Sharing the Cross
Last week, the National Economic and Development Authority announced that based on the latest triennial Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES), 26.3 percent of Filipinos were poor as of the first half of 2015. That means that there still are more than 26 million poor Filipinos in our midst, making less than what’s needed to make ends meet. The good news is that this was lower than the last FIES-based figure of 27.9 percent reported in 2012. However, it was higher than the 25.8 percent poverty incidence reported in 2014, which was in turn higher than the 24.6 percent reported in 2013, both based on the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (Apis). While the numbers from the FIES and Apis are supposedly not directly comparable, it is nonetheless disturbing that we have yet to see poverty go down consistently and convincingly.
Counting families rather than individuals, the FIES tells us that one in every five Filipino families is poor (20.9 percent as of 2012). This also means that four out of five families are not poor. Think about it: If only one in every four nonpoor Filipino families cares enough to help one poor family lift itself out of poverty, then zero poverty need not just be a dream!
What would it take to do this? A concrete way of helping is to support a promising child of the family through school all the way to college or vocational/technical training, as appropriate. My late father did so almost all of his professional life through his retirement, and reaped the satisfaction of seeing his protégés uplift their lives and their families’ wellbeing and standard of living. Gawad Kalinga sees decent housing as the critical entry point. Spending weekends helping build a home for a family one did not even know before is truly giving of one’s self. It represents taking a concrete stake in another family’s life. Still another concrete way of helping, especially for those successful in business, is to equip a poor family with the means (including skills, values and financial capital) to start and sustain a livelihood enterprise.
This week, Christians around the world commemorate how God sent His only son to become one of us and live and die among us. I see in this a message that the way to truly help the poor is to live with them, and feel their pains with them. We are called, in other words, to share in their Cross. It is easy enough to share what we have in excess, in the form of our discarded clothes and possessions, food and cash. But Christ’s example shows that true giving and sharing go well beyond that, but calls for more: to actually share in their pain and suffering, feel and share their aspirations, and give of ourselves beyond our mere possessions. This is what Jesus Christ did when He lived as a human among us humans.
I’m convinced that this kind of direct involvement is key. In sharing, we always focus on the receiver, and overlook the giver. People who care and are willing to share find greater meaning in sharing when they are able to somehow partake of the pain and suffering of those whom they help. True sharing, in other words, goes both ways. I believe this is the ingredient that has made Gawad Kalinga catch fire not only in the Philippines but overseas as well. It gives people the chance to be with the poor, feel with the poor, and work with the poor, and not merely give to the poor.
When people spend weekends enduring pain and strain by literally helping build homes alongside those who will receive them, sharing is brought to a totally different level from simply writing out a check to one’s favored charity. Giving a scholarship directly to one’s chosen poor child and taking a direct concern and involvement in his/her progress through the years is quite different from sending a regular contribution to a scholarship-granting foundation. An entrepreneurial family that handholds a poor family into starting and growing an enterprise of their own finds greater meaning in sharing than just pledging a portion of their profits to a livelihood development NGO.
On a personal note, one of the most meaningful experiences of my life was living for a few weeks among poor rice farmers in Bicol and Iloilo when I studied rice postharvest technologies for my master’s thesis many years ago. It helped me understand what we otherwise would never understand if all we do to help the poor is to share our possessions, rather than share of our lives.
Many years ago, a woman from a poor community called Patay na Riles in Los Baños, Laguna, moved members of our Bible sharing group to tears with a poignant personal story of sharing. It was a “Living Word Group” that my wife and I had helped pull together, soon after our Catholic Christian renewal had inflamed us with the drive to share the joy of God’s love with the less privileged in our community. In her story, the woman recounted how she and her children were about to begin their humble meal of a small bowl of rice sprinkled with salt, when they heard the crying of children from the next-door shanty. The children were crying in hunger, asking their own mother when they would eat. “I heard my neighbor’s pained voice as she told her children, ‘Walang-wala tayo ngayon, mga anak… Tiisin niyo na lang ang gutom niyo’ (We have nothing, my children… You will have to endure your hunger).” She continued: “I could not bear hearing all that, and so I went next door and shared half our bowl of rice with our hungry neighbors.”
It was a live and fitting demonstration of the truth in the words once declared by Pope John Paul II, now St. John Paul the Great: “No one is so poor to have nothing to share; no one is so rich to have nothing to receive.”
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