Oct 07 2007

Meet Jasper – a snapshot of poverty in Southeast Asia

Published by at 6:25 pm under Development,Poverty

JasperMeet 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?

About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

14 responses so far

14 Responses to “Meet Jasper – a snapshot of poverty in Southeast Asia”

  1. Clementineon 08 Oct 2007 at 5:02 am

    I just want to write a check for Jaspers family. Thanks for putting things into perspective for me, I needed that. My heart hurts thinking what will happen to Jasper as he grows up and questions flood my brain as to how long a child like that can be a child; at what point is he a living adult with an adolescent mind and body? Thanks for blogging about Jasper, I needed that today.

  2. emilyyehon 08 Oct 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Jasper's plight provides a perfect example of how people weigh opportunity costs. In a village where people are struggling to survive, and receiving only the most basic education, finding a solution to Jasper's disabilities is very low on the priority list. His parents' limited income prevents his family from obtaining the products and services they need to support Jasper in living a more normal life like the other kids in the village.

    In Taiwan, there was originally this one deaf girl in my class at school, and possibly autism as well? It was easy to distinguish that she was disabled, and the teacher took extra time to speak loudly into her hearing aid. Still, a semester later, her parents transferred her into a school for the disabled so she would be able to learn more efficiently with more personal help. I guess that's the difference in where you live. Her parents were average income, but in Taiwan the resources are there for them to send her to school whereas Jasper doesn't get the same treatment.

  3. Christina Huon 09 Oct 2007 at 10:31 pm

    I can't help but wonder what will become of him either. His options are few; the disabled have no place in a society like that. The only options that would have been open to him would most likely have been manual labor. However, his fits of anger and inability to communicate will severely damage his chances of finding a willing employer.

    Jasper is living proof of the fact that resources are scarce. In his case, it's food, proper education, and medical help. The society he lives in is just too poor to be able to afford those things that we take for granted. I mean, every student at SAS can afford to pay $22,000 every year just for tuition and spend another couple thousand on optional trips. We have to admit it; we're all loaded in comparison to the villagers of St. Dominic Village. Jasper's entire HOUSE cost $2500, which will take 15 years to pay off, and which could not buy a tenth of the cars we own. His parents can barely afford the $14 monthly payment, whereas one trip to rendez-vous with a friend would surpass that amount. This story makes me feel so ashamed that a lunch at a decent restaurant here would be enough to pay their house rental for a month. And it makes me feel eating at Eurest, which, even by American standards, is ridiculously expensive. I mean, come on. Two bucks for a pie that's barely 3 inches in diameter. We're in CHINA. The cheap goods capital of the world. And yet I spend more on lunch here than I ever did in Connecticut, which is known for being expensive.

    To help Jasper, I could bail on Eurest just once a week and send the money I would have spent on lunch to his family. Within 6 weeks he would have enough to pay the monthly house rental bill.

  4. Mike Fladlienon 11 Oct 2007 at 7:10 pm

    This story shows that having child work does not exploit them when the alternatives are worse.

  5. Conrad Liuon 12 Oct 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Indeed, this is a perfect example of our resources dwindling at an alarming rate, scarce to begin with. Like many people already said, helping Jasper with his disability is of lowest priority, as his parents just do not have the money to help pay for the very things that could potentially lower the severity of Jasper's condition. Additionally, if one were to measure the opportunity cost of all of this, it can be seen that helping Jasper sacrifices the opportunity to perhaps save money to use on other things–namely, the house they must make monthly payments to. This article further emphasizes how fortunate we really are educationally and financially–obviously, us students use more money on luxery goods than Jasper's family pays monthly for the house. O.o hm might've been grammatically incorrect, but you get my drift.

  6. Nicole Wongon 15 Oct 2007 at 9:48 pm

    It was particularly the money issue that first prompted my to think about the allocation of resources. Whereas we spend our money away every day without thinking twice, Jasper's family treasures every single dollar because it is worth a lot more to them. We have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of what is perhaps an allocation of resources. With the wide variety of choices available to us, it is most definitely unfair that families like that of Jasper's barely make it by every day. However, that is not necessarily to say that if Jasper lived in a richer country, he would be richer and better off. Jasper's family would have to be a lot wealthier and his parents would need to have higher paying jobs for his disabilities to be tended by a doctor. There is still an uneven distribution of resources in the "first world" nations and it is for this reason that we cannot assume that all of Jasper's problems would disappear, had he lived in a country such as the United States or Singapore.

  7. yunqimokon 21 Oct 2007 at 9:31 pm

    It is so sad when one considers all the underpriviledged people of the world, especially children like Jasper. Life is already unfair enough to him as it is; additionally, he was born in the wrong place, with no one to help in. It is so, so sad to read that the other children alienate AND bully him. All the poor kid knows is rage and violence. His parents are too busy to help him, and everyone is so ignorant about these disabilities. If he were born in another country such as the US or Singapore, he would definitely be enrolled in a special school with full support by the governments, and life would have been so different. He could have learnt a special trade and be able to support himself when he grew up. At this rate, Jasper has no future, no hopes and nothing to look forward to.

