“Alone we can do so little, Together we can do so much”

By Mary Mullarkey

Mary is participating in the Bronze Global Citizen Award. This is the second of her global blogs. 

Poverty is a pandemic in the Philippines with over 60% of the Filipino population experiencing it.  When I arrived in Cebu and travelling to the Holy Family Retreat House, I had never witnessed such poverty in all of my life.

Some of the living conditions are terrible in Cebu, with families living in slums and dilapidated looking houses often covered in galvanised roofs.  Some families may not have the luxury of a fresh supply of running water or toilet facilities.  To illustrate this tremendous poverty, I witnessed a mother washing clothes outside her house or children playing football wearing no footwear.  “Jeepneys” or old army trucks are the native’s main source of transport in comparison to the buses or the Luas as you would see in Ireland.

On one of my first visits to the Badjao Tribe, it devastated me to see children running around wearing very little clothing.  Furthermore families in the Badjao Tribe lived in “Quads” which could consist of four or more families living under one roof.  These types of dwelling houses may not have any access of running water or other facilities.

Houses in Badjao Tribe

Houses in Badjao Tribe

Poverty leads to high unemployment, many of the Cebuano people are hired in restaurants and retail outlets for only five months at a time earning very little wages.  In addition to this poverty, I witnessed a family selling fruit or bread outside their homes in order to earn an income.  This is shocking to comprehend and as well as this the cost of living in Cebu is extraordinary in terms of housing, medical and transport.  I was told by my host families that most working class people usually earn around 900 pesos a month which averages out at 50 pesos a day.  Fifty pesos is equivalent to €1, no one in Ireland could survive on €1 a day.

During our first few days in Cebu we were given a tour around the residences of our host families.  During our excursion we were told that some of the inhabitants were forced out of their homes by the local Government so they could build roads and office buildings in its place.

As poverty is prevalent in Ireland in terms of unemployment and homelessness, our Government provides its best tools and skill set to combat this.  The Department of Social Protection provides social welfare benefits to people who are unemployed and offer emergency accommodation such as shelters for those people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  Unfortunately these types of services are not available in Cebu.

My journey to Cebu changed my perspective of life for the better.  The poverty I witnessed was difficult to observe and it made me realise how lucky we are in Ireland where services are in place should we need to access them.  My four weeks in Cebu opened my eyes to the stark inequality prevalent in the Philippines and it definitely made me appreciate the little things in life.