My Sulong Experience

I had many readings in Economics class in university but one of those that stuck out (or that I remember, a good four years later) was about Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen. He said that poverty was not just a material problem. Poverty also entailed the lack of freedom of choice and opportunities. It was a condition that wasn’t conducive to human dignity because it deprived people of a healthy, secure life which they didn’t have the power to shape.

Sen would have been proud if he had heard about SULONG: A Call To Development, the second session of the PANAYAM lecture series organized by the World Youth Alliance (WYA) Asia Pacific. SULONG, which was fittingly held in a university campus last March 4, 2006, was designed to engage the youth in discussions that would deepen their knowledge about important, global development issues confronting humans today.

I was attracted to the discussion because I had always felt that the biggest issues in the world today are all economically driven. How does the human dimension figure in those statistics and financial reports? After all, material development is but just one factor in human welfare. I, along with the other participants, were eager to discuss that.

WYA’s Ms. Erika Tatad  discussed the topic of  HIV/AIDs, its origins, and how countries in Africa and Asia are dealing with the loss of lives and its prevention. Participants noted with interest how countries with the lowest epidemic rates were those that did not solely depend on contraception alone but also the human value system for principles (such as fidelity to one partner). Mr. Jaime Antonio, Jr., from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), presented the 8 millennium development goals, which aim to halt HIV/AIDs and wipe out poverty by 2015. We were oriented with the several initiatives taken by the UNDP to work with local governments to accomplish these goals. More importantly, it also gave us ideas of our own. Mr. Dylan Wilk of Gawad Kalinga (GK) gave a motivating talk about the Filipino concept of bayanihan and how it applied to GK’s work of working with the poor to build their houses and transform their lives in the process.  “You’ve made me proud to be Filipino again,” said one participant, after committing to volunteer with the GK.

As a participant, I realized that the human dimension was indeed at the core of the world’s biggest issues. I doubt the UNDP, GK, and WYA would have been this successful, so far, if they see problems as statistics and not as human beings.

Anne Elicano is a member of the WYA in the Asia Pacific region. She is a program officer of the Young Liberals and Democrats of Asia (YLDA).