The five weeks I spent in this Service Corps provided an interesting vantage point on the Filipino culture. We spent the majority of our time living in a working city, observing normal life around us and making friends with our clients and colleagues. It's a different view than you normally get while traveling around as a tourist (though we got that as well with our weekend excursions).
The aspect of the trip that impacted me the most was the level of poverty that was visible throughout our visit. We stayed in a very comfortable hotel that had nice amenities but within the block were shanty homes and little shops that didn't look like they'd survive a strong wind storm. This was the view throughout the city of Bacolod: some nice buildings scattered among crude structures. As we drove further from the city, life became simpler and in some ways more primitive: you'd see people gathered around the common water pump doing their laundry and bathing outside. Most jobs revolved around the sugar cane and rice fields: some men out manually stacking sugar cane in trucks to amazing heights while others were plowing rice fields with their water buffaloes. In most cases it was obvious that people worked hard to provide the basic necessities of life.
However, in most cases people generally appeared happy: they were quick to wave or offer a smile. They were kind and eager to talk. I loved the greetings of "hey Joe" they often gave me when I wandered into less visited areas: it was in surprisingly friendly terms (especially considering the view many people throughout the world have of Americans). My view on the level of contentment generally aligned with studies I've seen that show that money and happiness generally have no correlation.
The one exception to that rule is when the basic necessities of life are not met. Certainly, there were some people that have that problem. We saw some people with clothes that were little more than shredded rags. I also was impacted with Kooks' statement on the lack of medical care: for many people formal medical treatment is just not an option. It's hard to ignore the need for improved medial options when you're taking daily malaria pills. Undoubtedly, there is a need to improve the overall economic environment in the country.
The answer to moving up the economic ladder is no secret: education. The more I thought about their future, the more I became glad I was working with St. La Salle University. Much of our time was focused on addressing the Computer Science and Information Technology curriculum. Their focus was where it should be: understanding and aligning with current market trends to help make their students more marketable. They understand they are competing in a global market and have some catching up to do in order to compete with the US, India, China, etc. The only way to really drive economic progress in Negros and other areas of the Philippines is to follow the same model as India and invest in human capital--moving from their agriculture dependencies and towards services. I was glad to provide some market insight and get my friends at the university connected with IBM's academic resources, even though I know many of my colleagues in the US have lost jobs to students like these in developing countries. This experience provides a new perspective on the global market for me.
We're coming up on the Thanksgiving holiday in the US and I'm already feeling more gratitude for the blessings I have. I've enjoyed sharing some of my experiences with my family members: I'm married and have three girls and a boy. One thing I'm grateful for is the images of the Philippines that are etched in my mind. One vivid image that I'll keep is that of three beautiful young girls scavenging an empty lot looking for pieces of wood: likely helping with the preparation of an evening meal. I only got a quick look at them as I drove by, but they appeared to be at ease and happy to provide assistance to their family. This was normal life for them and they seemed quite content. Of course, I couldn't help but think of what a different life my three girls live. I'm thankful for a new level of understanding of the differences that exist in a corner of the world that now holds a special place in my heart.