by Amélie Lenninger
What is the ATD Forum?
By definition, a forum is a meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged. The ATD Forum is more than an exchange of ideas among people. It allows people struggling against chronic poverty to gather, to express what they are living and to reflect about it together with people from all walks of life.
It is a meeting place where all voices are heard with respect, between and among individuals from different backgrounds. With this interaction, participants learn from one another ways to fight extreme poverty and social exclusion.
The ATD Forum Committee consists of community facilitators and volunteers who are responsible for preparing forum discussions in communities as well as a general forum gathering. Once a topic is chosen (usually a current news event or issue suggested by the communities), the forum is held with participants from the ATD communities in Manila and relocation sites.
What makes the ATD Forum unique is that the community members facilitate the discussion. They invite every one to participate by encouraging and eliciting responses, without correct or wrong answers.
“How to cope with the increase of basic commodities prices and transport fare?”
Last June 2018, a forum was held to discuss a relevant issue. A reality strongly affecting every one: inflation.
The forum started with an icebreaker activity – to create a family budget and prioritize basic goods’ expenses. Each participant described their work status, income or wages, and family members with jobs. For each one, it is a constant challenge to fit within their family budget the basic commodity expenses. A total of 72 community members shared their stories.
“Sometimes the money is too short. I really need to budget it. Of course, I first take care of my children and then me.” – Emy
“We [my husband and I] don’t fight. What we do is if he does not have work then I would tell him I would work since we don’t have any budget anymore for food so I must find work. If what I earn is still not enough then we both need to work. Like tomorrow, I would go to Las Piñas and work while he is selling. Since we are both penniless we cannot go home [to Norzagaray, a resettlement area] because we don’t have money and there is no source of income there. “ – Janet
“Once we were begging money to car passengers. Well, we saw the DSWD people who called the Barangay. They asked me: Mommy, why is your child asking for help? Here, we are really looking forward to earning money. I’m just a newbie. It’s really worthless. I cannot afford their studies. I know it.”
After the Forum in communities, the Forum Committee members met last July 2018 to evaluate their observations.
“I like that everyone in Tulay was reacting and actively participating. People were completing each other.” – Rachel
“At Tulay, it was nice to learn how people are supporting each other.” – Gloria
A longtime community facilitator, Lolita Mercado (Ate Lita as we fondly call her) shared her observations. Her story encapsulates the voices from the community regarding inflation.
Ate Lita (on the left) facilitating Forum in Balagtas
Ate Lita’s Story
” My name is Lolita Mercado. I live in the Manila North Cemetery. I joined ATD in 2005. Then I became a facilitator in 2010.
I am learning a lot as an ATD facilitator and member because we are able to visit different communities. Right now we have programs in seven communities. These experiences allow us to improve our skills as facilitators. First, through the activities we conduct in the communities. Second, in events where we discuss various issues that are affect our society and ATD’s programs.
Our forum topic was about the effects of inflation. Indeed, the recent inflation has massive effect not only in our communities but also in the whole country experiencing poverty brought about by rising prices…
I visited three communities. In each community, their negative feedbacks on the inflation are very apparent. The prices of goods have risen but their wages remain the same. But they’ve become resilient by entertaining themselves by trying to take things lightly as if they are not challenged by the crisis, as if things are “just fine.”
They’d often say, “we’re okay,” as if inflation does not really affect them. But in reality, as they say those words, you could feel the difficult situation they’re in as we interviewed them.
It’s very challenging. In Norzagaray, the respondent has a big family. But only one family member has work. During the discussion, this woman almost cried. She is so burdened with the responsibility of being the sole earner for the family. As I remember they’re nine in the family. There are babies and children who are still studying. She is so overwhelmed by their family’s situation.
Community members from under-the-bridge are prioritizing expenses of the family budget
The policemen are always suspicious of people living in my community, in the cemetery. As if all the illegal things happen solely in the cemetery. We just want a peaceful community. Compared to other communities, the North Cemetery has violent experiences related to drugs or illegal arrests. Other communities are more peaceful. This is the very reason why we are earnestly pushing for the relocation.
In Balagtas, they are more organized and self-disciplined. When you are talking a person, no one interrupts you. They also come on time for a meeting.
In Norzagaray, our interview also went well. They are peaceful but it is sad to know how poverty became much worse in these communities even if they have a more decent housing. Their income is not enough to sustain their needs. They still have no stable income. One example, a family should have started paying off some debt but they could not raise PhP 5,000 per week. Maybe it is enough to really just budget what you have to just survive.
If each family earns at least PhP 20,000 per month, that’s PhP 5,000 a week. It is barely enough to cover the meals for a family of 10 members with insufficient funds to cover other expenses due to rising prices. This is so important to the families living in Norzagaray where they earn so much less than what they need.
It’s easy to see on their faces how difficult their lives are, as if there is no “change.” Our lives, instead of becoming better, have become more difficult. The poor became so much poorer.”