One of the biggest and longest myths ever invented in this planet is that people are not capable of sustained voluntary assistance to their underprivileged fellowmen -- that is why government must come in to provide and engineer various forms of welfare and social assistance to the poor. That is why governments invented many forms of taxes and fees to finance an ever-expanding list of “government responsibilities”.
But people are greatly capable of voluntarily helping their less privileged fellow human beings. There are thousands of charity groups and civil society organizations (CSOs) in this country, as well as charity groups based abroad that have projects in the Philippines. I will mention two such initiatives here.
Stichting Kapatiran (www.kapatiran.nl) is a Netherlands’ based charity organization whose main mission is “supporting underprivileged street children and small local communities in the Philippines”. They have a number of community projects – basic literacy, akay kalinga, income-generating and livelihood projects – from Luzon down to Mindanao. This year, it has been selected as one of the recipients of the “Lingkod sa Kapwa Filipino Award 2008”. It is an award given by the President of the Philippines to organizations that are based abroad. The awarding ceremonies will be held next week.
I have known Kapatiran through one member of its board of directors, Ms. Wads Winjberg-Tiongson, a Kapampangan married to a Dutch lawyer, Bart Wijnberg. I have known Wads and Bart since 1987 when I first went to the Netherlands and they hosted me in their house in The Hague for a few days. I visited them again in 2003 after my seminar in Sweden ended.
In those visits, I noticed that their house would sometimes become a “refugee” or “assistance center” for some Filipinos who encountered problems with their work and employer, their visa or passport, or simply would have no money to go back home, and so on. Not that the couple are rich to pay for the plane fare of the problematic “kababayan,” but they have a wide network of friends there -- private individuals and government officials, both in the Dutch government and the Philippine embassy, who can help the distressed Filipinos. It is a story of low profile, unpublicized and personal charity work, repeated year after year for at least two decades now. Some Filipino graduate students studying at the nearby ISS who feel terribly homesick would also come to their place sometimes and have a “Filipino home plus adobo and other Filipino food” to cure homesickness.
I do not know how many awards Stichting Kapatiran has received so far. What I know is that the desire to help fellow human beings, Filipinos especially, both in the Netherlands and in the Philippines, are always in the heart of this couple and their like-minded friends in the Netherlands.
Another initiative is the Books for the Barrios (BftB, http://www.booksforthebarrios.org/home.php) program, where thousands of used books from the US that could possibly be heading to landfill stations, are collected and donated to poor students in poor villages in the Philippines and other developing countries. I do not know anyone from BftB, but I have a friend, also originally from Pampanga, who now lives in California, Ramon “Monchit” Arellano, who was passionately supporting that project.
Last year, Monchit heard that “due to dwindling financial support in the wake of many natural disasters (Katrina, tsunami, etc.), BftB may be forced to close its operations this summer if it does not generate enough funds… after more than 25 years of providing quality education materials to remote schools in the Philippines.”
In order to help, he registered for the San Francisco Marathon and started a website -- First Giving, with just a single purpose: he would run to raise awareness among his friends and other people, get donations for the BftB program so it can continue its mission and operations. Monchit targeted a modest goal of raising $4,000 and donate the amount to BftB. His initiave was noticed by the Philippine Consulate General Office in San Francisco and posted his story on their website. ABS-CBN was also at the finish line to interview him and the news was aired at Balitang America and posted in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXGiRHHjPLY.
Monchit works at AT&T in the Bay Area. He infected some guys in his company by bringing the AT&T Fil-Am employees association as occasional volunteers for BftB. He also secured some funding from AT&T Foundation (that was before the current financial turmoil). His family (with wife and their two kids) also do volunteer work for BftB for the past six years -- they help sort and pack used books, toys and computers to be shipped to remote public schools in the Philippines.
BftB received the money raised by Monchit from his First Giving and SF marathon as well as from other sources. In recognition of his support, BftB honored him by building a library in his name in Sapang Batu, Angeles City, Pampanga. The library was constructed with the help of the local government. BftB will supply the books, computers, toys, tables, chairs, etc. from the US.
But BftB does not have used Filipino books for obvious reasons. So when I visited Monchit in his place in the Bay Area last April, he asked me if I can help him on this. When I got back to Manila, I asked some friends for their help and I got emails and text messages that they wanted me to pick up their elementary kids’ used books at their house or office for donation to Sapang Batu. I could pick up only a few of those requests, compiled them in our house, then later delivered to the BftB office in Ortigas Center.
I do not know if the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) are taxing book donations from abroad even for educational and non-commercial purposes. If they do, then that partly speaks of how “welfare-oriented” the government is. Maybe the BoC can reason out that they need to partially discourage the entry of so many donated books from abroad because this can displace, even on a limited scale, the local publishers, local bookstores, and the people employed by them. This is possible, but local publishers and local bookstores also have to grapple with high government taxes that make their local book prices more expensive, which turn off some potential buyers, especially poor ones.
Many people around the world distrust their governments, that is why their “contribution” to society have to be done by force and coercion, through taxation and mandatory fees. But the same group of people trust their friends, or friends of their friends, and so they give and support without coercion and force. In addition, people can choose which kind of charity project they will support, as well as the group of targeted beneficiaries.
This is the essence of civil society: voluntary support by people for their underprivileged fellowmen, self-reliance, and no coercion to attain certain social objectives.
* See also:
CSOs and State 3: Poverty and Public Education, February 12, 2008
CSOs and State 4: Local Government and Civil Society, August 12, 2008
CSOs and State 5: Subsidiarity, Decentralization and Privatization, September 04, 2008