Jeepney Magazine and Micro-relief in Quezon City

A lot more on this story is coming, but for now, here’s part one of the video movies depicting the mission we joined to bring drinking water and clothing to these “unauthorized” residents among Manila’s 3-million-plus, who lost all their small possessions in a fire that started in the aftermath of a domestic quarrel. WordPress tells me the *wmv file “doesn’t meet security guidelines”, whatever that means, so  it’s here on

Quezon City fire victims

Quezon City fire victims

In the future, this blog will be exploring options, opportunities and examples of what will be called “micro-relief”. The term is inspired by the sterling example of Dr. Mohammed Yunus and his brainchild, “micro-credit” as exercised by the Grameen Bank. I’m not comfortable making negative expressions about any form of poverty or disaster relief, or indeed about relief for any form of hardship or stress-of-status. It does strike me, though (and has for many years) that the largest aid organizations are burdened by an extraordinary level of administrative overhead that significantly draws down the net amount of resources directly available to the end user.

The basis of micro-credit is two-fold: building trust and sharing a goal of financial stability for beleaguered families, often those where women head single-parent households. Small sums of “seed money” are given as loans to start up enterprises which produce a modest, steady margin of profit sufficient to pay off the loan (enabling further borrowing), to provide the means to meet the families basic needs, and to maintain a basic  or slight but steadily increasing production, i.e. to grow the business.

The concept of micro-relief doesn’t rely on a central source of support or relief, but encourages any and all persons who have it within their means and are inclined to do so, to lend material assistance to the same category of recipients as those who avail themselves of Grameen transactions. It’s a form I explored in relation to the Christmas Day Tsunami of ’94, which ultimately resulted in the distribution of the equivalent of a month’s salary to 20 Acehnese English teachers and their families, many of whom had lost family members and seen all their worldly possessions washed away in an instant.

I encountered another example of micro-relief in Manila recently, where the Jeepney Magazine, a “street paper” focused on the problems and lives of the 3-million-plus dwellers in the unauthorized block-and-corrugate cubicle communities of Quezon City and other locales, including some as far away as Mindanao, still wracked by the violent struggle between the national army and the Moro (MILF) rebels.

Jeepney “Partners”, usually homeless, and always poor, receive consignments of the magazine that they then sell on the streets of the city. They keep half the proceeds from the cover price, returning half for more magazines. The sale of a single magazine is enough to provide a substantial meal to a family of four, and represents the dignity of employment, almost impossible to come by any other way.

In addition to its policy of selecting vendors on the basis of helping those whose family need makes them most worthy, Jeepney is also a sponsor of the team representing The Philippines in the Homeless World Cup, that will be held in Milan in September. The team is coached by a couple of men from Cameroon who found themselves stranded in Asia by unscrupulous travel agents. They are eminently worthy recipients of Jeepney Magazine micro-relief.

Another source of micro-relief in Manila is the Kids International Ministries, operated by Jeff and Colene Long and their splendid children, all of whom have grown up in Manila and are themselves devoted to the kindly art of helping others, in the spirit of Christian charity. I will be devoting more blogspace to an exploration of the many different ways the Long family have provided relief to thousands of their neighbors and other deserving (and profoundly grateful) Filipino people.

I’m grateful to the Longs for the extraordinary welcome and hospitality they extended to us in June. Confronted by the utter contrast between our personal ideologies of spirit, still we quickly reached agreement that such differences are insignificance in the presence of such great need by which we are there surrounded. Meeting people’s material needs must precede the treatment of their spiritual need if humanity is to have a healthy and rewarding future. The Longs are wise Samaritans who recognize that, since hungry children must not be subjected to any litmus test of belief to qualify for nourishment, then neither should those who join them in offering it. Meeting them and watching them operate has been one of the more inspiring experiences in recent memory.

In the spirit of micr0-relief, three veterans of the form, namely Missus, Mom and my sister Jane, made generous donations of shoes, clothing, school supplies, vitamins and sundry items, and we filled every ounce of our luggage allotment to transport them from the US to Manila, with no clear sense of how or to whom they would be distributed. Now that we’ve been there and done that, we can only wish it were easier and less costly to do so, for if it was, we wouldn’t stop until time and slow oxidation rendered us physically incapable of it, so great is the satisfaction from witnessing the result. The items are useful and helpful to those who receive them, but the rewards of giving are immeasurably greater.

Now, the challenge is to construct a global network of trust and partnership to effect the transfer of ever greater quantities of items plentiful in the developed world, to areas of great need and short supply, and to do it with a minimum of cost overhead. Ideas are sought. Allies are invited. No yardsticks to be applied to the source of the impulse to join and help and give. If you’re a believer, this is God’s path for you. If you’re not, it is the humane thing to do. Let’s be about it.


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