Picture from Rage.com
Instead of engaging in my typical St. Patrick’s Day activity of beer drinking and social events, I had the opportunity to do something vastly different this year. I was invited to go on a tour with the Philippines Christian Foundation (PCF), an organization that is helping the poorest of the poor that live in Manila’s garbage dump called Tondo. There are currently over 1.5 million people that live and scavenge at Tondo, roughly 12% of Manila’s entire population.
PCF has designed a variety of initiatives to help this population move beyond life at Tondo. Their most recent project is a brand new school facility located on the dump site. What’s so innovative about this school is that it was constructed entirely of donated shipping containers, which were then coated in concrete, as you can see in this next picture (which is how we viewed it). Incredible, isn’t it?
Because there is a lot of pressure on the children to bring in income for the family, parents were forcing the children to scavenge instead of going to school. To combat this, PCF designed a points system in which various amounts of rice and canned goods are given out each week to kids based on attendance, good hygiene, and clean uniforms. This has dramatically reduced the attendance problem, as the children are now able to bring home their contribution by going to school. Again, sheer brilliance!
There is also a daily feeding program on the site that provides all children with breakfast and lunch. The children are weighed each day and if found to be underweight, given an additional afternoon snack. Opportunities can be found at the PCF website to sponsor a child to eat.
Health is also of top concern. Kids receive a vitamin each day and de-worming treatments are given out several times a year. A recent birthing center was added at the dump site as well, to assist with pre-natal care and deliveries. Housing initiatives are in full swing too and sponsorships of $300 can provide a new home for a family of 3 on the site, getting them out of the squalor of their shanty.
The final component of PCF is a livelihood project that teaches them how to make items out of trash. Bags are made out of juice cartons (my sisters each got one for Christmas) and beaded jewelry is made out of magazine pages. I was able to get some stunning jewelry to take home with me. It is truly incredible what they are doing, as it teaches them new skills beyond scavenging.
The school is located on the land of a previous dump site that is affectionately titled “Smoky Mountain”. As you can see in the picture above, there is constant smoke rising from the mountain. What you may not have guessed though is that the smoke is actually methane gas, caused by all the garbage deteriorating below. My eyes were burning and tearing up after just 10 minutes near it. Imagine living there day and night?
I nearly gagged when I saw this. Contained in these bags are chicken bones with small amounts of meat still on them. They were pulled out of garbage bins, re-cooked, sauced and sold for 50 cents a bag. I wonder how many pieces of my leftover Jollibee chicken scraps have ended up in these bags?
So I’m sure you’re wondering why so many people end up at the dump. The cycle works something like this. The dream for most Filipinos is to move from the provinces to the big city of Manila and then eventually get a Visa and move to the United States. What happens though is that they leave the province and come to Manila, attempt to find a job without success and then eventually end up at the dump to make their living by scavenging.
So why don’t they just go back to the provinces where life was better? Well, the Asian concept of “saving face” comes into play here and unless they’ve made something of themself, they do not feel that they can return (in shame) to their home. And so the population of the dump continues to grow….
As you can see in my pictures, the Tondo children really captured my heart. I will never forget the moment captured in this picture above as two children scurried up the garbage pile with their trash bag, fighting over who got to hold the bag. My heart still remains heavy 24 hours later and I feel compelled to do one final post on Tondo tomorrow. I hope you will continue reading about these courageous people and think about what you may do to fight poverty in your own community.