Snapshot Decision: The Reycling Conflict in Manila Philippines
Guest Writer: Ann van Wijgerden; Philippines
Of course, it has more to do with my clumsiness, but I sometimes catch myself wondering if my phone has a mind of its own. Why? Random pictures, I’ve apparently taken without knowing it, turn up in my photo collection on a regular basis.
As with all the other arbitrary oddities, I’m about to delete my phone’s latest contribution when - I just can’t. “This is for keeps!” is the sudden conviction.
It’s the typical angle: downwards, one foot, a lower leg. But the ground is what needs to be recorded for posterity: that all too familiar mosaic of mud and garbage.
The location is one of Manila’s largest squatter areas, somewhat euphemistically known as Temporary Housing. Thousands of people live here, crammed together in barracks, built for ‘only’ hundreds, over 20 years ago. The original residents were families being relocated from the city’s infamous Smokey Mountain garbage dump, just a mile up the road.
Whatever its history, what matters utterly when you’re walking there for the first time is how all the senses are overwhelmed instantaneously; the heat, the stench, the noise, the visual chaos.
The overcrowding and extreme poverty are bad enough, but there’s also an invisible layer of disturbing intensity: The atmosphere is thick with the exhaust fumes of trucks on the main port road, and the reek of rotting refuse - the recycling of Manila’s garbage.
This recycling has nothing to do with environmental care. It has everything to do with human survival. Young and old scavenge through the waste dumped nearby, collecting recyclable items such as plastic, wood, and metal. These are sorted, cleaned, and sold to local junk shops, which in turn sell the materials to the recycling factories — laboring hard as a scavenger means enough pesos at the end of the day to feed a family. Barely enough.
Working with an NGO [Non-governmental organization] providing education so future generations will have careers other than as scavenger, I’ve trodden here countless times the last decade. Sensory overload is very unhandy, and thankfully, humankind is very adept at adapting. You get used to it. But sometimes you don’t. You can’t. You won’t.
Several months ago, after carrying some personal tension due to unrelated issues, walking through this area, felt much like when I’d first set foot in the place.
The aching anger: This is totally unacceptable! That they have to live like this!?
Their smiles, resilience, gracious welcome, only fueled my fury. Why do we allow fellow human beings to stay trapped in this existence?!
As a Filipino friend lamented, “How is this not a national emergency?!”
God forbid, but have we got used to poverty on our doorstep? We don’t see it; we don’t hear it, we don’t smell it, we don’t feel it anymore?
Thanks, cellular device. This photo is for me.
A reminder to be
About Ann van Wijgerden:
Born in London, U.K., Ann van Wijgerden has spent most of her life in the Netherlands and the Philippines. She has had non-fiction published in The Lady and Orion, as well as poetry and fiction accepted in Slamchop Journal, Pulp Poets Press, Collective Unrest and Spadina Literary Review. Ann works with an NGO in Manila providing education for children living in the city’s slum areas. See www.youngfocus.org