News / Asia

Manila Dump Neighborhood Tour an 'Eye-opener' for Visitors

  • Junk shops line this intersection where scavengers drop off and haul away bags of recyclable material at the Smokey Mountain dump site, Manila Bay, Philippines, Dec. 12, 2013. (Simone Orendain for VOA)
  • A pickup game complete with uniforms, referees and announcers at the Smokey Mountain dump site basketball court, surrounded by piles of trash bags, Manila Bay, Philippines, Dec. 12, 2013. (Simone Orendain for VOA)
  • Wood scavengers make the long trek to the coal-making operation on the fringes of the Smokey Mountain dump site, Manila Bay, Philippines, Dec. 12, 2013. (Simone Orendain for VOA)
  • A coal worker gets ready to haul away freshly made coal, which sells for a little more than $10 a bag, Smokey Mountain dump site, Manila Bay, Philippines, Dec. 12, 2013. (Simone Orendain for VOA)

Manila's Smokey Mountain Dump Site

TEXT SIZE - +
Simone Orendain
— In Tondo, Manila’s poorest neighborhood, the dump site along Manila Bay is home to about 5,000 families. People have been living on garbage in this part of the Philippine capital for about five decades. Now, the area known as “Smokey Mountain” is open to tourists.
 
Nympha Flores guides tourists through Tondo as slow-moving garbage trucks and motorcycles ply the black sludge-covered main road into this 4.5 hectare trash dump. The pungent smell of rotting food and sewage hangs in the air. Along the road, shanties are buzzing with business.
 
Some shacks serve food called “pagpag,” which is leftovers picked from the garbage, dusted off and re-cooked. Others are trash-filled “junk shops” or places where garbage pickers drop off recycle-able material to be resold.
 
At one end of a well-kept basketball court lined with bags of trash, 16-year old Jayson Valderama is cramming used plastic containers into a long sack, hoping to have at least one kilo’s worth, which he sells for about $0.70.
 
“It’s hard digging around for trash. If you don’t work, you won’t have anything to eat,” said Valderama.
 
Jayson’s family lives in a shanty next to the basketball court. He had to stop going to school to contribute to the household income, which is usually around $3 to $5 a day. Jayson says he wants to go back to school and study computer science.
 
But in this neighborhood, everyone, including small children, has a role in the grueling and often dangerous trash-scavenging operation. Trash pickers are exposed to broken glass, endless swarms of flies, feces, oozing methane and other health hazards, often in oppressive heat or under torrential rains. They are among the more than three million people in Metro Manila who do not have an official address.
 
As tourists wind their way through the neighborhood, music occasionally blares outside shanty houses. The group even stops to watch people at a pub singing along to popular songs.
 
This community life is what tour organizer Juliette Kwee wants visitors to experience.
 
“If you’re already a long time in the Philippines, it’s sort of normal to see people begging on the streets, to see old ladies picking garbage bags. But if you actually think of it, it’s not normal! We all - at least many people in the world, they have a very good life. And I think it’s time to share,” said Kwee.
 
Kwee used to be a psychologist in the Netherlands. After visiting the neighborhood several years ago, she says she was touched by how people appeared happy, despite their abject poverty.
 
She partnered with a local non government agency to open the neighborhood to tourists. The tours began this year, with area residents working as paid guides.
 
Mari Ota, a Japanese national, lives and works in the metro Manila area. Ota said the tour and seeing other poverty in Manila has changed her life.
 
“When I shop something, I always - they come up with my thought. So… I cannot buy any big thing,” said Ota.
 
Ota said she was inspired by how people with very little could live happy lives.
 
Kwee acknowledges the criticism from those who say the poverty tour exploits local residents, turning them into a curiosity for visitors.
 
“It’s not good to make it sort of a zoo. But I think it’s also good to - actually without complaining whose fault it is - to actually see and experience the place,” said Kwee.
 
The founder of another non government agency located at the dumpsite was critical of the tour idea at first, but now says that she understands the value of such tours in making a compelling case for addressing the problems of Manila's poorest.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid