Poverty remains as one of the top and most critical problems that need to be addressed in the Philippines. The image of poverty here in Manila is a usual everyday scene; a mother carrying her baby begging money on the street, a group of children selling Sampaguita during traffic, and a number of homeless people living under the bridge or sidewalks.
Behind the tall buildings and booming economy of our country is a place where extreme poverty is being felt. Yes, we all heard about Smokey mountain, a large landfill located in the capital. A place where people are living with rubbish, where children’s playground are mountains of smokey trash, a place where million of us can’t afford to live, is a home to thousands of our countrymen who even get their food in the dump site.
If you can’t imagine the life of people living in this area, you wouldn’t believe the feeling of being here. It was a gloomy day when I had my first visit to Smokey mountain. This event was organized by Tom and Anna of Adventureinyou under “The Wandergive Project Campaign.” The main objective of the project is to raise funds to help feed a malnourished child.
The money collected was donated to an organization called Young focus. This NGO was established in 1992 as a fundraising agency that receives sponsorships from The Netherlands. It has been founded by a married couple named, Paul and Ann Wijgerden.
Young focus strongly believes in the power of education. As per the organization, it is the most important tool to end poverty in a child’s life. Check this Link on how you can get involved.
Before we started our Smokey Mountain tour, we had a quick orientation at Young Focus’ main office where we learned some things about the organization and the life in the dumpsite. Smokey Mountain was a landfill that operated for 40 years with over two million metric tons of waste. In 1995, the area was closed and demolished in a hope to convert the dumping ground into a low-cost housing project for the poor people living in the slums surrounding the area. When the dumpsite was closed, some strive to pay the rent for the housing that was provided by the government while others transferred to a different dump site called Payatas. Yet, due to extreme poverty people can no longer afford to pay, which resulted in the houses being neglected and the emergence of another dumpsite they refer to as Smokey Mountain 2.
The view of the poverty at the beginning of our walk was not as bad as I though, but as we crossed the bridge and Paul pointed the low-rise and low-cost housing project, the ambiance started to turn for the worst. There are houses built under the bridge and there are naked kids swimming in the dark and polluted water. These kids are not even teenagers, their age ranges from 3-8 years old. They were barefooted, malnourished, with skin suffering from scabies.
I couldn’t help but pity the life of these young ones. I told myself, how come their parents can afford to let their children swim in such a dirty river and where are they? Shouldn’t they be with their children to take care of them and make sure they are always safe and clean? Then reality slapped me; I’m walking in an area with the poorest of the poor. Probably, the parents were in the dumpsite scavenging so that they will have food to eat.
When we reached YF’s daycare center, we saw children wearing their best clothes, playing with other kids, and eating nutritious food. From the short time that we spent with the kids of Smokey Mountain, I saw a ray of hope in this dark side of Manila. I’m an eyewitness on how the organization is giving chance to better the life of these people; it’s a chance for change.
We thought we already saw the worst; we didn’t. We waited for the rain to stop then continued our walk in the small alleys of Tondo, crossed a national road where dump trucks passed by. And then we entered this place called, Happyland. It is definitely a happy land. It felt like entering a darker dimension, the streets were wet and muddy, garbage are everywhere, and the smell of the air was indescribable to the point that I wanted to puke but I kept telling myself, “Please Cai, get a hold of yourself.”
We saw a group of women with their children and had a small talk with them. In one concrete block, which was supposedly a temporary housing was home to around 100 families who share only 2 public restrooms. Families live in small spaces made of tarps, wood, or recycled materials. The first floor gets flooded where some children swim while the second floor is exposed to rain.
I felt really bad upon seeing their condition yet the children were happy to play, it’s like you wouldn’t feel any sadness from them. We shared stories and jokes but I know behind their smile is the truth that living there is miserable.
On our way to what literally is a mountain of garbage, the rain started to pour harder. It was the first time in my life where I saw an alley full of floating rubbish on mud. For our safety, our team decided not to continue our walk because there’s a chance of a trash landslide.
If there’s one thing I learned about this trip, it’s that social injustice is real. I know it’s easy to blame these people why they are poor. We people who don’t experience this level of poverty work hard to have a nice home and fine car. But, we have to understand that they are working hard too, to have at least a decent meal for a day. It’s easy for us to say that they don’t educate themselves and we study harder. But how can you learn if you spent your childhood hungry and disillusioned?
It would be also easy for us to say that they should start to do something big if they want to change their lives. Do you think if we had the same start we will be where we are now? Honestly? I feel worse for those that have nothing in our country, living in the shadow of society and left behind. These Filipinos are not being fully invited to the bounty on the table.
As long as there are NGO’s like Young Focus who are continuously supporting the people of Smokey Mountain, I believe that one day, step by step, slowly but surely, the life of these people will change. But beyond that I believe that we as a society should them by demanding fairness from our government, to carve a society that is just for everyone regardless of one’s stature in life.