Last year, I wrote about a couple of young photographers I have been mentoring during my annual visits to the Philippines, the country of my birth. I’m happy to say the kids are all right. Last month, I met again with Hersley Ven Casero and Alma Alcoran, two talented artists at Foundation University, a nonprofit school my family established 62 years ago in Dumaguete City. During my visit I read “Why We Are Poor,” a book by F. Sionil Jose. In a collection of essays, the noted Filipino author deconstructs the dysfunction of the Philippines — a country that didn’t “modernize” fast enough and doomed its people to poverty. Unchecked population growth offsets progress. Natural resources are ravaged, Jose notes. Corruption and a lack of accountability exist in virtually every facet of life. About 35% of the country’s 94 million people are under the age of 14. Only 4% are 65 or older. Papal doctrine exerts a heavy hand in politics and government. The masses are hungry, landless and uneducated. Jose, 86, writes about a “poverty of the spirit.” “We are poor because we are poor,” he says. “The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating.” Reading on, however, the acclaimed social observer occasionally betrays his hand in favor of hope — mainly because that’s all there is for so many in a place so deeply in need. Maybe the light hasn’t yet been snuffed. This photo essay— a collaboration between myself and my talented young friends — is dedicated to Jose, who reminds us that human dignity lives on, even in dystopia.