  8. Jessica Chiangon 21 Oct 2007 at 11:41 pm

    Life is truly unfair. If you think about it, Jasper could have lived such a different life if he was born into another family, such as a middle-class American family. Jasper's family has a scarcity of money, and their priority is to make sure their family stays together and actually has a roof over their heads and food to eat. They don't have enough money to contact speech therapists or the like. Perhaps Jasper's family and friends will be able to make up their own system of sign language in hopes of communicating with him efficiently. I was in Cambodia this spring, and there was a little girl who sold postcards to tourists for a living. I thought she was around 4 or 5, as she was extremely thin and was barely taller than my hip, but she said she was 11. We found out that she could speak Cambodian, Chinese, English, and Japanese (or at least she could say phrases related to selling postcards). My point is, although these kids are underprivileged, they are still trying their best and struggling to survive and I truly admire and support them. I think programs such as H4H are great, although they would be better if volunteers helped out for longer periods of time. I never got to see the finished house we worked on during H4H, and I wish that we had finished the house before leaving.

  9. kxc.024on 24 Oct 2007 at 11:02 pm

    Dang, I'm listening to this pretty emo song and reading this post just made me feel quite depressed. It's quite sad how I'm sitting here in front of my laptop, listening to music and chatting to friends on MSN while he is probably still trying to find some way to fend for himself. I've met deaf and dumb people before. But they at least knew sign language or had some way of communication. Imagine never being able to express how one feels, other than sadness, happiness and anger. To me, it's unimaginable.

    This is a classic example of how resources are definitely NOT distributed evenly in this world. Even though the world is starting to conserve resources and save our planet, people realized it way too late. The village that Jasper lives in could probably improve its condition if development expanded into that area. However, no firms are willing to do so because it costs a lot to start a firm anywhere and by placing the firm in an extremely undeveloped area, it is risking a lot financially. Yet, in the long run (let's say a few decades), that village may actually become quite prosperous. At least I hope it will…

  10. Sunny Kimon 25 Oct 2007 at 11:44 am

    First of all, I feel pretty lucky that I am living such a wonderful life. Moreover, pretty thankful to my parents that they gave me such a fortunate life. Like how people have said previously, I also feel sad about the life of Jasper and agree with Jessica that the life isn't fair. In this world, people in certain countries live more poor than people in other countries. Probably it's because there are differences in each country's ability. If your country is strong and has a nice government for people, poor people like Jasper wouldn't come out. Because of the difference in power and some other factors, resources are not being distributed equally in this world. The stronger ones get more and the weaker ones get little or doesn't even get on. In China, there are so many people like Jasper. I also see many baggers in streets. In my opinion, in order to solve such problems, all countries should help each other and the stronger ones should sometimes give up their property for good of the entire world.

  11. Kathie Leeon 26 Oct 2007 at 1:18 am

    Jasper is cute.

    It's such a shame that a character like him with personality and a big heart has to suffer from being deaf and dumb. I believe that if Jasper was raised in other cities such as Hong Kong, his life would be drastically different. There are more possibilites for Jasper to grow and learn. He would also be able to be raised in a better environment without having kids bully him around.

    This is the perfect example that shows how unfair the world can be. That just further supports how important economics is.

  12. Trevor Sunon 28 Oct 2007 at 6:54 pm

    If he was growing up in North America then the welfare systems could help him out a bit but I'm not too familiar with any welfare system. I've only heard bits and pieces from the news and driven through some pretty bad neighborhoods. I want to think that if he was living anywhere else he'd be better off but in reality it might not be as good.

  13. robertwangon 28 Oct 2007 at 11:36 pm

    As much as I hope the world could be different, I'm not sure Jasper would be able to live too different a life if he lived in Hong Kong or somewhere else in the world. Ultimately, schools that can cater to children like Jasper are very rare at the get-go, and ones that are free or are very cheap are even harder to find, which would mean a lot of time required from the parents to find the school, find somewhere to live, and to figure out if Jasper will live there or what not. This time is something that Jasper's parents are not able to give up as they need that time to look for jobs and to provide for themselves and Jasper's siblings.

  14. Jeff Yeon 29 Oct 2007 at 9:52 pm

    If Jasper lived in a more developed country, i think he would have had a different fate. Agreeing with Robert about how most of these services are expensive, i still think that in a developed country, there is bound to be help that is affordable even by Jasper's parents. This is the advantage of a developed country. Most of the people living in it are well off, and are able to help those in need. Take America for example. There are countless charities and donations for treatments and cares for cases just like Jasper's. I think that if he had grown up in a different environment, his fate could have been very different as well.