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A ‘WRETCHED OF THE EARTH’ SURMOUNTS HUNGER & POVERTY

November 25, 2011

A ‘WRETCHED OF THE EARTH’ SURMOUNTS HUNGER & POVERTY

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The narratives from poor communities in developing countries about folks thriving on a mere once-a-day meal is classic story of the ‘wretched of the earth’. Getting to know them closely through participant observation could make one feel what a living hovel is which, in esse, far outweighs the subjects of Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth.

In UN development parlance, such folks are concrete cases of those families earning below US $2 per day. The UN’s member countries were thus challenged to accelerate their poverty alleviation agenda so as to half the quantities of warm bodies falling within the ‘wretched’ criterion.

Below is an example of a human interest narrative coming from Asia that fits into the MDG success story.

[Philippines, 19 November 2011]

Source: http://www.beta.undp.org/undp/en/home/ourwork/povertyreduction/successstories/onemealadaytothree.html
From one meal a day to three
Asea Begum inside her home grocery store in Mymensingh district, northern Bangladesh. (Photo: UNDP)
Inside Asea Begum’s home, shelves teem with jars containing pulses, grains, spices and dried biscuits. A little girl runs in with a small plastic bottle that Begum fills with cooking oil in exchange for a few coins.
Asea Begum runs a small grocery store out of her one-room house in the Mymensingh district of northern Bangladesh. The store is a primary source of income for Begum, and allows her to provide for her family.
Highlights
• UNDP’s UPPR initiative has improved living standards for more than 2.3 million people in Bangladesh.
• UPPR has provided Slums in Bangladesh with 12,370 latrines, 2,122 tube wells, 46 kilometers of drains and 128 kilometers of footpaths.
• More than 90 per cent of all posts in the UPPR initiative’s community-led committees are held by women.
Not long ago, however, Begum and her family ate just one meal a day, consisting of plain rice and a few pieces of chili. Her children were always hungry and her husband, who pulls a rickshaw all day, was continually exhausted.
All this changed when Begum received a loan of 6,000 Bangladeshi Taka (about US$85) from her local community development committee. The loan allowed her to start a small grocery business and thereby signicantly increase her income.
After repaying the loan, she also borrowed cash to buy goats, which she raises and sells in front of her house. Her monthly income is now about US$15, after expenses, and she has become a member of her local community development committee.
These committees, made up of women like Begum, are the core of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) US$120m Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR) initiative.
UPPR, which began in 2008 and will run until 2015, is implemented by various governmental and non-governmental partners and UN agencies. It currently has 100 government staff and 400 mostly national UNDP staff.
The project is the largest of its kind in Bangladesh and one of the largest in the world. Its goal is to reduce urban poverty in the country and improve the livelihoods and living conditions of Bangladesh’s three million urban poor and extremely poor people, especially women and girls.
“Poverty reduction initiatives have the best effects when they target women,” explains programme manager Richard Geier, “because [women] are the most affected, under-employed, and they are the ones caring for children.”
UPPR’s committees provide the necessary support for members to embark on income-generating activities and obtain eco-friendly job skills training. They also assess the community’s needs in order to develop action plans for providing needed services, such as health facilities and legal assistance.
“We are mobilising community members, integrating them into community organisations, and this helps them become empowered to address their needs,” says Geier. “They used to be isolated, but now they know they can seek help.”
By the end of 2009, Bangladesh had more than 1,200 committees, consisting of 1.7 million people from 23 towns and cities.
The committees, which also encourage members to form savings and credit groups, are highly effective in promoting the kind of development local people want and need.
As a result of the committees’ work, the slums covered by the UPPR initiative now have 12,370 more latrines, 2,122 more tube wells, 46 more kilometres of drains and 128 more kilometres of footpaths.
The UPPR initiative’s strategy also includes policy advocacy, which helps to develop policies that support the poor and implement them at national and local government levels.
It’s a strategy that seems to be working so far.
By selling groceries and rearing goats, Begum has been able to replace her house’s flimsy bamboo walls with sturdier material and her family now eats three meals a day including vegetables and fish. Best of all, through her local community development committee she has a cadre of other women on whom she can rely for support.
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FILIPINO FASHION DESIGNERS IN HOLLYWOOD: SHOWCASING MANILA AS ASIA’S FASHION CAPITAL

February 16, 2011

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Good evening! Magandang gabi!

Manila media just recently released the good news about Filipino fashion designers making it good in Hollywood. Led by Monique Lhuiller, who hails from an entrepreneurial family back home, Hollywood entertainers’ eyes marveled over the works of the Pinoy fashion designers worn by some famous Hollywood personalities.

As a sociologist and economist, this is what I can say of the matter: Philippine fashion design had already reached a very high level of maturity at this juncture. Both domestically and overseas, Filipino fashion designers are making waves precisely due to the mastery of their respective crafts.

Like their counterpart in motion pictures & mass media production, who are able to found institutions of higher learning—inclusive of graduate schools—for motion pictures & tri-media production, the fashion designers have reached a level of mastery and esteem enabling them to teach the craft to enthused learners. I have no better wish, as a sociologist studying popular culture, than to see couples of fashion institutes rising sooner or later in Manila and Cebu, the nation’s top metropolises.

Just recently, the fashion design guru Pinoy Moreno won his National Artist Award. Some people in the art & culture circles raised some eyebrows about the matter. There surely are people with astigmatic interests, who just couldn’t see the very positive implications of awarding a fashion designer as National Artist. The Award is a testimony of the maturing of the fashion industry itself, and should be welcomed without reserve.

