Helping the Poor

Poverty is a very complex problem. The solutions to it are not piecemeal and isolated. I wrote this comment more than a year ago. I think the suggestions are still relevant.

In his column entitled “Targeting Poverty Assistance Right” (Inquirer 3/29/11) Cielito Habito raised the question “Why is it that decades of determined work and billions of pesos spent by the government to reduce poverty appear to have made no dent on our overall poverty situation through the years?” He went on to list the poverty-fighting programs of each administration since Cory Aquino up to Gloria Arroyo. They are indeed an impressive array of programs. But they have failed to reduce in the incidence of poverty in the country. According to Habito, these programs have failed because they did not target the right sectors and he concludes that “with at least P21 billion allotted to assistance for the poor in 2011, let’s do the targeting right this time”.

My question is: even if we targeted the right recipients of assistance will the poverty assistance programs be effective in lifting the poor people out of poverty? Take for instance Cory’s programs: Community Employment Development Program, Lalakas ang Katawan Sapat sa Sustansya, Self-employment assistance program. These programs looked good and theoretically if they reached those who really needed them, the poor people should benefit from them. Habito says that only 33 percent of the assistance given by these programs have reached those who needed them and only 20 percent of the poor have received help. Granted that only 20 percent of the poor have been helped, why did this help not make a dent on the incidence of poverty?

I once asked a well known economist what he thought was the reason why our poor people remain poor. His answer: we as a people tend to be content with the way we live; we tend not to strive to improve the way we do things.

If there is anyone who will raise a poor person out of his poverty it is the poor person himself. No one can help the poor person if he does not help himself. In the end it is a very personal matter. If a poor person is determined to wrench himself out of his dire situation, he will do it even if government assistance did not reach him. We have heard stories of tycoons who began their livelihood selling fish in the market or newspapers in the streets.

What we might need perhaps is a change of culture and a change of heart. All of us must work together so that we form a national attitude or culture of work aimed at improving our status in life. Our poor people will need a special kind of education that might give them higher vistas in life and the moral will to pursue them. Then the rest of us must work together so that conditions in our society will allow everyone the freedom to pursue their dreams: basically that means there must be peace and order, justice and solidarity.

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