THERE she sits, day in and day out, rain or shine, on the corner of a sidewalk on Gorordo Ave. not far from where one turns into Perpetual Succour Hospital, trying to sell her packets of candy, chicharon and other junk food to rushing passersby. Next to her sits a drooling infant strapped into a sagging babystroller, flailing its arms and legs when it isn’t sleeping. The fumes from car exhausts and dust from the road is everywhere. When it drizzles or rains hard, she ties an old umbrella over the baby carriage. Now and then, when the child, who looks a little over a year old, starts to cry, she takes it out of its seat and bares a breast to suckle it.
I take this route down Gorordo several times a week. I flinch each time I pass by that scene. Recently, I decided to stop at the sidewalk. I’d gone prepared with a bottle of water, baby food, towelettes and disposable wipes to give to the mother.
I engaged her in conversation asking if there was any way she could keep the child at home with someone, away from all the pollution and noise. No, there wasn’t, she said. Her mother was already looking after three other unruly children. What about her husband, I asked. She said he drove a habal-habal.
What else did she feed her baby? She sometimes gives a banana, she told me, as well as water. How did she come to and go from that spot everyday, I asked, and how far did she have to go to get home? She mumbled a reply, accepting the things I handed her.
I’ve never felt more helpless in my life. I’m not a wealthy philanthropist who can open shelters for children around the city.
I’m just an ordinary citizen who cringes at the sad scenes one sees in the nooks and crannies of this city. I wondered if there’s a Social Welfare office that could help this unfortunate woman.
Since the area she’s in falls under the jurisdiction of Kamputhaw, I went to the barangay office there. I was directed to the section called the Women’s Desk where I met two earnest women who said they’ve seen the woman and have talked to her, “Gibadlung na namo.” Warning her from what, I wondered. I asked if there’s such a thing as a child care center in the city where working women can leave their children temporarily; they said yes, there’s one in Carreta, but it’s quite a way from Gorordo. They said they’d talk to her again, but I did not probe into what they could actually do for her, knowing all the constraints faced by government agencies.
The disparity between the haves and have-nots in this country is nothing new. It stares us in the face every single day.
The lucky few live comfortably well; others manage decently through hard work, while for most of the others, like the woman on Gorordo, the struggle to survive is a frustrating exercise, like an unending problem that keeps repeating itself. A society that’s incapable of providing the basic necessities of life for those most in need is a country’s shame.
It’s a custom during the holiday season for well-off folks to display their charity by engaging in gift-giving gestures toward indigent groups, while businesses think they’re fulfilling their “corporate responsibility” by making public shows of their charitable work among the unfortunate souls around them.
Any feelings of guilt are dispelled by token acts of giving which really don’t make a dent on the problem.
Meanwhile, too many heedless people seem to consider their main purpose in life is to indulge themselves and their relatives, while ignoring life’s realities of what’s going on in their communities. (By Isabel Escoda, Cebu City)