Charity or Dependency Class – A Cautionary Tale
When I first came to the Philippines I lived in a very modest home (though not nearly so “modest” as where I live for the time being I must say) in an area where they relocated a great many of the squatters from around the railroad tracks throughout Manila. I was quite literally within a stone’s throw of “Relocation High School” … though an underhanded toss would have been sufficient to get the rock into the school yard … we were that close.
I had a chance encounter once while I was outside with a very young, very bedraggled girl. She had obviously not eaten in a while and I could not help but having my “heart strings” tugged at merely by the sight of her.
Since I was cooking at the time anyhow, I gave her both some freshly cooked rice and gulay (a vegetable dish) as well as some canned goods she could take with her. To her credit … or perhaps because of my appearance, she took the entire plate of food with her.
Since one of the reasons for my return to the Philippines was to help people I did not feel bad at all about helping her … in fact I felt pretty good … though my wife was a bit concerned when I relayed the day’s events to her.
It would seem that she had good reason to be concerned as well. Mind you, I have not sought riches and we live every bit as “humbly” (read poor) as many of the local provincial people do … and indeed, a good portion of the former squatters were provincial people who had moved to Manila in search of “the good life” or their slice of the Philippine Pie if you will.
One need be careful however, not only when helping people, but at all times … a modicum of caution is never a bad thing. I had allowed myself to be pulled by emotion rather than working with my head and it nearly cost us dearly … and did to some extent at least tarnish my family’s reputation (and my own) in that particular neighborhood.
There is a segment of the population here in the Philippines that many of the expats say suffer from “RFS” or Rich Foreigner Syndrome. Believing that all foreigners are rich is odd enough in my opinion but to assume that ones living in the same homes as they are … well I was not fully prepared at that time for what I had caused to occur.
The next day the girl returned and as I was not cooking and had not yet replaced the canned goods, I had nothing for her. Visibly upset she began shaking the gate violently, crying at first and then screaming. After what was probably only about thirty minutes but did not seem one moment longer (or one moment less) than an eternity, she finally went away.
Somewhat relieved, I went back to my work in and around the house … only to have her return with what was apparently her family. To this day I am sure that they would swear to God himself that I was rich, (though decidedly a cheapskate) had helped her once only to tease her and then had what must have been nefarious designs for withholding further assistance.
Fortunately for me, the police were accustomed to dealing with some of the more “aggressive” former squatters and did not hold me accountable … though they did give me a very stern warning about handing out any type of aid or assistance personally … especially around or from my own home.
I have now lived in the Philippines for almost two decades, and I consider it to be every bit as much my home as I ever had in the US. I live here precisely because I do enjoy my freedoms greatly here and I do not wish to disparage what is for all intents and purposes an extremely beautiful country and a gracious host to those of “my ilk”.
I did however carry the lessons from that day with me to this and have used both this story and my experience to prepare others for things that they may encounter while they are living, working or even vacationing here.
Oddly enough, it would seem that a great many individuals, businesses and even government agencies have been unable or at least unwilling to learn the same lessons.
No matter how good your intentions may be, no matter how your emotional indigestion may have been used against you, it is always wise to provide as much assistance as possible through an agency already working in the area.
I would not hesitate to work handing out goods in very many places at all here but I have been here for a while, can speak some of the local dialects, have a Philippine wife to help me where my language skills are lacking, and a sufficient number of witnesses who will laugh quite literally aloud if someone were to imply I had an ample supply of riches somewhere and was only living like this because I am cheap … and yes, it does happen frequently.
More important than that however, is making sure that any programs you are working with, donating to, and providing for, are not creating a dependency class that will not only be personally insulted, but perhaps even endangered when that aid fails to show up on their doorstep … or yours.
Let us know what you think please!