We are on our way to Tacloban (dah’ klo ben) on the island of Leyte, Philippines. You may remember the typhoon that came through here in 2013. Locally, they called it Yolanda, internationally they called it Haiyan. The weather forecasters said, “Prepare for a storm surge.” The people didn’t know what a storm surge was and so did not properly prepare. 8000 people lost their lives. This is the new marker in history for them. Everything is referred to as either before or after Yolanda. We are going to see Pascal Canning . He is a gregarious Irishman that married Eden, a Filipina women and now lives in Southern Leyte (lay-tay) in a city called Maasin. Pascal and Eden have opened three feeding sites. One of them is in a garbage dump.
We travel three hours south. It is a paved road, but very bumpy and curvy. Pascal, who is very loquacious, and Jerry visit the whole way down. I close my eyes and try to sleep sitting upright. My head bangs against the window now and then. I have to use two hands to hold onto the handle above the door because we are constantly rocking back and forth with the curves in the highway. It takes me back to when I was 19 years old. Mike Cameron and I rode in a grain truck with Bruce Columbus. We drove 2800 miles to Delta Junction, Alaska to deliver farm machinery to Scott Miller. It was very bumpy like the Alcan Highway. All I can think about is, “When will this trip be over so I can sit still?” We drive along the coastline and then up and over the mountains. It is raining so there is not much to view for sightseeing. I am not looking forward to the return trip.
When we get to Maasin, we stay at the Caimito Beach Hotel. Pascal built his hotel himself. Pascal was a carpenter in Dublin, Ireland, but has been living in Maasin since 2010. He says it’s excellent scuba diving here. After typhoon Yolanda, Pascal and his friends built 166 homes for the people that lost everything through his charity called Star Apple Foundation. He said, “I am sure you saw the aerial pictures on the news, and it looked bad, but it was 10 times worse on the ground. They used bulldozers to clear the roads, bodies and all.”
The next morning we travel 20 minutes across town to get to the city dump. Now, I have seen people living in dumpsites before. I wrote about itand produced a movie called Happy Land. I didn’t know what we would find in the Maasin city dump and I was trying to prepare myself for the worst…and it was the worst. Driving through the iron gate we see a dozen shanties lined up next to a sea of garbage. Children are out in the garbage playing. Pascal has some boxes of Manna Pack Rice that he’d gotten through RSM (Risen Savior Missions). He began to distribute them to the families. Most did not want to come out of their shanties, because Jerry and I were strangers and they did not feel comfortable with us there. Pascal begins speaking with a mother in broken English. He finds out that her daughter Melissa was in the hospital. She needs x-rays and an EKG, but the hospital wants to charge for it. It’s supposed to be free for the indigent (extreme poor). Jerry and I continue walking on the road through the muddy dump. It had rained the night before and so the dump smelled especially “sweet.”
A garbage truck enters the dump to make a delivery. I follow the truck and scramble for a good shooting position at the rear. I try to get around the side, but step into a soft spot. Water is rising up to my ankles. (yuk!) I quickly keep moving forward and climb onto a heap of garbage to get out of the water. Now I’m standing on top of a four-foot high garbage heap sinking up to my knees.
The smell is overwhelming. I block my nose and I try not to think about where I am standing as I shoot pictures and video. The truck dumps its load and pulls away. Six residents from the dump begin digging through the raw garbage with “L” shaped rods. I find the sight repulsive as they sort through kitchen waste, paper, and diapers, searching for plastic and metal. When they find a treasure they throw it into a basket. One man finds a cast iron plate about 10 inches in diameter. A good find. The others mostly pick out plastic pieces, bottles and cans.
I start thinking about what is happening right now. “Why are these poor people forced to sort through the garbage like this?” These people are the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. Making 100-150 Pesos a day or $2-$3 American dollars. They are the outcasts. I think about how depressing and unhealthy this must be for them. Garbage truck after garbage truck, day after day, year after year. Still they are able to joke with one another as they sort through the garbage.