As a foreigner, whether you live in the Philippines or are just visiting, it is almost guaranteed that someone you don’t know will ask you for money. It is often a young child dressed in rags with sad brown eyes, that simply holds out a hand and mumbles something you won’t understand. Pitiful looking adults will also try to get your attention and reach out an open hand.
Living in a small town, my wife and I are rarely approached for money. When we visit a city, however, it happens almost daily. We always ignore the beggars in the city and usually ignore them closer to home. I think most foreigners act similarly, but then so do the local residents.
Are wealthier Filipinos and foreigners heartless when they ignore the street begging? My answer would be “no”, for 3 reasons. First, we always wonder whether the person asking for money is participating in some kind of scam. Second, when you are surrounded by people in need on a regular basis, it is only natural to become numb to it. Third, almost everyone living in the Philippines has multiple relatives living in poverty, so if a person wants to help the less fortunate, there are already plenty of opportunities to help.
It is my hope that all foreigners in the Philippines are doing something to assist locals in severe need, even if it’s only once a year near Christmas. By doing this as a group or individually, the local population will have a positive opinion of our home countries. You never know when this good will pay a future dividend.
How a foreigner chooses to help can vary from giving a student a part-time job, to helping pay someones medical bill. One thing is for sure, there are plenty of opportunities and they are not difficult to find. Those of you that have read my previous articles know that my wife and I sponsor a teen band. We arrived at our Cebu house with a few instruments, and the word spread in our small town that we were willing to share them. The kids showed up, and now they are earning money every weekend using our instruments. I’m not suggesting all my fellow expats follow this example, but surely this holiday season there will be opportunities to be generous with whatever gifts the good Lord has seen fit to share with you.
This year, my wife’s Christmas project is giving raincoats to a group of about 40 kids. It will allow them to attend school on rainy days. It only costs about 100 pesos (2 US dollars) per kid. I think it’s money well spent.
Many of us expats come from countries where the government provides a safety net and helps take care of the less fortunate. When we see someone struggling, we assume it’s the government’s job to deal with it, because we pay ridiculously high taxes for those services. Taxes are much lower in the Philippines, and as you would expect, there are fewer safety nets. Personally, I would rather see individuals helping the needy in the Philippines rather than the Philippines raising taxes so the government can do it. I’m a fiscal conservative, and one of my core beliefs is that government programs tend to be inefficient and waste money.
My apologies if this short article comes off as being too preachy, but while you are enjoying all the parties and tasty treats this Christmas season, why not take a little time to reflect on the life of the person that made it all possible. I won’t list any verses or quotes here, but I’m pretty sure helping the less fortunate and loving others was a big part of his message.
Before I close, let me clue you into a little secret. My wife and I help locals, not because we feel some sort of obligation, or are trying to score some heavenly points, but simply because it’s fun. So let’s lift our holiday drink of choice for a toast, “Here’s to more fun in the Philippines!”
Merry Christmas Everyone.