Celebration and Social Change at Rizal Park

Philippines October 17

“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”

These are the words of ATD founder, Joseph Wresinski, inscribed on the commemorative stone at the heart of the Human Rights Plaza in Paris. Unveiled in 1987 the stone marked the first celebration of October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This would later be recognized by the UN in 1992. On this day, each year, people across the world, gather to recognize the experiences of those living in poverty. While every place celebrates the day differently, they are all united by the theme of each year. The theme for 2023 was “Decent Work and Social Protection for All”.

In the Philippines, the country has recognized October 17 as a national day since 1993 and commemorates it with a week of action, activities, and learning, culminating in a celebration at Rizal Park in Manila.

ATD in the Philippines

ATD’s mission in the Philippines began in 1987. Presently, the team, with the support of community facilitators and ATD friends, works closely with communities of people living in extreme poverty, particularly those in Manila North Cemetery. This is where some of the ATD programs are conducted to strengthen the community.

Ang Galing which means “Awesome” in Filipino, is one of the programs conducted in the cemetery together with volunteers and long-term friends of ATD. This program is held three Saturdays every month during the school year to help children with their basic reading and writing skills. More than that, the program also aims at building confidence in the children who have major difficulties at school and to develop a good relationship with reading and learning.

The other program the ATD conducts in the Manila North Cemetery, is a savings program called, Sulong, which translates to “let’s move forward”. This initiative was set up to encourage those living in poverty to save a small sum of money each week with no paper or minimum amount required. Participants put money aside for medical or school expenses, baptism celebrations or emergency expenses.

ATD Philippines works to support both personal development of the individuals as well as the community collectively by setting up programs like Ang Galing and Sulong at the grassroot level of those experiencing poverty.

They try to ensure the involvement of the community members in the running of these programs, thus, allowing the programs to become a part of the community.

All Hands on Deck

The ATD forum committee, comprising of ATD Volunteer Corps members, community facilitators and friends, was established to oversee the organization of October 17 in collaboration with the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

The NAPC was formed as part of the Philippines’ “Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act” and is dedicated to the eradication of poverty in the Philippines through poverty advocacy and overseeing various anti-poverty efforts. In preparation for October 17, the forum committee started in June with regular meetings with the NAPC Policy and Planning Service team.

More than 1,100 participants from ATD members, NGOs, government agencies and other members of the community took part in the commemoration at Rizal Park. The day was marked by performances, prayers, activities, and workshops.

The workshops, which followed the theme of the day, “Decent Work and Social Protection for All”, were organized by the partners of NAPC who offered national ID registration services and birth certificate inquires. Alongside these services, workshops on basic hair-cutting training, candle and soap-making, and cooking demonstration were held, providing the participants with applicable skills to allow them to find work or even set up small businesses.

There were also several ATD community partners who played an active role in the performances and activities of the day. In particular, there were music performances and prayers from Minstrels Rhythm of Hope, ISKCON Manila Philippines and OPM: 13. In the afternoon, both Minstrels Rhythm of Hope and Waldorf School of Manila offered workshops for the children.

The other highlight of the festivities was a wreath laying ceremony on the commemorative stone in Rizal Park. This was carried out by Ate Jackielyn and her family on behalf of all the families living in poverty.

Wreath laying ceremony at Rizal Park

The Voices of the Most Vulnerable

In the months leading up to October 17, members of the forum committee went to different communities and interviewed over 35 people with a lived experience of poverty on the theme, “Decent Work and Social Protection for All”. The interviews covered one of three topics: 4Ps (conditional cash grants); social pension; and job and social benefits. They also touched upon the importance of social protection to support the family’s education of the children.

In the week leading up to Oct 17, a selection of testimonies was taken from the interviews and posted daily on Facebook with the campaign reaching out to an estimated 5000 people. On the commemoration day, posters of the testimonies were hung up at Rizal Park, putting the experiences of those living in poverty at the heart of the commemoration.

Some of the testimonies can be seen below here:

O n stage, each of the five ATD community facilitators read a message from these testimonies. One of the main barriers to social protection that was highlighted in these messages was the issue of the birth certificate. Over five million people in the Philippines do not have a birth certificate and this leads to complications when trying to access social welfare benefits.

A testimony from community member Ate Vivian highlighted this issue:

“I have neither a birth certificate nor ID. My children also do not have any birth certificate. One of my kids was born in a [tricycle taxi] while the other one I had to deliver by myself in the chapel nearby. I do not have money to go to the hospital.”

One of the common social welfare programs frequently mentioned in these messages was 4Ps. 4Ps is a conditional cash transfer program in the Philippines which provides funds to the poorest household to help improve their health, nutrition, and education of the children. The conditions include enrollment of the children into school which cannot be done without a birth certificate.

Many also expressed the insufficiency of the funds provided by 4Ps particularly when they are needed for medical checkups, another one of the 4Ps conditions. A testimony from Ate Joan illustrated this:

“I was told I could include [the baby] because [she] requires follow ups at the clinic. I am not sure whether 4Ps monitors this. The payout remains inadequate. When we go for checkups, we pay on our own. I save money specifically for medications. That’s it.”

Sana, a friend of ATD, gave a speech on the day echoing the sentiments of the messages from the community and emphasizing the important role 4Ps plays as a steppingstone to good education. At the same time, she called for the members of the government agencies present on the day to reflect on the concerns of the members of the community from their experiences with 4Ps.

In response, a member of the Department of Social Welfare recognized the concern of the members of the community and emphasized the need for collaborative action between the government, private sector, and international organization to further alleviate the effects of poverty.

Many members of the community strive to provide a good education for their children. This was addressed in the testimony by Kuya Mario who explained:

“My dream is for my children to graduate. My children’s education is my only legacy. It is difficult but when I have my earnings, I support them in their school projects. Otherwise, I tell them to wait till next time. They find ways, sometimes, they ask their classmates for help.”

The commemoration of October 17 in the Philippines is not just a moment for reflection on the experiences of poverty but of actionable change. The preparation of the Rizal Park celebration as well as the community interviews have provided a space for community action and engagement so that even in celebrating, they are taking the necessary steps towards eradicating poverty.

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