Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Project “Lend a Hand” touched the lives of 100 preschool children at the Day Care Center at Ulingan, Brgy. Vitas in Tondo, Manila. Pusong Pinoy Team Leaders worked in partnership with Flickr-based photographers, Photokalye, led by Peegee Silo. Volunteers trudged through mud and trash to deliver essentials to the small day care center in the “ulingan” or charcoal-making area along the coast of Manila Bay in Tondo.

Children entertained volunteers by singing songs taught to them by DSWD social worker, Teacher Jemima. After this, the bags containing rice, groceries, school supplies, and snacks donated by PP donors from around the world were distributed by PK and PP members and parent and community volunteers.

As we approached the site, through a chaos of tricycles, people and a blur of colour, the pungent smell of decomposing waste slowly invaded our car. On such a hot, humid day, the smell intensified, as we steered through puddles along a heavily-rutted track. Rubbish and mysteriously-bundled plastic waste lined the road. People wore camouflage – blending with the same tired, jaded colours as the rubbish around them. A palette of tired brown. The brightest sparkle came from their shaded, quizzical eyes.

Bright blue bags of food and the gleaming delivery 4x4 truck, dazzled in the light. Clean, fresh, new. Eager helpers unloaded the heavy bags- two each. A comic balancing act of bags, cameras, scarves and umbrellas ensued, as small, dark figures climbed tentatively up a mountain of compacted waste. The surface of decomposing plastic was strangely spongy- like walking on a water bed of bubble wrap. A man-made, no-man’s land. Feet were placed carefully, gingerly. Occasionally, oozings of mud, seeping fluids and excrement had to be negotiated, as feet slid in unpredictable directions.

In the distance, machines gouged out chunks of decomposed waste. A welcome breeze blew over this alien landscape, teasing our nostrils with the pervading smell of wood smoke.

This was Ulingan...

Slithering down a slope, we reached the shanty. Random boards, planks, sheeting had been persuaded to reluctantly become ramshackle buildings. Dust and soot covers everything in a tired grey blanket. A monochrome world. Dark water laced with rubbish lapped spindly foundations. Narrow alleys between houses led off to piles of rubbish. People gazed unblinkingly from the cool security of shadows and doorways. Distorted strains of music could be heard. A welcome drink of just-too-warm fizz failed to quench thirsts – the straws of different lengths, the colours faded.

One side of the track was in hot shadow: the other in bright, blinding heat. Heavy blue bags now cut raw grooves into hands. Trickles of sweat run. A crowd ahead, under a bright Pusong Pinoy banner, clustered round the day care center. Volunteers stumbled through the throng, over piles of sandals, teetering up a steep ladder, into a small, softly-lit room. A small library, torn posters – an attempt at cheeriness. The teacher accepted coloured pencils, eager to bring more colour to this grey world.

Wide eyes gaze up at the visitors, in patience and expectation. Fresh faces, runny noses – some in crisp white, others in faded colours. Adidas, Polo, Juicy – imitation designer brands: incongruous. An electric fan in the ceiling struggles to stir the heat, as we taste our sweat and feel overwhelmed. We feel as if we want to give everything.

Chocolate cup cakes and orange juice treats are enjoyed. Eyes widen. Smiles at last. The tension broken. The children come to life – smiles, laughter, tears. Just children. The blue and white bags are distributed and a pair of slippers and a toothbrush added. An orderly queue: eager hands. Some stay, some leave, with anxious adults waiting outside. We climb down the steep wooden steps – back to the street. Now, volunteers are more relaxed, the task accomplished – a difference made. A few moments of giving – the result of weeks of planning, donating and organizing.

As we re-trace our steps, children wash and clean using new soap and toothbrushes.

The charcoal-making site is on the return route. Ramshackle carbon-black sheds look as if they’ve been blitzed – a fragile chaos of charred wood. Fumes intensify, toxic smoke chokes your throat, invades you. Everything is seen soft-focus through a haze of grey. Dark ghosts in the smoke, burning wood, packing, silently. The cleanest things in Ulingan are the neat, white bags of charcoal. Converting waste into money - it’s a big price to pay.

Further on, we pass homes made from a confetti of rubbish. Inside one heap a peaceful sleeping face can be seen, swathed in a cocoon of waste.

After a cooler warm drink, we returned to Manila. Trying to comprehend, rationalize, understand. The pervading influence of wood smoke and Ulingan was on our clothes for days and will remain in our minds forever…

Douglas Inness is from Ayrshire, Scotland. He was the Head of English in a secondary school. Now, he devotes his time to his passion - photography. Pusong Pinoy extends our utmost gratitude to Douglas for joining the team and significantly contributing to the project efforts to provide a variety of goods for the kids of Ulingan. We would also like to thank his wife, Jean Inness, for celebrating her birthday during this event.

Click HERE for more information about PROJECT LEND A HAND.