Butch Ozarraga speaking to volunteers in Dubbo

Butch Ozarraga speaking to volunteers in Dubbo

Can GK work in Australia?

That was one of the first questions that Butch Ozarraga, GK Area Coordinator in North-eastern Mindanao was asked when he and his wife, Mona arrived for a three week stay in Dubbo.

Butch and Mona Ozarraga stayed in Dubbo from March 12 to April 4 this year. Their presence in Dubbo was the direct result of a request by GK Australia to GK Philippines asking for help with our work in Dubbo.

The reason for the question was due to the very different material circumstances that exist between Australia and the Philippines in relation to the poor. As Butch pointed out Australia has a social welfare system that provides a safety net through the provision of payments that enables someone who is out of work to pay for rent, utilities and food, whereas in the Philippines there is no such safety net and poverty is dire.

Before he could answer that question, Butch felt that he and Mona needed to learn more about the community in Dubbo. Through the auspices of GKA’s Nikki Edwards and Riverbank Frank Doolan they were introduced to members of the Apollo Estate, and through Michael Ferres, GKA’s head in Dubbo and Col Bowen, to others in the wider community.

At the end of his three weeks, Butch felt that the situation in the Philippines and Australia despite the material differences were similar if not the same. Poverty created a lack of confidence that was similar in both countries. People living in poverty wanted to be able to have the confidence that would enable them to be part of the wider community. A confidence which would ensure that they were treated the same and blended in, without as one member of the Apollo Estate said being viewed in the same way that fish in a fish bowl are viewed.

Butch said that if you had not experienced poverty or if you had grown up with the sort of unconditional love that he was used to – Butch is the youngest and the only boy in his family, therefore he was loved by his entire family and revelled in that love – you would not understand why someone from a situation of poverty would lack confidence. And why when you asked them to do something like turn up at a job interview and they did not – you would think them lazy or ungrateful.

He gave the example of a volunteer in his community in Butuan City in the Philippines who had a shop and needed three people to work in it. He offered the work to beneficiaries in a GK community. A second volunteer told a beneficiary who lived in the community that he should go to the first volunteer’s shop where he would find a position available for him. When the volunteer visited the next afternoon and asked the man if he had gone to the shop, the man said that he hadn’t. When he was asked, why? The man replied that his thongs were broken.

The volunteer was very angry and could not understand why someone who had been offered a job, whose family did not have food, would not turn up just because he had broken thongs.

Butch asked him to think about how he would feel if had never been respected.

“Think how you would feel if in all your life, people look at you as if you are nothing. And then you are offered a job and still you are nothing. If you had no shoes would you go?”

He said that it is sometimes very difficult for people who have shoes to understand why a poor person may not do something that they think is beneficial for that poor person.

He said: “The only reason that we are different is because of our upbringing and the opportunities that have been made available to us”.

One last thing he said is that: in the Philippines, where a majority of the people are homeless it is very easy to show one’s love in a material way through the building of a house, here in Australia it is going to be much harder to show your love and care given that people already have houses and access to welfare. GKA in Dubbo is going to have to show its love and care through the hand of friendship and journeying with the people in the Apollo Estate over a long period of time.

by Suganthi Singarayar