to the streets at the age of five, to find money for your family. Imagine you walking with no slippers through the wastes of your overcrowded neighborhood. Imagine seeing your father drunk everyday, pulling your sister by her hair, beating your brother with belts and sticks and forcing your mother to have sex with him even if she refuses. It would never be quiet at home.

Soon you'd run away, to your barkada, your gang, to those who share your fate. You'd be smoking and sniffing 'rugby', industrial glue, before you turn ten years old. Police would sometimes catch you during the curfew and prove to you once more that you are nothing but a piece of shit. You'd know the cells in jail, its smell, its toilet hole, and its big boss. What will you think in those nights when your are sleeping on a wet concrete floor ? What will you become? What will you offer to your children?

What makes it difficult for us to understand poverty is that we never experienced the feeling of being powerless. We can not imagine feelings we don't know.

Facing all that misery and exhaustion, we must also see the good side. Working in Preda shows me that changes are possible. There are so many intelligent and dedicated people working hard for solutions, and more and more they unite. I see activist youth in AKBAY, creating a movement within the coming generation. I see all our seminars and campaigns, spreading information and inspiration to people varying from discriminated Aeta farmers to city Mayors and multinational companies. I see the networking, the fair trade, the educational theater, the street work. And of course I see the progress of the individuals, of the children living in our center. It is so satisfying to see how a sickly and anxious child coming straight from jail becomes a humorous and activist companion within weeks! Many of them did not know how to write and count before coming here. Many of them did not experience acceptance and appreciation in their lives before, or real joy, trust, structure, safety and all these core values in human life. Now, they can grow.

So, what is the role of a spoiled kid like me? Maybe it is listening to the voices of our brothers in the south, to make sure they don't remain unheard. Maybe it is trying to break the circle by providing education and values to the young deprived generation. Maybe it is writing down these thoughts, because nothing will ever change without communication. But surely, it is learning and growing that some day my action is for the benefit of the world and not for my own conscience.
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