On July 26, 2021, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made Filipino and Olympic history. After 97 years of competing at the Olympic games, the Philippines secured its first-ever gold medal when Diaz won the 55-kilogram category of women’s weightlifting at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She also set an Olympic record when she lifted a combined total of 224 kilograms.
Making Something Out of Nothing
Diaz grew up in a large family in the Philippines with few resources. “We were poor back then,” she said. “When I was a kid, I told [my mother] I wanted to work in a bank and count money.” She never imagined becoming an Olympic weightlifter, but after she started weightlifting as a child, she never looked back.
Diaz had to work with limited training supplies due to her family’s economic standing. When she began weightlifting, she only had access to plastic pipes holding concrete weights. When she was 11, she participated in a local weightlifting competition, where she received a barbell. Diaz eventually broke the barbell bar from training with it so much.
Causes of Poverty in the Philippines
The Philippines is a small, multi-island country in Southeast Asia that has faced many years of economic struggle. The following are factors that cause a high poverty rate in the Philippines.
- Slow economic growth and little poverty aid. The Philippines has struggled to deliver consistent economic growth for the entire nation. When economic booms do happen, they rarely help poverty-stricken communities. The nation also has frequent crisis periods that cause inflation, which further hurts low-income communities.
- Trouble expanding the agricultural sector and creating quality jobs. Many Filipino citizens, especially low-income citizens, face difficulty finding a job with good pay. This is largely due to a lack of development in the agricultural sector. Without growth in the agricultural sector, overall economic growth is difficult.
- Rapid population growth and resulting income inequality. The country’s population is quickly rising, creating a larger gap between economic classes and increasing poverty throughout the country.
- The COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Bank, “The COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in the national poverty rate increasing from 16.7% in 2018 to an estimated 21% in 2020, even after accounting for the effects of government subsidies (e.g., the social amelioration program).”
Learning to Adjust
Growing up in poverty in the Philippines prepared Diaz for the tough times ahead. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Diaz found herself stuck in Malaysia due to travel restrictions between countries. There, she had no access to a weight room, much less the correct training equipment for her weightlifting competitions.
However, Diaz was used to making do with what she had. She created a weight bar out of a wooden pole and large water bottles in order to train. A video of her snatching and squatting with the makeshift barbell went viral after her Olympic victory.
Diaz’s Olympic win was one for the history books. She proved that coming from poverty does not necessarily mean that one should count a person out. A lot of work still needs to occur in the Philippines, but when Diaz won the Olympic gold, she gave light and hope to her country.
– Riley Prillwitz