Velez: Why walk with the poor?

Tyrone Velez

THE warm responses on my article about Myles Albasin may have also made one ask: why do young people think that going up the mountains or living in the shanties is the ideal of serving the people?

I remember facing that question too in my college days. The first time was during my freshmen community immersion at a fishing village in Dumalag. My uncle was working in Taiwan for a couple of years that time. And the thought of Ateneo’s immersion didn’t make sense.

What can we learn from the poor? Ateneo should be sending us young kids to learn at companies and industries.

My first immersion only lasted a half-day, so I didn’t get to learn much except looking at how our family host was busy building a new fishing boat. But I remembered him being thoughtful by offering us his work shirts, saying we should save our new shirts from getting dirty.

I got asked that question again when I joined another integration this time with campus press writers in Marilog District. While we slipped and sweat while going through muddy trails, I remember the smiles of Lumads wondering what are college kids doing in the hills.

Indeed, we tried to follow that dictum that learning has to go beyond the four walls of the classrooms. If we want to know what we learned has relevance to our society, we have to know it by walking with them through those trails, working and smelling the sawdust, feeling the sun in our backs. By that, we get to raise more questions instead of answers.

Why such a country like ours which is so abundant with resources yet the people still remain poor?

I remember the thoughts raised by our immersion leader. These are people who were stewards and protectors of our land for centuries, yet their land is slowly being taken away in the name of “progress” through plantations, logging and mining.

I remember that fisherman in Dumalag, how the sweat dropped as he crafted that boat. The boat that was his source of living. The sawdust sprinkling on his shirt and mine too. The easiest excuse is to say they are lazy, but remember they farmers sweat and toil, the fisher folk wake up early before us, the workers build for us. Everything they toiled was for us.

How much have we given them back? Some say we can help by donating, but as the progressive writer Eduardo Galeano said, “Charity is so vertical, it goes from top to bottom” meaning there’s a power relationship.

“Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

These are also reflected from the words of activists: learn from the masses and serve them. Actually it goes way back to Christ, who walked with fisher folks, workers, and the poor. Liberation is to walk among those who seek it.

That was like twenty years ago when I began asking and reflecting on these things, and I am still doing so until now. And so are young people like Myles. Sometimes I think those in government should also do the same to understand what it truly means to serve the poor.

(tyvelez@gmail.com)