The wave-making trend of Filipino fashion designers is also a testament to the rise of Manila/Philippines as the Fashion Capital of Asia. This trend should be stressed to the world, at a time when the global economy has grown. Filipinos are no longer the copycat morons as far as fashion is concerned, we have graduated to that of trend-setter or avant garde in the fashion & culture domain.

Not only is the Manila/Philippines the Fashion Capital, it is also the Shopping Capital of Asia. It boasts of malls that are spacious and exquisitely designed in architecture, malls that serve as retail outlets and/or display centers for some of the works of fashion designers.

The Jurassic trend of Filipinos having to fly overseas just to buy some good fashion and quality garments is long gone. The trend now is for Filipinos to invite kins and friends overseas to come visit Manila and other key cities to do a shopping spree and appreciate the fashion designs done by our topgun designers who are also Asia’s fashion gurus today.

Incidentally, around 6/7 or 84% of fashion designers are in the couture business. So any enthused appreciator of our designers’ works should deliberately visit the couture shops to enjoy the exquisite works of the fashion masters. Only 1/7 or roughly 16% of the fashion designers are in the RTW business, either as consultant designers or as designer & owner of the business.

The likes of Ben Chan, for instance, are among designers who also own RTW chain of shops. The Bench brand owned by Chan happens to be the forward linkage for his design works. Both high end and mass markets are catered to by the Bench brand, and I’d say my own kudos to the likes of the noblesse gentleman.

Those in the fashion design as well as the shoe design should better look up to the motion pictures & tri-media production their models of institutional strengthening. The challenge is for both sectors to set foot in the universities to install special departments or institutes for fashion design. Fashion design should better broaden to integrate shoe design into it, and the broadened sector should establish a presence in the University of the Philippines or U.P. as exemplified by motion pictures & media production.

Clothing technology is already present in the U.P. The presence of clothing in my alma mater should be a stepping stone to opening up a learning institute for fashion design since this new domain of arts & culture is giving a very positive name for the Philippines.

As a long-time educator, I recognize that setting foot in the premier university is a yardstick of the maturity of any sector in the country. Fashion designers, from couture to shoe design, better count me among their appreciative allies. May the tribe of fashion gurus—coming from our masters of the fashion craft—increase and multiply.

[Philippines, 13 February 2011]

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GLOBALIZING CHRISTMAS

December 9, 2010

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

Christmas is now nearing as of this writing. Christmas bell tolls, kids’ carols, merry songs & dances are now up in the air, inviting everyone else to share the spirit of fun and camaraderie.

 

A Christian and sectarian holiday Christmas is, no one doubts this. Granted that Christmas is a sectarian affair, is it possible to transform it into a global/universal, multi-cultural event? There are apparently two (2) perspectives that clash concerning the matter.

 

From the point of view of fundamentalist, ultra-conservative church practitioners, whether Christian or non-Christian, Christmas is a sectarian affair and should not veer into cultural spaces not meant for its observation. A Muslim fundamentalist would throw monkey wrench at any attempt to globalize Christmas, and the same may be true for those fundamentalists of other denominations.

 

From the vantage point of a non-fundamentalist, cosmopolitan person, Christmas is one occasion that Christians can share to others. It is a multi-cultural affair, and it belongs to the whole of humanity for that matter. Ergo, everyone on Earth better attunes to the Christmas spirit and feel the ‘family of mankind’ fraternal bonds that the affair espouses.

 

As to where I stand in that polarity of perspectives, I am among those who wish to share the Christmas spirit as a multi-cultural blessing. Born a Catholic, but now a freethinker who espouses post-church spirituality, I remain attuned to the Christmas holidays just the same for the reasons stated above.

 

Christianity is a cult of Jesus, and I will have nothing to do with following or propagating such a cult. Esoteric Christianity, however, isn’t the same as the folk Christianity of the flocks who regard Jesus as a cult figure, and I squarely stand on the grounds of this mystical version of Christianity.

 

Esoteric Christianity teaches universal brotherhood among its core lessons. Universal brotherhood, a battle cry of cosmopolitan esotericists, is still a very valid principle to stand up for. It is the ethos that permits a soul to go beyond the bounds of sectarian precepts, embrace fellow humans as co-family members, and build a culture of dialogue across the planet.

 

I do hope that the more cosmopolitan Christians would consciously invite non-Christians to be part of the holidays, truly embrace their non-Christian brothers and sisters, and allow the latter to participate in such year-end party rituals as gift-giving. And, invite the non-Christians to 24th of December midnight gathering, where they can sit by the Christmas tree and partake of the food blessings for the occasion.

 

Non-Christians who may not be invited by Christians in their homes on the 24th & 25th of December can also go ahead and celebrate the affair with their families and friends on the said dates. Nothing is wrong for them to put up a Christmas tree at home and party on the 24th midnight and on the 25th of December. And, at the end of the month, celebrate New Year’s Eve too.

 

In the Philippines, the transformation of Christmas into a multi-cultural event has already been going on in the 60s till 1972. Unfortunately, the Mindanao War came, a Christian-Muslim schism was propagated, and Muslims became reluctant to celebrate Christmas with their brethrens among Christians.

 

I just hope that the tide of cleavages is now ebbing and ceasing. We formally recognize Muslim and Chinese occasions in this country, and so it would be fitting for all Filipinos including Chinese and Muslims to celebrate Christmas as well. By Chinese I refer to those Chinese who are Buddhist, Daoist, atheist, or non-Christian.

 

The occasions for Christmas parties are now going on, from one organization to another, and so it is best for us all to participate in these events. And, comes the 24th-25th of the month, celebrate Christmas at home as a ritual occasion to solidify family bonds. Then, comes the New Year’s Eve, celebrate with a Big Bang accompanying a party or gathering.

 

Peace be with you! Advanced Happy Holidays!

 

[Philippines, 08 December 2010]

 

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