Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Garbage Village

August 21, 2007

I spent a day with Korean students Last July as an interpreter for their exposure trip at Smokey Mountain. People would think that it’s an easy task but believe you me, it’s rather challenging. My charges are of high school age and know very basic English. I in turn have to break down my sentences and thoughts into short sentences or phrases to get through to them.

How many times can you use the word hot in a conversation. We would like to compete with Paris Hilton and her posse please:

Korean Student(KS): The Philippines is hot here.

Me: Yes it is. It is even hotter in the summer.

KS: Korea is hot also. You like Kimchi?

Me: Yes I do. But we don’t eat it every day. It’s too, erm, hot.

KS: Very healthy. Hot?

Me: Hot. Spicy.

KS: Korea is hot also.

Nevermind. A laugh will end the conversation. Good thing we arrived at Smokey Mountain a few minutes after that conversation.

Smoky Mountain is a 9 hectare land owned by the government used as a dump site. It located in Tondo, Manila with a population of 30,000 people. It is where Metro Manila’s garbage ends up, thus the source of income for the majority of the population revolves around garbage… mainly as scavengers.

I will not sugar coat anything. The harsh reality is that, it is for me the most horrible place on earth. If I died and I would go to hell, THIS is how hell would look like for me. I almost passed out with the stench of burning rubber, plastic and all of the metro trash. The guide made us wear boots because the filth will take a week to take out of your shoes (if they survive) and feet. We went to see the summit of the garbage mountain where we saw the scavengers scouring the fresh trash dumped by the trucks. Afterwards we saw the place where they make charcoal (oh god the smoke), and the garbage barges (serious environmental issue alert!). After lunch the Koreans played with the local kids. I felt like we sunk deeper into hell. What do you do with 40 kids, 15 Koreans in a 40 square meter room? I was about ready to cry when I saw the kids thundering in. I’ve never been really good with kids. I can handle about a maximum of 2 kids but 40?!? I of course had to translate for them, which isn’t much work. The kids were just fascinated with the Koreans and gamely joined in singing Korean songs even though the Koreans cannot explain the meaning of the song even in English. The kids were given very nice clothes after play time. I just had to smoke 2 ciggies and a soda after all the commotion.

In Smokey Mountain there are so many issues to be concerned about but the most obvious is the health and environmental concerns in the area. The area is really unfit to live in. The #1 sickness in the area are respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases. True to its name the area is constantly, almost 24 hours in smoke from burned garbage or charcoal making. Even the community organizers from KADAMAY have their share of asthma attacks and hospitalization due to pneumonia in just a few weeks of staying there. Diarrhea and food poisoning must be common because of the consumption of pagpag or food from the garbage which they re-cook. Reheating contaminated food by God-knows-what microbes is not an assurance that there are toxins can poison, or bacteria that can infect you. A fact: a single tiny health center WAS NOT provided for by the government or sole politician but through the solicitation efforts of the local people’s organizations. During the elections, politicians flock to Smokey Mountain to campaign for themselves (or buying for votes as the locals tell me). Those politicians never bothered to make project for the long term use of the people there. Disgusting trapos. Luckily enough, that particular organization has the strong support of the locals there so the health center gets by fairly. But 1 health center is not enough for 30,000 people.

An environmental issue that has been affecting the fisher-folk near that area are the garbage barges that are polluting the water. Apparently, in trying to reduce the garbage that they put into landfills, the put it on barges. Excess garbage drop into Manila Bay, killing the fish and other aquatic animals that feed those who live near the bay. The people of Smoky Mountain had joint mobilizations with the fisher-folk organization of PAMALAKAYA to address the issue of water pollution but sadly they remain unheard by the government.

I do not want to return to Smoky Mountain if only for the reason that my health cannot take it. (Jhann, kahit ano pang sabihin mo, ayoko na talaga dun. You can convince me otherwise kung sasama ka sa akin doon and experience what I did.) To me it is the most horrible place on earth. The condition of living there is horrible. This thought makes me pity the people who are forced to stay there because they have no other means of earning a living. I am absolutely sure that if the government takes seriously long term projects for basic social services, these people will remain living at the dump site despite the danger to their health. Wala naman gusto ng busabos na pamumuhay pero kung ito lang paraan para mabuhay, gagawin mo ito. Pero sa ginagawa ng kawalang pansin ng sunud-sunod na rehimen sa kalagayan ng mga tao sa Smoky Mountain ay higit nabubusabos ang kanilang pamumuhay. Ang bawat sentimo ng pagmahal ng mga bilihin, ang kawalan ng programang pangkalusugan, pamamahay at edukasyon ay lalo lang nagbibigay ng dahilan para manatili sila doon. One of our new Korean friends asked, "Why are they poor and remain poor throughout generations?" I wonder how would Gloria answer that?

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