A Real Chance for Development

I never thought it would be this hard to start a simple sharing about my experience of the 42nd Session of the Commission on Population and Development. For many reasons that I am thankful; this opportunity provided me with a dose of challenge and hope as I thought about my own dreams for the world.

Born and raised in a developing country in Asia (the Philippines), I am a witness to the real problems that leave us struggling for our own progress as a nation. With a large percentage of the population living in poverty, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is very visible. Unequal distribution of goods and services, for one, make it hard for the lower class to meet their basic needs, e.g. eating 3 times a day, having a decent home, and having access to some form of education or training.

Back track some 4 years ago when I was in college, I once asked a group of street children begging for food and money under the pedestrian overpass (bridge), about what they wanted to do in life, what their dreams were. They answered,
¨I wish I could go to school.¨
¨I want to be able to support my family.¨
¨I want to work abroad as a nurse.¨

These were young kids whose dreams, these basic things, seemed grand and almost unattainable. They had probably never been to school, but they knew that there was something more to life than just begging. They knew how to dream but needed to be empowered enough to make those dreams a reality.

Now that I think about it, there are millions of children in this situation today in my country. What if half of them were educated? What if their families were given income generating opportunities so they could care for their needs? I think how much better off my country would be if these children were given opportunities to develop their human potential.

People are the drivers and the objects of development and yet efforts directed at the promotion of full human capacity are seldom discussed as priorities. In the three days of the Commission on Population and Development that I attended, and the over 30 speeches I listened to, this idea was often not even mentioned!

The number one development priority at this meeting, at least in terms of the number of times it was mentioned, was fertility reduction and access to sexual and reproductive health services (undefined). The fact that these issues were discussed more than other basic human needs demonstrate that the UN and the international community have veered away from a real understanding of development as a person-centered value. The human person is no longer seen as an end in his or herself.

I believe that true development lies within the holistic formation of our human capital. It is a comprehensive process that includes the basics of nutrition and health, education, the equality of men and women, and the empowerment of families and communities. Population control is ultimately about eliminating the poor rather than eliminating poverty and the factors that led to poverty will never be addressed.

Aside from those kids I met back in college, I am certain that there are many more street children who are willing to work for their dreams, if only we give them the chance.

Meghann Aurea Villanueva
WYA Asia Pacific
April 2009