On poverty and wealth

23 May

The other volunteers and I caught up on the weekend in Donsol in an attempt to have a majestic experience with the whale sharks and while they didn’t make an appearance, we still had a whale of a time! (oh man I have been spending too much time with a certain girl from Calabanga xo). Catching up with the other volunteers is the best ever and it was our one month anniversary of our Pinoy life so we had lots to catch up on (although admittedly, I did have my nose buried in the hunger games for too many minutes across the weekend)

We have been getting varied support from our host organisations to help us settle in. Tania lived on her supervisors floor for the first week, Alex has an entourage of work colleagues come with her every time she needs to visit an apartment or buy something and I have had access to our brand new municipal vehicle, the toyota hilux, to cart around all my heavies. When I haven’t been able to use it, the boys from the yard get tricys to do the job for me (was quite the amazing sight traveling down town with a bed strapped to the top of one tricy and the mattress strapped to the top of another… all for less than a dollar!)

We’ve noticed during all these shopping expeditions and indeed throughout all our encounters with local Filipino people, that the poverty is part of life here. Kerry’s counterpart told her she was rich when she bought a bottle of olive oil from the supermarket rather than a single use sachet of vegetable oil from the palengke and this is not uncommon. When we visited Bulusan volcano the other weekend, where they have an abundance of hot and cold springs which are of international water standards, we were told that water bills in this area are only P10 per month, but people have a hard time paying still. Everything (shampoo, toothpaste, cheese, vegetable stock etc) is available in single use foil sachets because people can’t afford, or can’t save afford, buying bottles. My work colleagues told me that vegetarianism is for rich people because people don’t have the knowledge of how to get protein or iron in their diets from food sources other than meat and even if they did have the knowledge, things like tofu and lentils and green veggies are way more expensive than just eating animal. And I have realised too that merienda isn’t just about the social act of eating, but is also just as much about supporting local vendors who have no other livelihood than selling snacks for P5.

I occasionally have a weak moment feeling sorry for myself living on my meagre volunteer allowance. But since I have been here, I have been showered with welcome to Gubat and Philippines love, have seen the games children play on the street, heard the excitement of my work colleagues talking about American Idol and their star Jessica Sanchez and of course, as I never stop raving about, am surrounded by so much natural environment beauty that I am almost jealous that while poor in money terms, Filipinos are so wealthy in all these other life ways. I saw an article in the Age yesterday (which I sometimes read to see the terrible state of Australian politics and feel gratitude that I am here and not there) about how Australians couldn’t survive a depression because we are too materialistic and superficial. That’s a debate for another day, but if you applied that thought experiment to Filipinos, you would conclude that these people definitely could, because life here is definitely not about money. That was one of the main reasons I came here to do this and being surrounded by so much happiness and wealth in so many other parts of human life other than dollars helps me keep my eyes on the prize and reminds me that I live here too now and so I am insanely wealthy.

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One Response to “On poverty and wealth”

  1. Jason May 24, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    Great post today. Richness in the heart is the best sign of wealth in any country.

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