Lending a hand to the charcoal children of Tondo
In the sea of young entrepreneurs was a group of volunteers hoping to sell enough second-hand items to feed children in Tondo.
“When we give families new clothes or toys, some of them just sell them. So we decided to sell items too to finance their feeding programs,” the team said.
Project Pearls has been helping families in slum communities like Ulingan, Tondo since 2010. The community got its name from its long-running charcoal industry fueled by both adults and children.
All photos by Kim Pauig:
Families scavenge for scraps of wood which they convert into charcoal by burning wood for a couple of days. They also pack charcoal into sacks. Families have been relying on these improvised charcoal factories since the late 1990s.
They have not breathed fresh air for years.
Despite their hard work – and exposure to different health risks – Ulingan families only earn less than P200/day. This is barely enough for adequate food and healthcare costs. (WATCH: Pied Piper, malnutrition, lost children)
The charcoals are then sold across Manila, usually used for cooking food. Ironically, the people who make the charcoal have barely enough to eat. (READ: Who's afraid of food insecurity?)
The children of Ulingan hunt for charcoal wood along construction sites and dumpsites. Instead of going to school, they sit atop garbage hills, meticulously counting the nails they found.
The children remove nails from wood scraps and sell them to junk shops for P20/kilo. Their day begins and ends with their eyes sore, noses runny, and bodies covered in soot. Since they do not have bathrooms in their makeshift homes, most children use Manila Bay as their toilet. (READ: Problems of PH fisher folks)
On some days, the children are unable to find “sellable garbage,” so they resort to scavenging for “edible trash” known as “pagpag.” Most of these children are unknowingly sick and malnourished. (READ: Aiming for zero malnutrition)
In the Philippines, children have the biggest magnitude of poor among all basic sectors from 2003-2009, according to the latest available data from the National Statistical Coordination Board. (READ: PH vs Hunger)
They have a poverty incidence of 35.1% as of 2009; which has increased by more than 2% in the past six years. (READ: PH Hunger situation)
Magnitude of poor among Filipino children
The Department of Social Welfare and Development reported in 2010 that there were 3,072 street children in Metro Manila alone. As of 2011, close to 3 million Filipinos children across the country engaged in “hazardous child labor,” according to the International Labor Organization and the Philippine National Statistics Office.
Project Pearls began in 2008 when Melissa Villa and her mother Francesca Villa Mateo – Filipinas based in the US – decided to send their extra savings to friends living in Philippine urban poor communities.
In 2010, Melissa was introduced to the children of Ulingan by photojournalist Sydney Snoeck. Since then, Project Pearls has been helping Ulingan families.
The group began with less than 10 people consisting of Melissa’s family and friends. Their network eventually grew as more volunteers from the US, UK, Australia, and the Philippines offered their time, resources, and efforts.
Melissa’s brother, Juan Villa, leads the weekly feeding program in Ulingan. “We feed 300-600 children every Saturday.”
“Children as young as 3 years old scavenge in Ulingan,” Juan said. “Their parents don’t have time to take care of them. They get sick, like asthma and pneumonia.”
Project Pearls gets its funds from donors here and abroad – mostly from Filipinos based in the US. Ulingan mothers, together with Project Pearls, volunteer in the preparation of nutritious meals. (WATCH: PH community-based kitchens)
The group also feeds Ulingan families in Bocuae, Bulacan – the government relocated them in 2013. Aside from the Ulingan community, they also assist underprivileged children in Helping Land in Tondo, Dagupan, Caloocan, Guimaras, and Masbate. (READ: Hungry homes in relocation sites)
“Children are our priority. We hope they finish their high school education, at least. Education and food are important. Their brains won’t work if they’re hungry,” Juan explained. (READ: Learning on an empty stomach)
Aside from feeding programs, Project Pearls also built daycare centers in Ulingan and Bulacan. They provide medical assistance, school supplies and scholarships for around 300 preschool, elementary, and high school students. During summer, they conduct workshops for children. (READ: PH gov't feeding programs for kids)
“Instead of working in Ulingan, they can study,” Juan added. “We monitor their academic performance too.” Through their Brain Booster program, volunteers offer educational and arts programs, storytelling, and fun learning games.
Donors abroad can sponsor children, financing their education even until college. Meanwhile, their parents are given livelihood projects such as making bags and handmade crafts. (READ: Free breakfast for Filipino students?)
Volunteers take the children on trips such as parks, museums, theaters, and libraries – which they also help rehabilitate. “Some children don’t know when their birthday is. So we help them celebrate it.”
The people behind Project Pearls hope to end child poverty which robs children of their rights to “health, nutrition, and basic education.” (READ: PH education lagging behind ASEAN neighbors)
“The government doesn’t do anything about squatters. So they keep coming back [to Ulingan] because they don’t have jobs [in the relocation sites],” Juan said. (READ: Bill seeks to end PH huner in 10 years)
He added that Project Pearls does not want to “spoil” families. Instead of developing dependence, they want to empower parents through livelihood and education programs.
Project Pearls is calling out to Filipinos here and abroad to help the poorest of the poor children in the Philippines.
It is hard to imagine that while children in privileged parts of the world are enjoying their youth, the children of Ulingan are literally playing with fire. – Rappler.com
Project Pearls is welcoming volunteers, donors, and sponsors. For more information on how you can help, please visit their site. They accept donations through both online transactions and on-site drop-off and pick-up points. Those abroad can also help.
Project Pearls is also conducting relief efforts for those affected by Typhoon Yolanda. They are also accepting help for their summer program. Project Pearls is currently raising funds for mothers in Ulingan, in time for Mother's Day. Find out how you can participate.
Share your stories with us. You can send your articles, photographs, campaigns, research and video materials to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be part of the #HungerProject.