SINCE last week, parents looking for ways to encourage their children to study have found a touching poster boy in Daniel “Biboy” Cabrera, the nine-year-old whom the student Joyce Torrefranca photographed studying by the lights of a fast food outlet’s drive-through lane. If Biboy can study with what little light he has borrowed, we imagine parents saying, you have no excuse for slacking off when you have so much to work with.
The response has been encouraging. Many tracked down the makeshift stall that Biboy’s family calls their home and gave school supplies, solar-powered lights and other essentials. Yet as meaningful and valuable these responses have been, the challenges that families like Biboy’s face are at once larger and less visible.
Yolanda, which struck some 20 months ago, drove 1.5 million more Filipinos into “extreme hardship” and stripped as many as six million individuals of their jobs.
This is one of the key points in the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) report “To foster inclusive growth, tackle inequality and climate change,” posted on its website last week.
But as the story of Biboy showed us, often it’s one face or one detail that grabs our attention. Most mainstream media outlets latched on to a snippet from the report’s summary—that 30 percent of the funds for the conditional cash transfer program didn’t reach poor families—and politicians quickly ran with it, with some members of Congress now calling for an inquiry. (That the leaks dated back to 2009 and have since been limited, both ADB and social welfare department officials tried later to explain.)
An equally important part of the report was that for all its flaws, the conditional cash transfer program has made it easier for beneficiaries to qualify for jobs and to protect their families from environmental shocks. This was a key point, too: in order to protect more people from calamities, the ADB report said, it is crucial that pre-existing inequalities—in access to schools, health care and job opportunities—be addressed.
The report does not say that conditional cash transfers are the best or, indeed, the only way to go about fixing these deep-seated inequalities. It cautiously says that a more long-term assessment is necessary. The challenge, for anyone who cares, is to keep pushing for solutions even when no one’s looking; to keep seeing the Biboys who live among us, long after the media hubbub has died down.