US Navy 060613-N-6501M-039 A group of Filipino children gather together for a picture expressing their happiness after having watched the U.S. Navy ShowbandIn the Presidential debate, it was only Grace Poe who spoke to the child in her five-minute final address. But even there something seemed to be lacking, from my European perspective of course. What future opportunities is she offering the child? Sure it is government with heart she represents – even if it is not clear how she will realize it she has good ideas. Her foundling background does make a difference, makes her a little less blind than many in the Philippines who see extremes of wealth and poverty as a given.

Yet an article by a Swiss journalist shocked me (link) by saying that the Philippines among the 10 countries in terms of under-nutrition of children under five years old according to UNICEF, which itself says the following about the effects of under-nutrition at an early age in the Philippines (link):

Under-nutrition in the Philippines remains a serious problem. The damage to health, physical growth and brain development of children affected by chronic under-nutrition—stunting in the first two years—is often irreversible, impairing them for life and leaving them with lower chances of finishing school and becoming highly-productive adults. Stunting, iron and iodine deficiencies impact learning abilities and intelligence of children. Studies show that populations affected by iodine deficiency have 10 – 15 IQ points less than those not affected.

Chances in life

In most modern countries – Europe (even most of the East by now), North America, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and more – a child from a poor family will have the chance, given hard work, to become nearly anything he or she wants. Of course the habits of poverty learned from parents – such as lack of self-discipline – can be an impediment that is not easy to overcome. The 4Ps in the Philippines are an important program because they force poor people to send their children to school and have regular check-ups. That is already one step in the right direction. Poe’s idea of free school lunches to motivate the poor to go to school is quite clever – one can see her compassion for children based on her background, and it also addresses the alleged misuse of 4P money by some parents who somehow manage to fake school attendance. But hunger pre-school already impairs children for life as UNICEF has clearly stated.

From securing pre-school nutrition, to making sure children are taken out of abusive households (something that is done in many countries, of course with due process and psychologists involved), to making sure children go to school (in Germany the police come to the house if children don’t go to school, no home schooling allowed), up to K-12, career opportunities just after K-12 especially for the TVET and Business, Accounting and Management – opportunities should be secured and no valuable human resources should be wasted.

The German-sponsored K-12+ program (link) which is TESDA/TVET with Dual Training does give kids on-the-job training in companies (often German) that will most probably give them a job later on. But of course it only reaches those that do NOT drop out before reaching Grade 11-12, or are not damaged by pre-school malnutrition already.

Making society competitive

What I have seen here in Germany is that children of Filipino migrants, often not from the “educated” classes, have careers beyond anything their parents could imagine due to the open system. Such a society is usually more competitive as a whole, because those who make it have to earn their spurs. Of course those with more books at home or those who can afford private tutors (or have the right family networks) are still at an advantage. Yet I regularly donate to public libraries – out of gratefulness. I was able to read many books I could not buy in my early years in Germany.

What tends to shock many Filipinos from the more privileged classes who have migrated and come back to visit is how the more advantaged treat their maids or the poor around them. Sure Poe addressed the child, but did she give her a feeling SHE could be the one standing there if she worked hard enough for it? Even many nice to the poor come across, unintentionally, as “charitable”.

Securing the future

Matthew 25:40 (link) says: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ . Even from a developmental point of view, human resources of a country should not be wasted, they are the most valuable natural resource of any country (link). It is understandable that many families migrate to secure a better future for themselves and their children. Better to make sure people are cared for, given opportunities, before they turn into criminals or families afraid of crime vote for populists with anger as their main agenda. It is not yet too late.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 27 April 2016