18 December, 2011. Sunday. 2nd day of our days off from work in Penang. *Arrival and Day 1 to follow.
Prelude : People who have been chronically exposed to coal dust of about 15 to 2o years are at risk to develop COALWORKERS’ PNEUMOCONIOSIS also known as “black lung disease” which is a progressive and incurable disease. Imagine the plight of those babies, children and their families living in Ulingan.
I tried to win the battle against the alarm of my mobile by curling up in bed a bit longer but my sleepy brain was telling me that I needed to wake up at 4:15AM with the thought that I shouldn’t be late to my appointment on a very early Sunday morning. Resistance as they say, is futile. So after my quick but necessary morning rituals, I kissed my wife and our 7-year old son goodbye while they’re still dreaming and immediately hopped on a tricycle from my relatives’ place in Pasig City and rode a jeepney to LRT 2 Santolan Station. From there, I took the train for less than half an hour to Avenida, Recto Manila. One more jeepney ride and I found myself at the corner of Kalaw Avenue.
Because I left the house with an empty stomach, I felt the urgency to fill it in. I surrendered to one of my favorite Jollibee breakfast meals -fried rice, egg, corned beef and coffee. Solb!
En route to our meeting place, I walked through Rizal Park (formerly known as Luneta Park back in my childhood). It’s good to be back here after some time.
Glad to see you again, fellow MD –JPR.
To say that Rizal’s iconic is an understatement. The sight of his monument was so apt to further fire my willingness that day to participate in a medical mission of PROJECT PEARLS in Ulingan, Tondo, Manila. I had a chance to become a manggagamot again just like JPR in joining this worthwhile activity. Thanks to SIDNEY SNOECK (a Belgian photojournalist whose heart is in the Philippines and thanks to his facebook account and his famous and award-winning blog, MY SARISARI STORE) that I got to know MELISSA VILLA (the soul behind the charitable organization) and PROJECT PEARLS.
I had arranged the schedule with him few days before my family and I left for Pinas. Sidney and I met up in front of Manila Hotel at around 7AM and together we went to Ulingan in Tondo, Manila.
In my 35 years of existence, I have heard so much poverty in my country commonly personified by people of Smokey Mountain who thrive in rubbish. But it was only last Sunday when I saw and experienced the gospel truth behind issues I’ve read and heard. The sight was terribly haunting.
Sidney : “Doc, I’m sorry I failed to ask you to wear proper footwear. Your shoes will get muddy and dirty.”
Me : “Don’t worry, it’s already muddy even before we got here.”
I should’ve been prepared to wear rubber boots (the ones worn by fishermen, wet market vendors, and the like) however, I had no hesitation to soak my shoes just to reach (out to) Ulingan.
Unbelievably, a community exists in this part of Manila.
“ULINGAN is a small slum community in Tondo, Manila that sits on a dumpsite and surrounded by charcoal factories that emit toxic smoke; there is no electricity, no access to toilets or sanitation. Children and families have no choice but to live with soot, garbage, mosquitoes, flies all day and all night. The common meal is “pagpag” (leftover food from fast-food restaurants scavenged from garbage sites). “Pagpag” means to shake away the dirt and maggots in the food.” -sourced from the website of PROJECT PEARLS.
These are their homes– the abodes where they face life’s challenges, the houses where they build their dreams…
This is their usual food, “pagpag” which is sold at PhP 15 per pack…
This is their common past time…
And this is how they make a living…
Before a sack of charcoal can be sold to about PhP 320 each….
the end consumer might be clueless that young and small hands were behind those uling...
Imagine breathing the smoke and living with the tons of rubbish day and night. Think of babies born by mothers within Ulingan with only midwife to assist and manage them. Life is unbearable but people here are probably the most resilient to tolerate such difficulties.
The main purpose of my trip to Ulingan began immediately after I was brought to the Project Pearls Learning Center.
Despite my heart was breaking at the sight of everything and everyone in Ulingan, inspite of the fact that my respiratory tract wasn’t getting along well with the polluted atmosphere in that community (I have not puffed a cigarette stick in my entire life but believe me, the feeling was probably worse than chronic smoking. I only spent half day in Ulingan but it also took me another six hours to breathe with less discomfort), I was silently jumping for joy upon seeing these…
Thank you to those who donated medicines for us to prescribe and dispense that day. May God bless us all!
Do you remember the song, Paraiso sung and recorded by the group, Smokey Mountain and if I’m not mistaken, composed by Ryan Cayabyab? The lyrics came to my mind when I was in Ulingan…
“Return to a land called paraiso,
A place where a dying river ends.
No birds there fly over paraiso,
No space allows them to endure.
The smoke that screens the air,
The grass that’s never there.And if i could see a single bird, what a joy.
I try to write some words and create
A simple song to be heard
By the rest of the world.“
His eyes tell so much tales…
but his hands and feet certainly melted my heart…
As a father to our 7-year-old son, I feel so much for these kids. They’ve been exposed to unimaginable severities in life and were robbed of their childhood. Look at their eyes and peek into their souls…
It was a day that I will not forget for as long as I live. Sidney was repeatedly thanking me before we left Ulingan but I told him the pleasure’s mine. Had it not for him and the organization he’s in, I will not be reminded to make the most of what we have, and MUST THINK BEFORE WE COMPLAIN because we are more blessed than people of Ulingan who certainly know how to SMILE AMIDST ADVERSITIES.
Thank you to all my fellow volunteers…
Thank you, Project Pearls, Ms. Melissa Villa and Mr. Sidney Snoeck for giving me a chance to experience this worthwhile endeavor.
Another wonderful shot by Sidney–this time with Lola Felissa, a 99 year old woman from Ulingan. It’s just amazing she’s still up and about, can still walk and stand straight as if she’s not in her late geriatric years!
Thank you for these priceless smiles that bid us goodbye…
*This is the first of the series of our Christmas vacation in the Philippines; DAY 1 to follow soon. May our CHRISTmas and holiday celerbations be happy and meaningful. Let us always count our blessings! God bless us!