The solemn little girl sat on the broken concrete rubble, persistently picking away at an old bicycle tyre. Even as our van parked a couple of metres away, she didn’t look up or shift her focus. Perhaps if she thought only about this task at hand, her surroundings could fade away into unreality.
The reddish auburn streaks in her hair are a typical sign of malnourishment. Although she has ‘graduated’ from the program at the nearby Young Focus Feeding Centre and a doctor has assessed her health as satisfactory, this girl, like the many others living at Smokey Mountain, still has a daunting road ahead of her.
Smokey Mountain is essentially a garbage dump. It consists of over 2 million tons of waste that decomposes at such high temperatures it can spontaneously combust, resulting in many fires, perpetual smoke, loss of life, and leading to the name of this internationally renowned cesspool of poverty. Approximately 700 families literally live on the dump, and about 30,000 people live near the site and make their living by reclaiming materials for recycling – plastics, rubber, aluminium cans, in fact just about everything can be, and is, reclaimed, sorted, packed, and sold for a miserable few pesos.
During my visit, I was heartbroken to see children like this little girl sitting completely unattended alongside piles of garbage, in terribly unhygienic conditions.
But amongst the images of despair, there were also signs of hope.
Spearheaded by Manuel Manarang, who himself grew up in Smokey Mountain, Young Focus operates a feeding centre and an education centre in Smokey Mountain, and, with the assistance of WE International Philippines and a constant procession of dedicated volunteers, programs are being rolled out to assist the children all the way through their education and right up until the point they complete their education, gain employment, and are stable in their job.
The feeding centre has a batch of young children, some as young as 6 months old, who arrive about 7am each morning, and receive food, love, attention, and care until about 2pm. After 2pm, they return to their families, where they are again sitting amongst the garbage and exposed to the health and physical risks that come with the territory. There is also a weekly visit from a doctor, and a nurse visits on two further days per week, ensuring that medical conditions are identified and treated.
The education centre is currently staffed by one paid Filipino teacher and one self-funded American teacher, and received a grant from HSBC for their first year of operations. Sports programs are also being developed to help the children gain exposure to society outside Smokey Mountain and develop self-confidence. Scholarships and educational assistance, student-of-the-month awards, career guidance, and resumé writing services are all provided to maximise the opportunities for the kids of Smokey Mountain as they grow up and seek to fulfil their potential.
However, the needs are huge, and the funds always limited. Right at this moment, WE International Philippines is actively seeking sponsorship, donations and support for:
- Education Centre – another year of sponsorship is required to continue operations after May 2011. This was US $22,000 for the last year, but WE Intl Philippines and Young Focus dream of adding a further teacher to the staff to better assist the younger children
- Sports Progam – after a last minute loss of a sponsor, the newly formed Smokey Mountain Rugby Team needs sponsorship to cover the cost of a van to Saturday matches, sports uniform/kit, and a meal on each match day.
- Feeding Program – the feeding centre always needs funding, and increased funding would provide capacity to assist more children.
- Administration Sponsor – despite how unglamorous it is to donate funds to the office administration, WE International Philippines desperately needs another pair of hands on deck as the increasing scope and number of programs at Smokey Mountain puts increasing pressure on Geni and Trina. Financial support for this administrative function would enable them to further develop and expand their operations, both in operations and marketing.
For further information, visit www.weinternational.org.ph or contact me directly.