Lydia, a widow in her late 30's and with five (5) children to rear, lives in one of the poorest rural places in South East Asia. Just like majority of the women in the said place, Lydia is a homemaker used to spending most of her time attending to their young children's needs even during the time when her husband was still strong to till the soil of their landlord. Despite the hardships however, Lydia and her husband were happy and contented with what they have, with the only one full meal a day, and even without the basic needs for their children. But their happy humble days was cut short, Lydia was left alone, she was in “limbo” and didn't know how to cope with the sad situation. She had no choice but to learn to face the problem with the help of a community worker in their place.
Lydia is accustomed to a slow-paced life in their town. Initially, she had no difficulty dealing with the family's acute austere life style, trying to act now as both the mother and father of the household. Without realizing what she was doing, without too much concern about the future of her children, she taught them about life, her own way, particularly on how to be satisfied and thankful for everything. Not being able to graduate elementary herself and naïve of the existing privileges and assistance provided by their Government to family like hers, she allowed her kids to grow and stay at home. Her oldest child for instance who is turning 10 yrs. old, has not been able to go to school as she has already been given a responsibility to take care of her younger siblings at a young age while their mother works at a neighbor's house as a household helper with a measly daily salary of less than $2/day, and without social security benefits. The community worker called her attention and discussed the matter with Lydia specifically on the right of her children to formal education and other health related services.
The foregoing depressing situation being experienced by Lydia's family is not an isolated case. There are billions of people out there in distressed and poorer countries who are encountering the same problems as Lydia's, left with no choice but to be satisfied living with daily income of less than $2 or even worse, with only a dollar , or even less than that or with nothing at all. Can we blame these people, can we point a finger at and accuse them of making themselves miserable? For sure, if you will ask them, especially the rural poor, they will not complain, they will just coyly respond to you with a smile on their faces or sometimes their heads bowed down, and say “we're okay”, “we have been into this for a long time, we have been used to it”, we're truly thankful to God for our lives”, and so on and so forth. Believe me, the rural poor are on the conservative side, they are timid vis-a-vis the urban poor who are more conscious, vocal and assertive of their human rights.
The truth is, poor people just like Lydia, would not want to be poor all the time, all their lives. They didn't make it up. More so, they did not formulate a medium or long term plan on how to be “professional poor”. They have actually been dug in to the very bad situation that they are in, such that they find it very difficult to rise up in view of so many constraints, e.g. lack of resources, lack of education, lack of right connections, lack of opportunities or probably “lack of luck”. No person, in his right mind, would want or desire a life without food to eat, water to drink, clothes to wear, no access to education, healthcare and the like. Logic dictates that every person would want, at least, the basic necessities of life, much more for a quality life.
The aforesaid observation is in response to certain groups who are still skeptical about the true character of a poor man, and still hesitant to share their wealth to these people because of the notion that poor people became who, what and where they are now primarily due to laziness. This is also in response to the claims of some political figures that cash grants are costly, a waste of time and money than other proposed legislative measures such as the reproductive health bill. These are the same groups who have expressed reservations on certain Government-initiated programs that are expected to alleviate poverty in the short and long term. One program which still elicits opposing views in certain countries is the controversial so-called “Conditional Cash Transfers” (CCTs).
CCTs are considered as one of the financial tools available and provided by some Governments in collaboration with multilateral institutions such as the World Bank (WB) to the poorest of the poor in the society. It is one of the programs designed to help end poverty in certain countries, specifically by providing financial assistance, normally in the form of cash grants, to qualified poor beneficiaries, subject to certain terms and conditions. Basically, CCT is geared towards improvement in poor children's economic status as far as their education and heath care are concerned. The program has been in existence more than a decade ago and was first successfully implemented in Latin America, particularly in Brazil and Mexico. Based on WB impact studies and policy reports, CCT has had positive effects on poor households especially those with children such as, among others, in reducing poverty, in raising the utilization of education and preventive health services and also in household consumption (go to world bank website for further details).
In view of the successes and effective lessons learned from the Latin American's experience on CCT, other poor and developing countries such as that of Lydia's have followed suit and replicated the said program in their own native lands. As a matter of fact, advanced nations such as the United States, likewise tested this program but on a different context, on a much higher level. One example was the program initiated by NYC Mayor Bloomberg's office to promote quality learning for quality students by giving cash benefits or rewards to them should they be able to hurdle the State's Examinations. What a privilege! How lucky the NYC students are! However, the said arrangement appeared to have not much impact on the students as there were certain issues raised on this matter.
CCT likewise helps in empowering poor women in the society. One of the requirements of CCTs is that the money is to be released to women, normally to mothers in the family. The mothers are given the responsibility to do the funds budgeting and spending in behalf of the kids for their daily school and health care needs. Normally, mothers are perceived to be nurturing and more concerned on their children. Remitting the funds directly to the older women (e.g. mothers) in the family was proven to be effective as the mothers were frugal than men. Some men are seen to be more care free based on observations in certain environments where most of the men spent a portion, if not all, of their earnings for drinking, and other non-essential things. However, such financial arrangement on releases may be hostile to some male egotists in the family and may have negative effects on them in the long run, affecting the children's welfare.
Going back to Lydia's case, fortunately she was able to avail of the financial assistance with the help of their local community/social worker. Two of her kids are now enrolled in a public elementary school and used some of the money to buy school bags, uniform, slippers, shoes and other necessary school materials. All of their children have also been taken regularly to the health centers or clinics for physical examination and she started to buy milk and other nutritious food for her children. Without the CCTs and the help of their Government, Lydia would not be able to give her kids the right attention and care to them if she only relied on her own resources. However, in addition to the money given to her family by the Government, she got involved herself in livelihood programs where she is now a member of a cooperative making roofing shingles from palm tree.
Using Lydia's family case as an example, CCT proved to be extraordinarily essential in her quest to make her children get out of poverty and at least taste what quality life is. She's now fully aware and has realized that CCT is not a form of mendicancy, that it would not be there forever, as such, she's really doubly working hard for her children's future. Six (6) or seven (7) yrs. henceforth, two of them will hopefully complete elementary grade, a start of their childhood dreams, maybe a form of investment on Lydia's part but it is the only legacy which she can leave to her children.
With the CCTs, Lydia truly hopes that her family would be able to overcome their difficult yet challenging travel even on rough and chocolate roads to economic recovery!!