One of the first things I was told when I arrived in the Philippines was “don’t give money to people”. Actually, during my initial 9 week stay, I was told this many, many times and by different sources. Why? Well they might spend it on something apart from food, water or essentials. They’ll just ask you for more. You’ll just become Santa Claus. Other people will become jealous. You’ll put yourself in danger.
I didn’t think too much at the time, they seemed like logical, familiar arguments, so when I first started campaigning family and friends to help out with donations, I faithfully promised to never give cash and to personally make all purchases. For the most part I kept this promise and will continue to do so.
The videos below shows some of art/craft activities which I’d conducted in the tent city for the resident children and mothers. About five (5) minutes after I took the first video, one of the tents housing a family of nine (9), burned to the ground and they lost almost everything. After speaking with the mother of the family, I set off to the market assisted by some tent city locals to buy food and other supplies for the family. Well I arrived at the supermarket realising I really had no idea what to buy. I asked one of the Filipino ladies for suggestions and she was equally uncertain. Where to start? As I was walking around those supermarket aisles (and let me tell you it was nothing like an air-conned-wide-aisled Coles or Woolies in Australia) I had to admit to myself that if this were me, I would not someone else choosing the food I would eat. Would you?
Then I started to ask myself, “do they actually need food at all?”
Maybe they just needed water, or blankets, or clothes, or they had coffee but no toothpaste. Maybe they needed washing powder and the some of the kids were allergic to nuts and no one in the family really ate canned fish. In my blind promise to friends and family to only give goods and materials I had taken away this woman’s ability to decide for herself what was in the best interest of her family.
I ran into her in the street a couple of days later. A tiny baby in her arms, she hugged me and thanked me profusely for the food and water (note: this was paid for out of the original group donations). Then she told me she was on her way to the doctor as her baby was sick. I did wonder as she walked away if I would have been better just giving her the cash. What do you think?