The Rise of a Renewed Tondo… A message of hope and possibility

Tondo used to mirror the Philippines at its best, noble and most idealistic, but for many decades it has been home to the urban poor. In fact, it is an area which, at one point in the 1970s, was Southeast Asia’s largest squatter colony. Now, according to a UN-Habitat report, over 20 million people in the Philippines live in slums, and in the city of Manila alone, 50% of the over 11 million inhabitants live in slum areas.

Within the Smokey Mountain area, tens of thousands of families rely on scavenging and reutilizing trash for a living. Over the last 8 years, the face of Tondo has been gradually changing, particularly in the Vitas, Katuparan area.

If you had ever traveled along Marcos Highway, in an area of reclaimed land previously known as Tondo Foreshoreland, where the old dumpsite of Smokey Mountain was located, you would have noticed at least ten huge billboards in succession, advertising various alcoholic drinks. Imagine what kind of message it was sending out; promoting cheap alcohol in some of the poorest communities in the country.

About two years ago, a non-profit organization called Young Focus realized that here was a great opportunity to spread a message of hope and possibility within the community. Young Focus supports the education of underprivileged children and youth from the Smokey Mountain area through sponsoring their education from elementary through to college level, as well as providing, for example preschool education, and a feeding program. Young Focus took the radical step of making use of the billboard space, replacing the alcohol advertising with positive images to inspire the local community, as well as anyone driving past. Together with the advertising company PerkComm Inc., sponsored by TELUS Community Board, and with the cooperation of the leaders and residents of Barangay 101, the campaign ‘POSIBLE’ was born.

Ten new billboards have been installed featuring nine stories from people within the Smokey Mountain area community. These heroes continue to defy grueling odds waged by extreme poverty. They are men and women of courage who have not given in to despair, they fought and continue to fight daily to imagine and rebuild a better future for themselves and their families.

Gerson Martin, 27 years old, is among the featured residents whose story is truly inspirational. His father was a scavenger on the Smokey Mountain dumpsite. At the age of 15, he started working alongside his father picking through the landfill’s garbage to help support their family. He was also a beneficiary student of Young Focus, studying Computer Education at college. After graduation, he returned to Young Focus to work as a teacher and to inspire new students. “Dream your dreams again,” he says. “Poverty is not a hindrance to reach them.”

Rosalie Lorenzo is another featured resident who had a malnourished daughter who was often sick, and needed to go hospital almost every week. She enrolled her child at the Young Focus Child Care PLUS Center, a pre-school, which ensures children get access to early education and care, and where the children get nutritious meals each day. Rosalie noticed that her child’s health improved and her malnutrition problem was addressed. Rosalie then volunteered in the Combat Malnutrition Core Group, a group of highly committed mothers who untiringly offer their services, especially with the cooking and serving of healthy meals to all undernourished beneficiaries of Young Focus. She joined because she wanted to continue the nutritious meals her child gets at home and to educate her fellow mothers in the neighborhood. She said, “With only a small budget of P150 per day, it is indeed possible to prepare healthy food for your family.”

There are a lot more stories of featured residents who have proved that positive change is possible even in the face of so many hardships in life.  We have real people with real life stories. Their testimonies remind us that we should never lose hope, and that darkness and difficulties cannot keep beautiful things from happening. That they only serve as fertile ground for the emergence of grander stories.

Indeed, 2017 could be a ‘leap year” (of change) at least for the residents of the Vitas, Katuparan area. The campaign is also suited to the name of their place – Katuparan, which is a Filipino word for “realization of one’s dreams.”

“Possible is more a matter of attitude,

A matter of decision, to choose among the impossible possibilities,

When one sound opportunity becomes a possible solution.”

 ― Dejan Stojanovic