Decent Shelter: A Desperate Dream
By Pat Curry
As Terry McCormick of Houston, Texas, worked on the house Houston HFH sponsored at the 1999 Jimmy Carter Work Project in Maragondon, he noticed a Filipino man working tirelessly.
"Is this your house?" McCormick asked.
"No," the man said. "It's only a dream."
For 7 million Filipino families -- nearly half the country's population -- owning a simple, decent house is just that...a dream.
HFH Philippines estimates that 35 million of the nation's 73 million men, women and children live in substandard housing. The highest concentration of the country's poor live in squatter's shacks in the capital of Manila.
Drawn from the provinces by the prospect of jobs and education, they provide the backbone of the city's manual and service labor force. Against a backdrop of economic boom -- high-rise construction is everywhere in downtown Manila -- they toil for little more than the equivalent of pocket change, eking out day-to-day survival wages and sleeping in the parks, doorways or abandoned concrete pipes of the capital city.
Their destitution is not from lack of effort, however: Filipinos are accustomed to a life of back-breaking labor. But a family earning 4,000 pesos a month (about US$105) -- common for Habitat family partners -- could easily spend 85 percent of that just on food, according to Andrew Regalado, national director for HFH Philippines. He explains that people are drawn to Manila with hopes of escaping the crushing poverty of the provinces. And even though the government has built low-cost housing outside the city, many of the poor can't afford the extravagance of commuting. So they wind up as squatters, living in poverty-ridden areas that hug the waterfront, the garbage dump at Smoky Mountain or along the railroad tracks.
This country of more than 7,000 islands in the South China Sea, faces a host of challenges that contribute to the need for decent housing.
The entire country is subject to earthquakes and volcanic activity: The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 on the heavily populated island of Luzon buried entire villages and impacted global weather patterns for two years. Located in the typhoon belt, the islands can be ravaged by storms any season of the year. Many Habitat family partners here consider the greatest asset of their sturdy Habitat house to be its ability to keep their children safe and dry in the face of a typhoon.
Politics has played an equally significant role in creating squatter areas and poverty in the outer provinces.
More about the Jimmy Carter Work Project:
Daily Reports: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday
More JCWP Overviews: 2000 | 1998 | 1997 | 1984-96
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