Oct 07 2007
Meet Jasper. Jasper is a resident of Saint Dominic Village, a Habitat for Humanity community made up of 65 houses (eventually 92), one as of yet un-staffed community center, 200 children (the average family has about six kids), one playground with a few rusty swings and a teeter totter.
Among the 200 children in Saint Dominic Village, only a handful attend school regularly. Almost all of the younger children live on their own for most of their days, as their parents head to the city to find work. Teenagers in the village attend school sporadically, often choosing to hang out in the village smoking pot, or to find work in the city to supplement their family income.
A typical family in Saint Dominic village will earn between 3 and 6 dollars a day, but only when there is work to be found. Some of the common jobs here include “tricycle” driver (these are motorcycles with side cars used as taxis in this part of the Philippines), jeepney driver, charcoal salesman, seamstress, laundry service, handicrafts, and the odd factory job (although these are scarce in this area as there is very little capital investment).
Most families in this village are thankful to have moved here, as the conditions from which they came were likely far worse than the 36 square meter concrete block houses of the village. Jasper, for example, lived in a 4 x 4 meter grass hut with mud floors alongside a drainage ditch polluted by a nearby factory along with his mother, father and five siblings before moving to Saint Dominic Village.
In order to be awarded a contract for a house in the village, Jasper’s parents had to prove to the local Habitat office that they were capable of maintaining a job and able to pay the monthly mortgage payment of $14 over the 15 year span of the contract. After 15 years, Jasper’s family will own the house outright, meaning the final cost of their house will be around $2500. Jasper’s family rarely makes its complete payments, but will not likely be asked to leave the village.
Jasper is eight years old. I learned this on my last day in Saint Dominic Village. I didn’t believe it, he looks like he is about four years old. Growing up in a 16 square meter grass hut, Jasper was malnourished and still is. He has never been to school.
Jasper is deaf and dumb. He does not know his own name. He cannot read or write, knows no sign language, and is entirely unable to communicate with anyone in any sort of effective manner. Jasper is picked on by all of the children in Saint Dominic Village and often retaliates by throwing rocks and punches in his frustration and confusion. His only friend is a dog, which he keeps close on a string, probably as protection from his peers.
Jasper’s older brother is in elementary school and is a popular, talented member of the community known for his good singing voice. Jasper cannot speak. Jasper has never seen the inside of a classroom. His parents work in the city every day and he is left to feed and take care of himself: no small feat for a boy who cannot hear or speak. Sometimes he goes days without food and is left to fend for himself in the village.
There are no services available in the Philippines for children like Jasper. There are no accommodations in public schools for children with special needs like deafness. Only private schools offer such services, and these cost upwards of $200 a month for tuition. Jasper’s parents can hardly (and rarely do) make their $14 a month payment on their house. Jasper has never seen a doctor and most of the villagers do not even realize that he is deaf; whether this is because they do not know what deafness is or simply have never paused to determine the degree of Jasper’s disability is uncertain.
Jasper helped us build a house for Saint Dominic Village. He loved shoveling gravel and moving empty buckets back to where they could be filled. He also loved playing games with the volunteer builders; our students did not judge Jasper based on his disabilities. He had the cutest smile in the village, but in a second the smile could turn to fury as Jasper lacks the ability to express his emotions in any way other than overt aggression.
As I think about this eight year old boy living in a malnourished, undersized body, never having been to school, unable to communicate with anybody in the world, left to fend for himself in a village full of children who endlessly pick on him, I can’t help but wonder what will become of him.
What if Jasper were a boy living in a small town in America or Europe, Japan or Korea, Singapore or Hong Kong? Would his fate be different? Why are some communities and countries able to offer support and care to kids like Jasper, while others are not? What would and economist argue should be done to make Jasper’s life better? What would you suggest be done to help Jasper? What do you think are the root causes of the challenges faced by Jasper now and in the future? Are there simple solutions to there problems? Are there even any solutions at all?
What does Jasper’s story have to do with Economics? What does his story have to do with scarcity and allocation of resources? Think about these questions, share you ideas and insights in a comment. Have you ever met a child with the types of challenges faced by Jasper? If so, where?
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