The sight of starved, grimy children scattered along Manila streets no longer induces much shock value to the average passerby. It has become commonplace to encounter four-year-olds in too-small shirts selling sampaguitas or families airing out laundry under a bridge.
The problem of poverty and hunger is severe and rampant in the Philippines, and many government offices are ill-equipped to handle intervention programs.
Most recently, the photo of a malnourished boy lying on a dingy floor became viral as the non-governmental organization Bahay Tuluyan started an online signature campaign demanding President Benigno Aquino III and Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada to shut down the facility that was responsible for the child- the Rescue and Action Center (RAC) Manila.
Bahay Tuluyan used this example to shed light on the supposedly deplorable circumstances in RAC: street children are detained unfairly, denied clean water and palatable food, and refused visitation rights from family. RAC insists, however, that utilities are present but the children personally choose not to avail of them, and that there was some exaggeration on the part of Bahay Tuluyan in describing conditions in the facility.
It is difficult to automatically take a side in such a multidimensional issue. For all of RAC’s faults, it feels only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt, since they have repeatedly stated that they merely make the best out of limited resources and manpower, and that there is only so much they can do given the sheer number of people they must attend to.
But whether or not conditions were mischaracterized, it is important to keep in mind who the real victims of these deplorable circumstances are. The children in question are in need not just of attention from one NGO, but of collective action from it and many others.
It is true to some extent that the government can only help so many; actual solidarity from many different advocacy-based organizations is necessary to amplify this aid and address the needs of more street kids. Solidarity is not merely an empty statement of alliance with good intentions — it is about empathizing in the deepest sense with our fellow human beings and allowing this empathy to be manifested into tangible action. Solidarity is something innate in all of us, but there are times we stifle it especially when we gradually choose to become desensitized to the everyday suffering that we encounter.
Real change can only happen, however, if we actively decide to set aside this form of self-preservation and allow ourselves to be one with the hardships of our neglected street children. This feeling of oneness and this sense of camaraderie is the emotional drive that we use to find real solutions.
Choosing to be in solidarity with the less privileged in Philippine society doesn’t solely call for great things, like building a charity or a home made especially for poor orphans. We can attempt to participate in simple initiatives, like joining the signature campaign so as to gain the government’s attention for better healthcare facilities, sending excess food from our pantries and unused clothes from our closets to children who need them more, or even spending a weekend to share our time with social workers who would be grateful for any help they can get.
The beautiful thing about solidarity is it counts on the capability of many individuals, and it is in the collective effect of these small acts of kindness that we solve larger problems — like a maltreated boy with no name, an institution that needs better utilities, or a country’s social and economic issue of widespread poverty.
By Kara Media, a regional intern at WYA Asia Pacific office. To learn more about the Asia Pacific internship, click here. Solidarity is a concept that is very strongly linked to human dignity. WYA believes understanding solidarity is so important and a whole chapter is dedicated to this concept in the WYA Track A training. To learn more about the training, click here.
Abelinde, J. (2014, November 4). A social worker responds to Manila’s care of street kids. Retrieved November 5, 2014 from http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/hunger/commentaries/73999-frederico-open-letter-social-worker
Rodriguez, F. (2014, October 30). Finding ‘Frederico’. In Rappler. Retrieved November 5, 2014 from http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/73464-rac-manila-frederico
(n.a). (2014, October 28). Mayor Joseph Estrada: Upgrade or Close RAC. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.change.org/p/mayor-joseph-estrada-upgrade-or-close-rac