I’m in Cebu, in the Philippines, for ten days on a round trip. Usually, tourists enjoy the weather, the beach, snorkeling or do some island hopping. But this travel has a different scope. It’s about learning and understanding how people live here. People who are living below or close to the poverty line.
Life at the dumpsite
A few kilometers, sometimes just a few hundreds of meters away from the pure touristic locations in the Philippines life looks totally different – whether in the slum areas in the city itself or in some more rural parts in the outer skirts of the city.
Today, we have visited families living at a dumpsite. It’s not really unusual. Several hundreds of families live on dumpsites in the Philippines as waste pickers and waste consumers. There are families who have been living with their children for years at places like that. Their houses – or let’s say better huts – are built in the middle of nowhere, a waste zone between a dirty lake and a huge hilly area – the piles of waste.
Waste is everywhere
“When I came to Cebu I started to work as a household help. I was looking for a better life and I was told that life in the cities is easier. Then I got married and started to build a family. We could not live in the city in normal surroundings; the income was simply too low. So, we decided to live at one of the dumpsites in Cebu…Life is hard. What we need mostly, is food for the children. Every day we work at the dumpsite. When a truck arrives, we need to be quick. There are many other families who look for materials we can use, sell or recycle. If we have some money, we pay for the waste that arrives on the truck. Weight-based. This means we are the first who can check the waste before others go through. Sometimes we find also clothes, used bags or some necklaces,” tells us a 40 year old women with 6 children. The house they live in is very simple and small, built out of waste materials.
Dreams exist even at the dumpsite
The children play in the waste as if it would be one of the most normal things in the world. Inside the house there is a painting on the wall that shows two princesses dancing in front of a castle.
Back to reality: I notice that the woman’s shoes are far too big. Some of the children do not have even shoes.. “But this does not matter,” she explains, “what matters is food for the children. It is not easy to grow them up. In the morning time big supermarkets check their products and what is not “good enough” anymore is thrown away. So, when the trucks arrive in the morning it is the best time to get food. She shows some fully mature fruits, a handful of hackle, strange meat and some melon skin.
Inside the house there are only a very few items. There is no water connection. They carry the water from a dwell near by to the house. The soil they live on as a high toxicity level. Diarrhea and others diseases are part of their daily life.
Things will change
The local government has decided to close the dumpsite. Fortunately, there is a NGO which has started together with two other organisations to buy a huge piece of land in the outer skirts of the City and to build houses. “Before families can come and live here -5 to 6 km away from the dumpsite- they have to help with the construction. 250 working hours have to be done by the future house owners. Then they get a credit for the house which they can pay back in the next 25 years. A loan without interests, ca 20EUR per month. That’s manageable – as long as they have jobs. Some of the men still go to the dumpsite every day.
The new life
More than two hundred houses have been built already, here in the new center. Not for everyone the translocation is easy. Many things have changed: the stay in a cooperative, a different working rhythm, the daily activities.
“One of the biggest challenges is still to find a regular income source,” many of the families tell us. The NGO helps with some small business ideas: handicrafts, foot massage, a small supermarket, microcredit for a rickshaw … But it is a long way of thinking and living differently that impacts the entire family structures.
Probably it is the children who get used to it the most rapidly and easily. When we arrive in one of the new housing areas, there is a huge children’s playground. Many children are playing and enjoying the nice park in the center of the housing cooperative. But there are many adults, too, who show us proudly their houses. Some of the family members engage in one of the committees which care about life in the cooperative, and are directly involved in financial, social and regulatory issues.
There is still a lot to do and not all will go well, but there is hope that the life in the waste has definitely passed.