Tzu Chi volunteers gave 20-kg sacks of rice from Taiwan to 461 families in Happy Land, Tondo, Manila during the rice distribution on December 9, 2018.
We heard stories of survival and generosity from people who scavenge from the heaps of garbage to survive in this “Happy Land”.
It was all or nothing.
To many residents of Happy Land in Tondo, Manila, sifting through garbage was the only way they could feed their children. It was either they eat food scavenged from a mound of rubbish, or nothing at all. In a place where tattered houses were built on top of a vast field of garbage, compromise does not always work to their advantage. They had to survive, just enough to make it to the next day.
Daisy Sanchez left her life in the province to look for better fortune in the city. It was hard to survive in the province without a land to till, and even if they did, farming would not guarantee food on their plates.
Her family found their way to Happy Land, where they thrived on hard work and luck. “Life here is better than in the province, here if you scavenge all day, you can still buy rice at the end of the day.” she said.
But aside from scavenging anything useful like plastic bottles and cartons, they also get food from the truckload of garbage. They call it ‘pagpag’, which was the term coined for leftover food foraged from the rubbish then cooked again after ‘shaking off dirt’.
That is a business in the slum area of Happy Land, where ‘pagpag’ serves as payment for sorting through the garbage. This, along with a hundred pesos, was all that Daisy could work with to make ends meet for her family of six.
“Some of it we would sell in the streets, so we could buy rice. Some of it, we eat. But we don’t eat it every day. Sometimes we still buy food like fish in the market.” she said.
Over the years, her children had grown used to eating ‘pagpag’. It was still food for Daisy, chicken meat that she get to feed her children even if it came from other people’s scraps. But their first few attempts on eating ‘pagpag’ had endangered her children’s health.
“The doctor’s diagnosis was that my child ate dirty food. So after my child was hospitalized, my neighbors taught me how to clean it properly. Now, we continue eating them because we don’t have any choice, we can’t afford food.” said Daisy.
But even though most of the residents in the area live in poverty, the spirit of giving still exist.
A few strides away from Daisy’s house lives Rogelia Obal, a 64-year-old woman who raised all eight of her children within the confines of a patch workhouse of plywood. It was also here that she’s currently raising four orphaned siblings and her grandchildren.
Just like everybody in her neighborhood, her family lives off from scavenging and few feeding programs around the area. For 150 pesos a day, the family barely survives with a few kilos of rice and fish. But still, Rogelia shares whatever they have with other neighbors who don’t have anything to eat.
“Our livelihoods are all the same here. Sometimes, they scavenge all night but did not get anything because there are a lot of others who are scavenging too. We might have something to eat, but our neighbors don’t? So I give them food too.” she said.
Rogelia’s neighbor like Rose Abeng is grateful for the woman’s kindness, she also shared her food when Rogelia’s family is in need. “I’m thankful, really thankful to her.” said Rose.
So when Tzu Chi Foundation distributed 20-kg sacks of rice to 461 families in the area, Rogelia was more than glad to share some of the rice with her neighbors.
“I am happy. We can have food for lunch or dinner, I want to share it so that all of us will be happy. It gives me a very light feeling,it doesn’t matter even if you are sick, because you are happy.” she said.
Tzu Chi volunteer Sharon Sy said that this was what Master Cheng Yen wants to impart to everyone.
“Even if she doesn’t have enough food, she’s willing to share. That is what Master Cheng Yen always tell us; That sharing is not the privilege of the rich, but it is for those who have a loving heart.”Sharon said.
Sharon also said that she envisions a brighter future for the people of Happy Land, especially for the children. “These kids, where would they be in the future? I hope that one day, their life will change. That’s what I wish for them.”