“The Power of Words”

This video was shown during a session on advocacy. Realization: Knowledge of the use of words and their impact on audiences really make a difference.

Discussion in an earlier session was about what we would do differently toward quality of life among children and their families. However, analysis and understanding of the issue among most participants remained at the effects rather than root causes of poverty. Mentioned were, (a) hunger, (b) not attending basic education, (c) lack of income, (d) lack of livelihoods, (e) armed conflict and extremism (in Mindanao program areas), and such. As a result, responses in the form of strategies and projects e.g. training on soap making and the like to address lack of income and livelihoods which therefore will resolve hunger were suitable only at the level of effects or symptoms.

My thought on the matter is that (and which I’ve repeatedly mentioned in earlier posts here) I/NGOs have either forgotten or continue to refuse to see and openly discuss the root causes of poverty.

The Philippines is not Africa or Saudi Arabia (apologies for the comparison) where there are huge tracts of land that are non-arable which is made more difficult to cultivate by the non-cooperating climate there. We don’t have a desert here. We are blessed with a relatively agriculturally-friendly climate. So why this persistent poverty?

Economics:  Ownership of capital.

Who own the lands in Mindanao for example? Rights to natural resources there? Where do the fruits of the land go?

There were Sisters in the gathering and they said dialogues need to happen – which the dioceses are spearheading – among the factions in order to address extremism. For me, religion and extremism in the context of the long-drawn Mindanao armed conflict are merely tools to re-establish ownership to what factions see as rightfully theirs. Dialogues help but these do not entirely address the burning issue.

Therefore, unless the natives of the land are given right to the land and natural resources, the effects of poverty will persist.

Alternatively, following the factors of production, focus may be on the other capital i.e. labor, the aim being to elevate the quality of labor, from family members with no marketable skills to having in-demand specialist skills. Another is entrepreneurship, or innovation.

I shared these thoughts within a small group during a workshop. I asked colleagues from Mindanao whether or not my description of the situation had truth in it. They replied in the positive. But, such thoughts are seen as “radical” especially among established I/NGOs that began as charities, and because these are not made part of “official” discussion there are no corresponding responses formulated. In effect, investments and interventions year in and out are only aimed at “healing” symptoms of poverty. The real disease festers meanwhile.

In plenary, during the session on advocacy the matter on poverty and what to do different was again discussed. But seeing that there is hardly any change in learning or adequate courage even among the organizer-facilitators to lead the way to a more open and honest discussion, I contained the itch to rock the boat. Participants were so enthusiastic talking about investing in trainings for this and that that I felt I couldn’t dampen the mood. And, I kind of felt for the national head of office who at the time was up front and seemed as enthusiastic. Change is a lonely word.

But, going back to the power of words in messaging. In the country, we have been using the phrase ‘this child is poor, help him or her’ to entice support. Following the example in the video, what if we change that to ‘Mindanao is such a rich and beautiful land, yet I’m not able to see, feel, or taste it’? The ‘I’ referring to the Lumads and any other discriminated group in the region.

Me thinks it will spark a war. The Mindanao issue has been sugar-coated for a long time already. The only way out is through it i.e. a proactive address of the region’s indigenous peoples and their legitimate issues.

Also, what if nobody bothered to change the wording in the blind man’s plea for help?