I had the opportunity to follow a medical mission organised by Radion International to Capiz, Philippines.
The actual missions would span 3 days to 3 different barangays / villages. Over 600 needy people were checked and treated by the doctors during this trip.
The plane trip would take 3.5hrs from Singapore to Kalibo and another 2 hrs from Kalibo to Roxas City (pronounced Rohas). It takes about an hour to shuttle from Roxas City to the barangays that were tagged for the medical mission. Each day starts at 8am and usually most of the patients are cleared by 3pm.
This trip was quite an eye opener. Finding out the wages, living conditions and the resilience of the filipinos.
You do not see sad people around, you don’t hear them say that a typhoon swept through their area because they usually call it “strong wind”.
The team learnt quite a lot and here is what we found out:
1) It costs SGD 30 A YEAR to send a child to school (uniforms, books, CCA) and yet they still cannot afford it. We had to dig deeper to find out why.
2) The labourers do not get paid in cash when they harvest rice. They are paid in unpolished rice. They will then have to decide whether to sell the rice or keep it. A lower grade sack of rice (10kg) is around 500PHP (SGD 15) and higher grades are around 700PHP (SGD 22). If they were to sell the rice, they will have to arrange for transport to the city, which in turn costs money.
3) Rice is harvested 3 times a year. Philippines gets hit by typhoons and heavy rain quite often, so either the rice will be blown away by strong winds or destroyed by floods. When that happens, no harvest.
4) 1 truck has 10 to 12 labourers who will go harvest sugarcanes. 10 to 12 tons will be harvested and each ton of sugarcane is sold at 150PHP (SGD 5). The labourers take home what ever is left after deducting petrol and driver’s pay. Sugarcanes are harvested only once a year.
5) In between the harvest months, they will have to find odd jobs and are usually paid 150PHP per day.
6) Relief good are being sold as discounted prices.
7) Vegetables costs almost the same as meat items. That is why we don’t really see vegetables wherever we go. However the barangays / villagers in the mountains have easier access to vegetables because they have space to grow their own.
Despite all these, the filipinos remain a happy bunch. They are efficient in clearing the roads, they build new makeshift houses next to the ones blown away by “strong wind”, they still smile amidst all this. They do not need help, they are resilient. But they need assistance.
I have seen homemade wheelchairs, rusty study chairs at the school, a bunch of people who cannot afford simple medical care. But the poverty cycle, the low wages and knowing how much it costs to just send a child to school for decent education is what hit me the most. SGD 30 in Singapore can buy you a meal at a restaurant. Skip one expensive meal and a kid can go to school for a year.
Selected photos can be found HERE