A Fickle Allegiance

May 25, 2010

 

 

In the late summer of 1997, I found myself flying all over the Philippines at government expense. But I wasn’t just sight-seeing; I was working. My company, SIL Philippines worked in the country by a government contract to do language research, literacy work and Bible translation for the 120+ languages used in the nation. I was working as a literacy specialist, and serving in the PR department. We related to many different government agencies. Part of my job included representing SIL on the National Literacy Coordinating Council.

I don’t remember when they started giving awards for the best overall literacy programs in the country, but

The road to Hamtik, Panay, Aug. 1997

the Literacy Coordinating Council (LCC) was responsible for deciding who received the awards. As part of the council, I was one of the team chosen to go evaluate and make reports on five different programs. Something I saw on the news today made me think of one of those.

This particular journey was the final one of the five. I flew with four LCC men (my lady teammate couldn’t make it at the last minute!) to Panay Island to visit the “Army Literacy Patrol System.” I don’t remember the name of the remote town where the airport was. We all climbed into an army-issue weapons-carrier-type truck—I got part of the front seat next to the window, being the only female on the trip—and started out over the muddiest road I’d ever seen. Sliding and spinning up a steep grade, the heavy vehicle’s wheels slung mud onto my arm that was resting on the open window! When we reached the summit, we debarked at a school, where Colonel Pangantihon met us in his camouflage uniform and took us to a room for orientation.

 

We debarked at a school

 

Several other soldiers joined us, also dressed in camouflage. The room was neat but sparsely furnished. The Colonel explained that the Army Literacy Patrol System (ALPS) was taking the weapons of WAR—Writing, Arithmetic and Reading—into the hinterlands where rebel insurgency had long been a problem. He explained to us that the rebels were not criminals. They were simply discontent because their needs had not been met by the government. Therefore, rather than being treated as criminals, they needed to be treated as victims, and provided what was necessary to meet their needs. The soldiers were doing a terrific job teaching literacy (in the two classes we observed). They were also helping the community members set up cooperatives to market local products and assisting them with road improvements, clean water sources and simple health aids. In doing so, they had stemmed the tide of young people joining the insurgency.

Observing "W.A.R."

What made me think of it today was the state of emergency declared in Jamaica. On the other side of the law from the Colonel’s group, the benefactor in Jamaica is a dangerous criminal. He has won the hearts of the poor, however, through his philanthropy. They don’t care what he’s done wrong to others; he’s helped them and met their needs. The government is trying to extradite this modern-day Robin Hood (surnamed “Coke”) to the U.S. where he is to stand trial for many violent, drug-related criminal charges. And people are fighting to keep him in the country because he “takes care” of them.

The stark contrast between the two scenarios is obvious. But beneath the surface hide subtle similarities. People in general will submit to whoever meets their needs. Communities will surrender their allegiance for a crust of bread, a new road, education for their children. The authority providing that assistance can be good or evil at the core. For society in general, that doesn’t seem to matter (at least in these two examples).

What about me? What about you? If we’re hungry, how far will we compromise or close our eyes to the truth in order to have our needs met? Whose hand will we eat from when the time comes and we’re suffering?

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