Overcoming poverty by respecting human rights

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by Benjamin Disinger on Unsplash

The sad reality of the beautiful, scenic Philippines and its kind and friendly people is that too many live in man-made poverty. You will understand Nick’s story if you have survived, overcome poverty, and made it to a happier life. If you are well off, thank your parents for saving you from poverty. Thank them for your education, count your blessings every day, and help others with your blessings.

Education saves children from poverty, hunger, and a lost life. The gross injustice and inequality that causes such poverty alienates 20 million Filipinos who live in slums on the edge of hunger. Nick is a 16-year-old boy, and his parents are among those poor throwaway people. They survive day to day in any way they can.

None of Nick’s family- parents and elder siblings- finished elementary school, so they cannot be employed. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, as many as 7.9 million Filipino children and youth aged 5 to 24 did not attend school from 2022 to 2023. They have little ability to read and write. Nick’s parents never had a regular job and sometimes worked part-time in construction for a few days. His mother washed clothes for neighbors and earned a pittance. What they earned was never enough to feed them all.

They lived in a tiny hut where they all had to sleep close together on mats laid on the concrete floor and ate one meal a day. Sometimes, they eat “pag-pag,” recooked restaurant leftovers of half-eaten dinners of the rich. This poverty is the result of some corrupt politicians. It is at the heart of the social injustice ignored by many in a so-called Catholic country. The Philippines is a relatively rich country, yet twenty million Filipinos suffer hunger while another 10 million come close to it. A nation of kind, good people where 0.1 percent own 46 percent of the nation’s total wealth.

As Jesus of Nazareth wanted and worked for, Christianity was a society, a kingdom, here and now, where equality and justice for all predominates. Corruption, inequality, and injustice go primarily unchallenged by the Church except by the brave and courageous human rights and justice advocates, some brave bishops and priests, but too few. Lay Christian advocates for social justice speak out against corruption and are red-tagged as subversives and rebels like Jesus himself was. It is hunger that dominates the lives and thoughts of the 20 million poor, day and night. How to find money to buy food is a 24-hour preoccupation.

A wealthy drug dealer named Nomad gave Nick’s parents loans for food. They had to sell his drugs on the street to pay him back and buy food. They were in debt bondage. They took the maximum risk for the smallest gain. They sold methamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as “shabu,” a dangerous drug. They were caught and jailed, awaiting trial.

“One day, the majority will rise educated and wise, and they will elect a majority of good and just people to lead them, do away with the torturers and killers, corrupt and unjust, and together build a new just Philippines where human rights are finally upheld, honored, and respected by all. This is a dream worth working for.”

Nick had to pay the debt owed to Nomad, so he had to sell drugs also. He had no education to get a job. A police undercover buyer caught him. He was spared extrajudicial execution, unlike 30,000 others allegedly killed by police as part of a massive crime against humanity being investigated by the International Criminal Court. Nick was charged with drug selling, but being 16 years old, a minor, he was sent by the judge to the Preda Foundation home in Liloan, Cebu, supported by Aktionsgruppe Kinder-in-Not based In Germany.

There, he could discover his value, feel his dignity, and grow self-confidence. He felt accepted, understood, and welcomed into a life without fear or punishment. He received his personal needs and friendship and learned the value of his life and respect for others.

Nick is learning the value of education as the road to survival, prosperity, and a life of dignity. Now, with value formation, alternative education, and Emotional Release Therapy, he is changing. He has a better, happier chance in life, a way out of poverty and jail, and a new life.

Damien is another of the 7.9 million youths who never got to school, wandered the streets in poverty, and lived with his street friends. They survived by doing odd jobs and, whenever hungry, by stealing food in the market. The vendors complained to the police in Plaridel, Bulacan. Damien and some of his friends were arrested. They were kicked and beaten and taken out, and two were shot dead, including Damien’s best friend. It seems extrajudicial execution is common practice there.

Damien was tortured. He was tied to a chair, and his fingers were beaten by the police using a hammer one by one. He screamed in pain. He was electrocuted twice to confess to crimes he did not commit. He was beaten, kicked, and finally thrown in a jail cell. There, he was rescued by Preda social workers and brought to the Preda home, healed and cared for, and had Emotional Release therapy, during which he screamed out his anger at the corrupt police. He, too, will have a chance at a new life. He will learn and overcome poverty and support his future children. There is always hope, no matter the crimes committed against the people by those sworn to protect them.

One day, the majority will rise educated and wise, and they will elect a majority of good and just people to lead them, do away with the torturers and killers, corrupt and unjust, and together build a new just Philippines where human rights are finally upheld, honored, and respected by all. It is a dream worth working for. To help others, contact www.preda.org.

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