So little, so muchBy Michael L. Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
I sometimes worry about how young people are cajoled to change the world, and how the role models for this change involve political revolutionaries, or rich philanthropists.
The reality is that the world changes by small steps, through the efforts of many caring people, not necessarily the super-rich. I think of two of my readers who offered scholarships and financial help to students: One took up the monthly rental, as well as the monthly stipend of another.
Over lunch right before I started to work this column, I was talking with Chancellor Dr. Gilda Rivero of the University of the Philippines in Mindanao. She told me about the lives of some of her students, including one who would stretch a can of sardines for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I thought again of how a little help could mean so much for such iskolar ng bayan (people’s scholars).
“So little, so much” came to my mind, too, about two weeks ago, while reading an Oct. 7 Inquirer report, “Slum dwellers gain land in QC auction.” It was about a parish-based cooperative in Quezon City helping “squatters” in their vicinity to buy a piece of land. The Sta. Maria Della Strada Cooperative (SMDSC) has been helping urban poor residents in their area for several years and decided at some point to help them purchase the land. An opportunity came up when the city government put up tax-defaulted properties in Quezon City for auction, and the SMDSC made their bid. . . and won. They paid P700,000 for a 1,200-square-meter lot, which they will now distribute to 30 families, who will each pay P25,000 over 20 years, with 1-percent interest.
Talk about being overwhelmed by numbers, this time by how little was involved and yet how much it will mean to the 30 families. The 1,200-square-meter lot would be a typical lot in a wealthy subdivision, yet this will be home to 30 families, which means on average each one would get 40 square meters. That may seem tiny, but in Metro Manila, that’s large. Moreover, it’s land, meaning families will raise their children on the ground, on land that will be their own, while thousands of other families will have to make do with an 18-sq-m condominium crammed with dozens of other units on each floor and costing much, much more than P25,000.
My biological anthropology brain got me thinking of how this 1,200-sq-m lot represents what we call an “ecotone,” an area that straddles two different ecological zones. It’s these ecotones that often become areas of biodiversity; human beings, for example, probably evolved in an ecotone that bordered between forests and grasslands, our ancestors daring to come down from the trees, moving out to the grasslands, and standing on two feet to look further out, literally to new horizons.
The group that SMDSC helped lives in such an ecotone: an area bordering the affluent La Vista subdivision and a poor residential section of Barangay Pansol. More often than not, ecotones become areas of tension, the rich building higher and higher walls to keep the squatters out of sight, and out of mind. The SMDSC members, some of whom have experiences in banking and business, broke the mold, establishing a cooperative in 1996 with 15 people, including their parish priest, each contributing P2,000.
They extended microfinance (loans with low interest) to their low-income neighbors, and then moved into this land purchase project. They are thinking of bidding for 28 more lots in Kaingin 2, to cover more than 1,000 informal settlers in the area. Ironically, these lots were confiscated by the city government because the owners had abandoned their properties and had not paid taxes. The reason the owners abandoned their land was. . . the “squatters.”
The SMDSC has shown another way. We need to hear more about such initiatives, if there are more of them, in the Philippines.
Hotels reusing, recycling
So, we have scholarships, and we have this SMDSC mega-mini deal. Let me talk about another mini, and I mean mini-project that can go big. You know those small glass jars of jams which luxury hotels and business sections of airlines use? I have wondered what happens to them since the jars have air-tight lids, and make good containers.
Well, two hotels in Cebu—Radisson and Shangri-la—have been donating their jars to a small business named Fresca, which then recycles the jars to become containers for herbal balms. The items are sold by Fresca at the Sunday market in Makati’s Legaspi Park still with the jam’s name on the lid.
The environmentalist mantra about recycling, reusing and reducing (garbage) becomes more real here, and again, it’s a matter of something little (literally mini glass jars) going a long way.
The donated glass jars reminded me of how many years ago I used to ask one hotel, the Century Park (formerly the Sheraton), for their old newspapers and magazines. I noticed how many of these publications, both local and international (e.g., the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek, the now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek) were being distributed free to various offices and to some of their hotel guests, and then would be thrown away. I asked for and got the publications donated to non-government organizations.
It did help that my father was working with that hotel at that time and now that he’s retired, I’ve lost contact. Now I’m wondering if there are hotels out there willing to again donate these publications—and that can include the Inquirer and other local papers—this time to my College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. Our student council has been asking me for subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. The local papers we can handle (recycled from our departments’ subscriptions), but the international ones are far too expensive.
I know the publications aren’t as little as those jam jars, and you’re wondering how it will go a long way. I’ll tell you: our students rely on the Internet and cable TV to learn about the world. I may be old-fashioned, coming from “old media,” but I still think it’s important to read, and to reflect. The Internet makes people surf and browse, attracted by colors and sounds; the printed word is still better to educate, to teach people to be discerning. This is all the more important for our future anthropologists, historians, political scientists, geographers, demographers, linguistics experts, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers. I just named our departments.
Whether you have a hotel or not, if you’re willing to pass on your newspapers and magazines, call 926-3486 and ask for Remy to tell us what publications you want to offer, and where we can pick up. I’d rather we pick up on a regular basis to get current publications.
Be much better of course if you organize your homeowners’ association to help the urban poor, but for now, I’ll be eternally grateful for your newspapers and magazines.
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