Just when you think you’ve seen how far the human condition can sink, when you tell yourself “we’ve witnessed the Baseco in person, the Naga City Canton Dumpsite in person, we’ve seen the 3rd and 4th level of Dante’s Inferno, this is as bad as it gets” ~ when your wearied and energy sapped by the sweltering heat of a long afternoon of traffic jams and overheated radiators, touring the oppressive conditions in the slum city of Smokey Mountain II Dump Site, then you are ready to be introduced to a whole new level of deterioration and depravity that pushes the borders of believe ability beyond its capacity to comprehend.
Here is a community of 500 – 700 people (105 families) living in a jury rigged makeshift hive of compartments averaging 5’ X 7’ each, built out of scrap lumber, plywood and plastic ~ under a bridge overpass and over a fetid, stagnant, contaminated river. There is no sewage, no plumbing, only a limited, temporary illegal bare wire splice, lends some electricity and all held together with collected nails, wire, rope, tubing and any scrap building material that can be begged or stolen.
The doorway into the inner chambers of this scavenger’s city under the bridge is accessed by entering a narrow portal that leads into pitch dark, foul smelling tunnels and interconnected passageways. The smell of dead, stale air is toxic and rancid; the claustrophobic space is silently crying with lost stories of untold suffering, the swarming bodies of every age and sex clamor over the wet, muddy floors and hallways, on their way to and from God knows what destination within this catacomb of suffocation.
The filth, disease and horror of this environment is so overwhelming to us as visitors, we move almost as though we’re in a bad dream and yet to these children, it seems as though they are oblivious to it. It’s their reality, they know nothing else, and they play as though they are in a kindergarten playground. This is June, anytime between now and August the first of several heavy rains and typhoons will sweep in out of the South Pacific and in a matter of hours will wash this entire structure out to sea and leave nothing behind but a city bridge.
Within hours after the storm subsides, these people will make their way back to begin the process of rebuilding their squat. The children will resume spending their days begging, scavenging and stealing to contribute to the survival of the community. The little wheels of time rotate and the big wheel turns around and around (again and again).
The kicker is ~ this is just one bridge. There are homeless communities just like this one built under most of the bridges in Manila. A motorist passing over these bridges never even pauses to consider the countless souls inhabiting these underground societies.
The scope of the poverty is almost beyond comprehension but a small group of Christians who brought us out to this bridge are organizing to provide feeding programs and elementary educational programs, designed to prepare these lost children to pass the entrance exams to the public education system and prepare them for entrance into the mainstream of literacy. By providing daily nutritious meals and the basic fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, they have a chance of breaking the chains of extreme poverty and become productive and contributing members of Philippine civil society. It might take more than one generation of dedicated selfless service to put a dent in this lifestyle but the alternative is a future (for these poor souls) of endless and unmitigated despair.