Tondo: The Humanitarian Crisis At The Heart Of Manila And The People Doing Something About It
“….Tondo has always been the gritty end of town. The sprawling area in the northwest of Manila is one of the most densely populated pieces of land in the world and this human pressure cooker, where more than 70,000 people wrestle for space in every square kilometer, has a reputation for forging some very tough and successful characters. Actor and producer Dolphy was born here, as was current Manila mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, while mall mogul Henry Sy is said to have started his rise to becoming the country’s richest man by selling rejected and overrun shoes on its streets. Just like earth uses huge amounts of pressure to create diamonds, Tondo creates incredibly tough individuals who can rise above anything if given the chance. Problem is: chances are in short supply these days.
There are no diamonds to be found where we are going today – at least not the real, shiny type anyway. Sidney Snoeck, a photojournalist and volunteer with outreach organization Project PEARLS (standing for Peace, Education, Aspiration, Respect, Love and Smiles) has a quick chat with the officers at the Smokey Mountain police station before giving the thumbs up that I can park in front of it. With the car switched off and the camera switched on, we begin our walk into Helping Land, one of three areas the organization is working in. Even though we had seen the images on Facebook before, nothing could have prepared us for the sights and smells that greeted us once we turned around the corner and ventured into the settlement.
If you wanted to be polite, you could say the area is totally unfit for human habitation, but you wouldn’t be wrong if you simply called it the closest thing to hell on earth. Garbage is piling up everywhere, sometimes meters high, and the streets leading through the area are nothing more than muddy pathways filled with trash and adjourned by open sewers. Men, women and children can be seen working in the mountains of garbage, scavenging for materials that can be resold or collecting fast food remains from trash bags which are to be re-cooked and sold as the infamous “pagpag”. All this is happening just a short distance away from the glitzy designer stores of Makati and the posh neighborhoods of BGC and Forbes Park, but we may as well be on another planet…”