Helping ‘well-meaning’ social devt amateurs from abroad

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO, Institute for Migration and Development Issues

MANILA – CLICKS at the mouse press Antonina “Tonette” Binsol’s attachment to her homeland.

At one click, Binsol barrages Yahoo! email groups with numerous appeals to raise funds for an Aeta child’s scholarship, a livelihood project, and multiple other development initiatives. At another, this assistant manager at Mizuho Securities in Japan has raised the needed amounts and sends the money to intended beneficiaries.

The Institute for Migration and Development Issues is inviting everyone to Pursuing Efficiency and Meaning by ‘Changemakers:’ The Second National Conference on Filipino Migrant Philanthropy, set August 1 and 2 at the University of Santo Tomas-Thomas Aquinas Research Complex. Participation costs P500 per person .Inquiries and expressions of interest may be sent online (ofw_philanthropy[@]yahoo.com) and by mobile phone (+639178238260).

All that philanthropic effort Binsol tries to execute —from the first mile (Japan) to the last mile (the Philippines)— using her computer. She never forgot thanking 50 Filipino donors from seven countries through the website of Binsol’s cyber nonprofit group Tulong Pinoy Movement, www.tpmovers.org.

Binsol won’t be clicking her mouse anymore: the 36-year-old died in Japan recently. “She tries to ensure that the resources are used properly,” shares Rotarian Jimmy Cura during Binsol’s wake here in Singalong area. “Tonette is trying to put a system to her efforts at helping the Philippines.”

It has been a best-effort basis for migrant philanthropy, an endeavor Binsol does “’so well’ and with all heart,” says Francisco Aguilar, Jr., another former overseas Filipino. Hundreds of other Filipinos abroad, grouped as members of the same Pinoy hometown, the same neighborhood overseas, the same Alma Mater, and more of whatever are similar in them, manage whatever they can just to help.

Some of these Filipino overseas donors admitted they need help to their private philanthropy, last recorded in 2003 as a US$218 million resource that’s already a third of the same year’s official development aid from foreign governments (some US$776 million).

“We cannot always do the dirty work from our end,” says Honesto Tria of the US-based Save-a-Tahanan, Inc. (STI). For 20 years, a partner back home —Save-a-Tahanan Movement Philippines— has been implementing grassroots community projects in five provinces with at meager total budget of US$5,000 a year.

It is even hard to raise funds for such long-term community development work, narrates chair Marisa Robles. “We are just a ‘mom-and-pop’ group, and STI is happy to have survived this long.”

In spite of that, recent studies in migrant philanthropy have posed a hard reality: Even if Filipino migrant donors address “immediate needs” like food, school supplies, and medical equipment, the developmental impact of these is “piecemeal,” writes Filipino-Canadian Jon Silva in his master’s thesis at Simon Fraser University.

This situation “already undermines the perception that these (donations) are worthwhile,” Silva observed.

These Filipinos abroad, who are primarily workers and residents in foreign lands, are not professional social development workers, observes American Fulbright scholar Shawn Powers in his evaluation of four US-based Filipino donor groups’ projects. “They are ‘well-meaning amateurs.’”

But Filipino migrant philanthropy has another side to it: nonprofit groups, government agencies, and a host of other stakeholders ask money directly from them. These groups have the machineries in place so that migrant donors do not worry much where the donations went or if these were misused.

Take Gawad Kalinga, whose socialized housing program costs P50,000 per home, as an example: P210 million from overseas Filipino donations, equaling to 4,200 homes to poor Filipinos.

When the Bacolod City-based Negros Economic Development Foundation helped facilitate the P100,000 donation of Negrosanon USA for water systems in identified barangays in the city, “they were happy and learned the value of working with a partner in the Philippines,” narrates Executive Director Rose Depra.

Given the prominence of overseas Filipinos as a target market (both as billion-dollar consumers and as million-dollar donors), everybody wants a piece of migrants’ disposable and “investible” incomes.

But when one gets to face them, and hears their own problems while overseas, “you will just pause and say I’ll not yet ask money from them,” narrates development NGO worker Anna Leah Sarabia during her sortie with Filipinos in Canada last year.

Migrant philanthropy can even be an anti-thesis if the donor from abroad is on the receiving end, like former Singapore-based domestic worker Luisa Tayco, whose deluge of family and business-related problems earlier this year just made her almost helpless.

While other Filipinos abroad have helped her in some way, she was quick to point at government agencies: “I have asked for a loan,” narrates the president of Pinokyos Welfare, “and I was just passed around from one office to another.”

“Isn’t it that we here at home should be the first ones to help overseas Filipinos?” asks Marietta Paragas of the Cordillera Network of NGOs and People’s Organizations (CordNet).

“We admit we need help in our development projects back home,” says Tria, carrying with him a P3 million project proposal (covering three years) that is looking for an interested local donor. STI has the money to match a local donor’s interest, he reminds.

STI still searches for help. So do migrant donors like Tayco, who clings on to a piggy bank in her Novaliches, Caloocan City canteen just to continue her Pinokyos spirit while reintegrating into mainstream Philippine society.

“I really want to help,” Tayco says, to the wonder of those who have helped her since she has been into all kinds of problems. “Please help us and our dreams for the country.”