‘Humans of Payatas’ Gives a Glimpse of the Inspiration and Strength of Those in the Slums

Imagine witnessing the death of hundreds of people at once. As a child. This is traumatic enough. But what follows relives the same trauma in different ways. Day after day you struggle to break the glass ceiling; to even get to school, let alone do well in school. And when you do manage to get there you’re hungry, tired, and sleepy. It’s hard-work trying to stay awake and avoid your hunger pangs, let alone study.

Eventually you can’t keep up, grades slip, and it’s just not worth it anymore. You have to work as a child to help find money to feed you and your siblings. You’re stuck in a dead end job from 7 years old. And instead of learning about all the possibilities the world has to offer, you learn how you’re stuck with the life you were born in.

People Learn Helplessness

What stops you here? Not your own effort. Not your own hard-work. At some stage most people realise that there’s nothing they can do about their situation and you learn to stop trying. Because every time you try, and I mean every time, you cannot succeed. I don’t mean you didn’t try enough to succeed, I mean you physically and mentally can not.

Research shows two things are impossible for the brain to move beyond: chronic sound and chronic pain. No mindset, no motivational speeches, and no support can break the negative cycle of this. You have to live with it and it permanently reduces your life potentials. Living in poverty combines both of those. You’re hungry and can’t focus, tired because you couldn’t sleep much the night before – the tiny houses cramped together mean you hear after movement the neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours make. You’re just getting over the latest round of flu that spread through those tiny shacks like wildfire. It creates a cycle known as learned helplessnessI wrote about that for Fairplay before here.

Every single one of us, if we were born in the same situation, would have grown up the same. We would have learned the same. We would act the same.

This is the image of the slums we all know. Desperation, heartbreak, pity. We may not have understood why poor parents have so many kids or why some people have just given up but we all have some impression like this of those living below the poverty line.

Hello From The Other Side

But there’s a side so many of us don’t really see. Having lived in Payatas for 6 years now, one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines, I am privileged to see this every day.

I am entirely driven by a need to understand more of what’s around me. To learn and to understand why something is the way it is or why someone is the way they are. Too often we don’t do the simplest of things when trying to understand someone else. Listen.

This is true in academia too. I recently read a review of related literature on the Psychology of Poverty. It was well written and interesting, but only two or three of the 40 or so studies had actually interviewed and studied poor people. The rest were simulations in a lab.

You miss so much by ignoring the poor. We all see the stories of desperation. We all see the pictures of a decimated  child wasting in the arms of their mother as a charity asks for $2 a month to feed them. But so rarely do we hear anything from the people in the photographs. And when you don’t reach out to people on a genuine level, i.e. listen to them, you miss so much of their strength, their humour, their resilience, their creativity, their inspiration.

We all know the bad, but less of us have seen the good. And that’s why we started Humans of Payatas.  To share these stories. How people find their meaning and their dreams, how people work hard for their families, how people fall in love.

People here in Payatas don’t want someone to swoop in and make their dreams come true. They just want a path so that when they work hard every day, struggle and strive to improve themselves, they aren’t continually blocked by other things, they aren’t continually told there isn’t enough money, enough time, enough people.

People here don’t want handouts. They want justice. They want opportunities. They want what we all deserve.

And our first step to helping them is to listen. It’s to recognise they have something important to say and that we can learn so much from them.

____

If you want to help level the playing field then check out http://www.fairplayforall.org and see how you can get involved. 

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