By Dan Erwin Bagaporo, 2013 CIPE Blog Competition Winner. Read the other winning blogs here.
The Philippines has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, recently registering 6.6 percent GDP growth (second highest in Asia). However, few Filipinos experience its benefits, as 76 percent of this growth went to the richest 40 families in the country. While the government is doing its best to promote “inclusive growth,” 26 percent of Filipinos still live on less than $1 a day. As large companies swallow up wealth, many Filipinos are left out, especially the indigent, young, and elderly, who find securing employment difficult. A few years ago, I witnessed this tragic reality firsthand.
My friends and I went to visit an old retirement home for abandoned senior citizens. We were set to conduct interviews with residents for my friends’ thesis about geriatric loneliness. It turned out, loneliness was the least of their problems. Going around the compound, we saw that it was very ill-maintained. Corridors and rooms were dirty, and pungent. The retirement home was clearly understaffed and lacked necessary funding to maintain an acceptable standard of living for its residents.
After we left, I did some research and discovered that the retirement home has constantly been the recipient of numerous social programs, from food distribution to privately-sponsored Christmas parties. I also found that many other public retirement homes experienced the same situation. My question was: despite all of the largesse, why was the quality of life of residents in these retirement homes still poor? I must admit; it took me a while to answer this question.
My father works for the government and part of his job was to oversee livelihood projects. Once, I accompanied him during a trip to inspect a commercial center. When we arrived at the site, it was not exactly the type of “high-end” commercial center you normally see on television. It was situated in the middle of a city, and was beside a public market where fishermen, farmers, and butchers delivered their goods for selling. The building itself looked like it had been there for a number of years with some parts of the structure visibly aging.
However, business in the commercial center was booming. It had 5 floors, and almost every available space had a store. From beauty salons to electronics stalls – everything a mall should have was there. People from virtually all ages and walks of life came to shop, as the prices were lower compared to signature boutiques. The vendors were as varied as their customers with some looking like they were putting themselves through high school, while others were already in their golden years.
The manager told me that before the commercial center, people in the vicinity had limited opportunities. Many literally relied on begging and social programs to get by, each day. The commercial center was a cooperative, and at the start people were given loans and allowed to rent space in the center to start a small business. Today, the center is still abuzz with stores and provides livelihoods for countless small-time entrepreneurs, employees, and families. This was when I realized what was lacking not only in the retirement home we visited, but in our society in general: the opportunity for self-reliance.
I think that the biggest detriment to democracy and economy today is the exclusion of people from participation in the free market. When people are unable to support themselves, they rely on society’s largesse, which is sporadic and uncertain at best, no matter how noble. By giving people the opportunity to support themselves, we consequently empower them to elevate their own quality of life through sustainable means. I believe that small businesses and cooperatives can help accomplish this. By the creation, promotion, and support of small businesses, we can give disadvantaged groups like the indigent, youth, and elderly, the opportunity to become self-reliant and even contribute to the economy.
“We” here does not only refer to the government, but to any citizen willing and able. One day, I hope to gather enough funds and professional experience to start a cooperative for abandoned/indigent senior citizens in the public retirement home we visited. I plan to focus first on simple livelihood skills – arts and crafts, writing, or even cooking – relatively easy to learn even in old age. I hope to accomplish this and provide a model for sustainable source of income that can one day be replicated in other retirement homes, and even sectors. This is my idea of inclusive growth.
Dan Erwin Bagaporo is a Science Research Specialist at the Department of Health, Center for Health Development — National Capital Region. He says:
“I am a nurse by profession, but not the typical one. While most of my peers have gone to pursue work at hospitals or scurry through anatomy books at med school, I have managed to find my calling in research and public health. This may not sound like the most exciting career for many, but I find it very rewarding and conveniently in line with my passion – writing.
I have always had a strong interest in producing good reading materials that entertain and inform. The topics and style of which I write rival each other in variety, ranging from food to geopolitics, and free writing to academic pieces. I have been blogging for two years and post some of my writings there from time to time. However, I am not able to post that many articles. This is because I find writing evidenced-backed and well-researched pieces more to my liking. Consequently, I take time – a lot of time – when writing pieces. Currently, I am still in the process of improving my writing and believe that blogging more in the future will definitely help me in this endeavor. “
You can follow him on Twitter.