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Aid: A Philippine Story I was at the best 'couch potato' version of myself as I watch a replay of Pinoy Abroad, a travel

show highlighting Overseas Filipinos and their adventures as they work on foreign lands. As I watch the show I've found out a very inspiring story which for me can summarize my vision for aid and development. The episode highlighted Overseas Filipinos who helped the poor living at Smokey Mountain, a former dumpsite at the heart of Manila who, I could say, became one of the country's greatest miracles. From a dumpsite and an image of misery and hopelessness, the community stood up and developed itself with the help of the government, volunteer organizations, individuals, and of course, aid. What is striking about the Smokey Mountain story is the model of aid assistance that they employed. As they are finding a partner to help themselves build the community, the New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAid) entered the picture. With the assistance of Filipinos in New Zealand, the agency gave them a grant of Php 6.2 million ($141,000) to build their community market. The marketplace, with 2 floors and 70 stalls for small entrepreneurs, became the community's biggest asset, helping small businessmen earn a living and giving the community association additional funds to improve the neighborhood. But what's striking with the Smokey Mountain program is that the aid doesn't stop after the grant was given. Called the replication program, after

the Smokey Mountain recovered their investment on their project, they gave back the grant to another community in Angono, Rizal (a suburb of Manila). They gave them Php 3.8 million ($87,000) to build a community center which now house a cooperative, a pharmacy, offices for the community assembly and trucks that supply clean water to the relocation site. This, I could say, would be the model of aid and development that I vision for the future. Aid without strings attached, aid that is selfless, aid that empowers communities and helps them share the blessings to other communities in the process. To a certain extent, aid is a taboo word here in the Philippines. In news programs, people often have their eyebrows raised whenever they hear that a foreign institution such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund gives aid or loans to the government. Aid is something equated to corruption and bribery here, as what was proven with the string of scandals presidents and high-ranking officials were involved to. One project which aims to connect Manila to a new international airport via rail was tainted with scandal when it was found that a portion of the $400 million loan given by China to the Philippine government was advanced and spent, obviously, not for the construction of the railway. It was speculated that the money went to corrupt officials' pockets. With all these issues, people would sometimes even blame those aid as the reason why development in the country is stalled. Ironic that the money being given by these institutions was supposed to help the country develop was now being blamed for our problems. To speak

honestly, I do not believe aid is all negative. Yes, as what one of my professors told me, aid sometimes has some strings attached, with tied conditions such as liberalization of the economy. This may be the reason why ordinary citizens see foreign agencies and institutions as some sort of monsters. However, as what I have seen with the Smokey Mountain story, aid could always be tapped in a positive way, fulfilling the purpose it was meant for. It would be high time to have a model of aid that will deviate from the normal government-to-government transactions. What made the Smokey Mountain project successful was that the grant appealed directly to the community without the usual red tape and bribery that you see on the higher levels. Aside from the foreign partner, fellow Filipinos helped them manage their application and the execution of the project. The grant was small but was used efficiently, even earning enough to support another community project. I always believe that aid would be more effective if people would be able to direcly handle its execution. Since they are in the grassroots, they knew exactly what they need, the problems they face and the methods they can use to address it. Small, direct grassroots aid would appeal to indigenous communities and to the poor who have less access to funding but capable of using whatever amount efficiently. Aid would be more effective for its purpose if it would work to the advantage of the community and not for the people who gave the aid. What makes foreign aid unappealing to most people nowadays is because of its nature, oftentimes favoring the interests of Western industrialized countries.

Let the agencies be selfless in giving by letting the people work on all of the project's phases, such as bidding of contracts or to the training of staff. Foreign agencies should assist the grantees instead of having them hostaged. Finally, aid would be great if will teach people the value of giving back. The money being given to the beneficiaries should serve as a seed, and when it earns, it could be given to other deserving communities for their projects. In that way, local communities can be empowered to provide aid rather that having themselves dependent on these sources. Money will grow and flow and will benefit the whole economy if efficently tapped. I have high hopes that in the future, I could see other inspiring stories such as of the Smokey Mountain. It just shows that people can change their fate if they are teached to fish and not just given one.