The hall was packed. Plastic chairs lined the sides, children of all ages seated on them. Loud music blared from a speaker, and the center of the hall was occupied by children dancing. Everywhere there was laughter, smiles, and no trace of hopelessness. Nobody paid attention to the smell coming from the mounds of trash and scrap that lay beyond the hall’s four walls. The children seemed ready for anything, after having just finished what might be their most decent meal of the day.
This is what mornings in Helping Land, Tondo looks like. Every day at 7:30, the workers and volunteers of the non-profit organization called Project PEARLS meet up and go to the slum community to feed the children soup and bread. The children greet them in the same hall every morning, plastic containers in hand, soot on their faces.
To get to the hall where they hold the feeding program, one goes through the dilapidated houses that line the alleys. It was a sunny day when we went there, but the rough patches of ground were sticky and wet with mud. The air was thick with the smell of rot.
They say the people in the community have been here since 1995, when they were relocated after the shutdown of the Smokey Mountain dump site. It was supposed to be a temporary relocation. More than two decades later, they still find themselves in the same place, scavenging for a living.
People call these children underprivileged. And it’s true. They are victims of their circumstances, this pit they were involuntarily born into. But it does not mean they cannot rise out of it.
“Just like earth uses huge amounts of pressure to create diamonds,” writer and blogger Frank Schuengel writes of Tondo and how it shapes its people.
“Tondo creates incredibly tough individuals who can rise above anything if given the chance.”
It takes conscious effort and struggle to arrive at that point: where one has chosen to look past the dirt in order to see clearly all the possibilities ahead. It takes a complete realization of one’s intrinsic dignity to know that our circumstances do not define us. Rather, we can always choose to create better circumstances for ourselves.
And we were fortunate enough to have seen traces of this knowledge in the children’s enthusiasm. The way they so willfully smiled and danced for us that day was a reminder of the human capacity to search for and find the good in any circumstance. By making me realize these things, Helping Land was able to help me more than I can ever help them.
Written by Jamela Dabuet, current intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office.