Life here in Catarman is unfathomably different to Australia. Poverty is incomprehensible until you are submerged in it. Even then I will always be an outsider observing from a safe distance.
I truly believe the average Australian has no idea how wealthy we are. Who I would consider poor in Australia can still drink water from the tap and often will own a fridge, television, a car or maybe all three.* Here you are considered wealthy if you own any of those items; my manager does not own a fridge or a car for example (but she has a TV, and people seem quite concerned that I do not want to own one).
This is forcing me to rethink and redefine poverty and what it is to be considered poor; not only the immediate physical implications of poverty (health, shelter, education) but the mental limitations, lack of self worth and the social stigma. Northern Samar has a large population of rural poor who earn P3000 per month for a family of five (just under AU$100) and only 48% of children finish Elementary School.
I am facing my own social boundaries with the colour of my skin (and my height boundaries getting in and out of tricycles and pedicabs). I met an academic yesterday who said I was the nicest white person he has ever talked to. “White people are arrogant, they think that they own us,” said Freddy who lectures in social studies at UEP. After the initial language barriers, I am also up against centuries of Western oppression and a bloody history of enslavement. In short, white people are pricks.
*I’m not including Indigenous Australians in this assertion. Poverty in Australia is as harsh and real as it is in developing countries. Whilst only 20% of Caucasian Australians die before 65, 70% of Indigenous people do.