About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every three and a half seconds. Unfortunately, it is children who die most often. Yet there is plenty of food in the world for everyone. The problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe poverty. They lack the money to buy enough food to nourish themselves.
Recently the local media reported a sad situation about the many local school children having to miss breakfasts and perhaps lunches. Because school was ending over 771,000 meals will be lost during the summer months. This affects about 40 percent of the islands' children who will be cut off.
The Salvation Army daily is operating a “food bank” to feed people who cannot afford to buy food. Consider the 11,000-plus food stamp recipients who now are getting less money monthly because of an accounting disagreement between the U.S. government and our local food stamp office. How do we explain a 32-hour week or a 24-hour week for all government workers?
“Nearly 75 percent of the potential [local] working population had earned its income in Japanese times from land rentals. Developing new work habits would not be easy. The pre-war economy had been built on imported labor.
“Saipan's immediate post-war economy was based on the employment of Chamorros and Carolinians as office workers, as skilled and unskilled laborers. This created a cash economy that allowed stores and other businesses to develop in Chalan Kanoa. As the islanders grew accustomed to working for the government, they spent less time farming and fishing. They relied to a great extent on American canned goods from the stores. .This was a false economy. As virtually nothing was being produced or manufactured.”
The above quotes are from Don Farrell's History of the Northern Marianas Islands, pages 484 to488. There is more interesting history to remind us of our past. It seems we have changed our attitude little since those years. Are we producing anything today? Instead of weaning ourselves from dependency on outsiders, we are becoming more and more dependent on outsiders to feed and clothe us. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why can't we produce thousands of pounds of vegetable and fruits monthly again and even more? Why do we remain so poor?
By now you are wondering where I am leading us by the above comments. What do people dying from hunger and why the quotes from Mr. Farrell's book have to do with us?
Here it is: We must roll up our sleeves and begin doing our own work! We must become our own builders and caretakers. We must learn trades and skills to produce our own means of support. We must begin to control our own destiny. Unless we do we will slide further deeper into our depression. And yes, we will become extremely poor and hungry. It can happen here and is happening slowly. We are fast becoming a beggar nation.
Many of us are still complaining that the United States must do more to help us. To a certain extent I also agree, but what are we doing to deserve this more help? To date the U.S. has already given us over $3.8 billion and is continuing its aid everyday. So when do we pitch in and begin helping ourselves? Are we always going to be dependent on outside help?
Think of what we would be like if the United States were to suddenly stop giving us this huge amount of money on a monthly and yearly basis? Think of no food stamps! Wouldn't we sink to the levels of some of the poorest countries in the world?
There are opportunities awaiting all of us if we just take the first step. Why can't we become carpenters, electricians, welders, painters, masons, heavy equipment operators, cooks, auto mechanics, store owners, shop keepers, farmers, and any of the many other opportunities awaiting us? Why must these workers always be nonresidents? Money and opportunities are available to learn a skill or to open a business. Ask around and you will be pleasantly surprised. The problem lies with us-lack of determination. Let's stop being freeloaders.
Every time I discuss this issue of creating work, some of us complain about the low wages paid. We're not going to work for that low, they say. But I have quite a few of talented local employees in my companies and I see others working in other companies for the same wages. Are they stupid or what? They work hard and accept what the pay scale is. Don't you think that the minimum wage would go up if we learned a skill or trade? How does Guam survive on a higher rate? Or is the real problem that many of us do not want to work regardless of the minimum wage?
Let me stick my neck out and sound off on how we can create work. For example, for the past weeks, “government” employees have been cutting down and trimming trees along Beach Road. Instead of having government employees do this job, couldn't it have been done cheaper and as well by a private tree trimming company?
All the road repairs and sewer lines repairs constantly going on around our islands, can't they all be done by locally owned companies with a local labor force? What is so special with nonresident workers? Are they all highly trained skilled workers? I doubt that. They appear to be mere day laborers. Couldn't all the auto repair shops be locally owned with local employees doing the work? Why are there so few locally owned grocery stores? On and on!
There are so many opportunities for work that could be done by or delegated to the private sector. Why do they all have to be done by the government agencies and nonresident workers while so many local people line up for food stamps?
All government employees are on a four-day week. Our hospital is slowly sinking into a coma. Retirement pay is fast becoming a dream. The food stamp lines are getting longer daily with less food stamps to hand out. School children are going without breakfasts and lunches because parents cannot afford them. The Salvation Army has set up a free food shop as in the old Depression days. Now reread the first several paragraphs I wrote at the beginning of this article. Can you see the path we are taking? To poverty!
We must become the workers in our community if we want to reverse the downward spiral. Plainly stated: We must change our attitude toward work. We must take up our plows and begin to work. Not only will we begin to earn money for our daily necessities but we will earn a greater benefit-pride in ourselves!
Why aren't we holding public forums to discuss how to create local jobs? It would be a perfect place and time to exchange ideas on helping our community and ourselves. Will someone take me up on this idea? Let us discuss how we can create jobs for us, the local people.
To some of us I may sound like a broken record repeating the same message weekly about the need to improve ourselves. But to some of us the message is getting through and I can see changes. With the proper attitude and pride being shown by the handful, there is great hope for us. To the rest of us who do not believe in what I keep repeating, what more can I say? Just turn to the sports pages and I will be gone.
Someone once said: “There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.” And I add: When we change our attitude, we change our world. Keep smiling and have a great week!
Pellegrino is a longtime businessman in the CNMI and is a former president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.