Why we need to listen more

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 18, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been hearing about Project Makinig from some people. I clicked on www.projectmakinig.ph and I discovered that it is a project by the Liberal Party to get young people involved by getting them to visit neighborhoods to find out what people think about their own lives, their dreams and the country.

It was patterned after US President Barack Obama’s successful efforts to organize his followers during his first campaign. In the US, it was a smashing success. It was only introduced here about three weeks ago and a few thousand volunteers have already joined.

The idea is to visit homes, ask questions and simply listen to their answers, and then send everything to a database for analysis. The interviewers also ask them if they wish to receive announcements, bulletins from the party. No attempt is made to foist or “correct” an opinion, or convert anyone to any side. The aim is to simply listen and write down what they say.

I went last Sunday to my first Makinig activity set in Project 3, Quezon City. We started at 9 a.m. I was with a group of five young people who had done this a few times. I was not sure whether my being recognizable would stand in the way of what we needed to do. I decided to find out for myself. 

We walked down some streets in Project 3, and randomly approached people to ask questions. Yes, I was recognized but I did not create a scene. They were friendly and some asked for selfies with me. They got over it soon after and willingly sat down to answer questions.

I won’t list down the questions but I shall give you an overview of what it covers. The questions try to find out what makes them happy, or sad. What are the things that stand in the way of personal goals. What can they do as ordinary people to help the country.

We interviewed around 30 to 50 people. We actually did not have to knock on doors. Most of them were already outside hanging out on the sidewalks that fronted their homes. They were grandmothers, housewives, students, young working people, sari-sari store owners, a guy pushing a kariton, a couple of istambays, tricycle drivers and a former barangay official.

I immediately noticed how easily welcome we were and how comfortable it was for them to share their stories.

All of them said that the biggest problem facing them and their families was high prices. They all feel the loss of their purchasing power. Someone pointed out that even if they receive money from relatives abroad, or work harder, the rise in prices negates any extra income. They can’t really move ahead. A young mother pointed out that with P1,000, she could only buy milk and diapers for a week. Nothing more. A grandmother complained that she can hardly afford her dialysis and complained that she could not even line up to get help from PCSO and other agencies because the lines are too long and the help she receives is too meager.

I was particularly touched by a sari-sari storeowner who told me it hurt her to have to raise the prices of goods in her little store. She knew everyone in the neighborhood and they were all having a harder time because of inflation. So she raised the prices a little but not enough to keep her from losing money. In short, she was taking the hit for everyone else.

The second issue that was close to their hearts was jobs and services. People felt they did not have job security or opportunities to earn enough to get ahead. A tricycle driver I met who was sitting shirtless near the store was ranting about everything. He blamed the President for all the promises that remained unfulfilled to this day. He complained about the lack of rice for his six children. He said he said he and his family were eating only two meals a day. He lamented that if he did not earn P500 a day, his kids would have to miss classes because they would have no allowance.

Two women we talked to were saving for a house that they will buy as soon as they have enough money. In a few years, perhaps they can. One ran a sari-sari store. She felt good about the future because her sons were given scholarships by their church. The other was a working mother. She had two children. She and her husband both work. She described her job as “manager of models.” 

When asked what they would do if they had the power to change things, one man said he would create more jobs. Others said they would make sure their basic needs were taken care of. The majority said they could not think of anything. Why? Because it was useless, they said. It won’t happen anyway.

Another issue that was brought up was drugs. Many felt that the presence of addicts had lessened in their neighborhood. One was thankful that her husband had stopped taking drugs. The barangay officials who were her neighbors had made sure to warn him every time a tokhang operation was conducted in the area. He would hide from the police. Eventually, he stopped his dangerous habit. 

A kariton pusher expressed great fear of being randomly picked up and being charged with drugs. He narrated that a friend’s son was accused by police of being an addict simply because he was thin and looked pale. While inspecting him, one of the police put a sachet of meth in his pocket. Then they forced the boy to drink something from a bottle, and then brought him for a drug test that resulted in a positive reading. He said the boy is still languishing in a rehab place.

As a final question, we asked them what they could do to help the country in their own simple capacities. One person said that we must all follow the law. Mostly everyone said that a way out of our problems is “magtulungan nalang tayo.”

All throughout the interviews, I noticed how easily they opened up. They had a negative view of politicians in general. I felt a range of emotions but mostly empathy. I looked into their eyes and listened to their answers attentively. Some were clearly appreciative  that they were being listened to. You could feel their pain while, at the same time, you marveled at how they could get through their suffering with dignity.

One woman said she felt very sad every time there was news about corruption because it meant money that could have helped communities such as theirs ended up lining the pockets of politicos.

I also noticed how many of them looked so much older than their years. One man who seemed to be the village drunk talked about being an old man and feeling there was nothing he could do to help. He was only 56 years old.

For years, I had only gotten a sense of how people felt through social media, a few surveys and the occasional taxi drivers who liked to express their views. Talking to strangers face to face, right where they live, gives you knowledge and experience that go beyond referring to their answers as mere cold numbers. This exercise makes them more human in my eyes, to say the least. When the istambay was talking about his kids not having baon for school, I felt his frustration. Even if I had no solution to his problem, I humbly gave him P200 and told him that this week, the kids would be able to go to school. When we had a pic together, I put my arm around him as we both smiled.

On my way home, I had a lot to think about. I was a little sad. There are so many problems that need to be solved. But they made me feel hopeful because I felt the people I met were basically good people. Yes, even those who stood on the other side my political leanings. I understood the widespread cynicism I encountered.

But I also can’t help but feel energized. Everyone wished for the same good things — jobs, peace and order, opportunities, and a better life. How do we all work together to achieve that? I thought to myself. There is so much I need to understand about my fellow Filipinos.

I am joining more Makinig sessions. I need to listen more before I can really help.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/11/18/1869380/why-we-need-listen-more#C8v80uM1lyF8tAwE.99

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