• Leaving your comfort zone

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    TITA C. VALDERAMA

    MOST if not all politicians use the poor to get elected. Yet, after generations, poor people remain poor because promises of better life for them remain promises.

    But talking to a couple of barangay leaders a few days ago kept me thinking if poor people really want to improve their life.

    I accompanied some students to a barangay in Manila where they would spend part of their community service under the National Service Training Program (NSTP) in the tertiary curriculum. The students wanted to mentor pupils and out of school youth in the barangay, and donate at least 100 books that anybody can access in the barangay hall.

    We got lost on our way to the original target barangay because crates of bottled drinks blocked the view of the barangay hall that we were looking for. We found it on second round only because somebody we knew was standing near the gate.

    But instead of being led to the barangay hall, we were ushered to a sari-sari store where a man, who was later introduced to us as the barangay chairman, was seated. After brief introductions, we explained the purpose of our visit. However, even before we could go into the details of the students’ proposed projects for the barangay, the chairman was quick to refer us to another barangay.

    The rejection did not sit well with me. If he could accommodate a sari-sari store that occupies a space bigger than the barangay hall, why not a few books that his poor constituents could use?

    We left the place and proceeded to the other barangay. The hall is surrounded by historical buildings with informal settlers in between. It stands on a smaller lot but the space is maximized, including a day care classroom. We were told that it has started hosting twice-weekly classes under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) for out of school youth under the Department of Education (Deped).

    The location is closer to the school and looks safer. The chairman is quite welcoming and open to the projects that the students proposed. In short, the second barangay is far more pro-active and a bit progressive.

    I felt bad for the students’ original target barangay. I thought it needed the projects and services that the students were offering to do for its constituents no matter how smaller it may be compared with the other barangay.

    The chairman of the second barangay sounded more concerned for his people. However, he said he is disappointed that well-meaning projects don’t get as much interest from the intended beneficiaries.

    “Mas gusto pa nilang pa-padyak padyak na lang kesa mag-aral,” he said, referring to the teenage boys who preferred earning a little with their three-wheeled bikes than getting education by attending three-hour classes twice a week and later having better job opportunities.

    The chairman lamented that out of more than a hundred out of school youths in his community; only nine have enrolled in the ALS, a parallel learning system that provides practical option to the existing formal education.

    ALS is designed for those who don’t have a chance to attend or finish formal basic and secondary education due to many reasons, primarily financial. It is free of charge.

    A public high school nearby, the chairman narrated, offered scholarships for vocational-technical training for the out of school youths in the barangay, but there was no taker.

    “Hindi ko maintindihan kung ayaw nilang umasenso o tamad lang mag-aral,” the barangay leader said.

    We did not want these stories to dampen our spirits. We will still try to get as many participants as we can, but we will not force anyone to take a chance at learning something that can help them improve their life.

    On our way back to the office, we passed by narrow streets where informal settlers have occupied the sidewalks. The car had to slow down because children were playing on the side. Some household items and sidecars parked on the road side render the streets narrower.

    I was thinking of initiating a house-to-house to get campaign to get support for the students’ community service projects and find out the reasons for the cool reception to the worthy programs offered to them, like the scholarship for the out of school youth.

    I am hoping that they simply are afraid to get out of their comfort zones. I don’t want to entertain the thought that some poor communities are comfortably happy with dole outs from politicians who give them a small percentage of what’s due them and keep the rest in their pockets.

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