I didn’t notice the sun disappear.
I was quite positive that the sun was out when the day began, but it was nowhere to be found by the time I reached the first block. Either it was overcast or the smoke looming overhead was just too thick. I could not help but sing Smokey Mountain’s Paraiso in my head — No birds there fly over paraiso / No space allows them to endure / The smoke that screens the air — as I silently hoped it was the former, but the latter wasn’t really a far-fetched idea.
A typical house in Smokey Mountain
Sorting through the trash
Sabrina, a travel blogger friend from Germany, was concerned about something else. “It makes me feel a bit guilty touring around here,” she said as we made our way across the trash-covered ground.
I had the same reservations. I would have easily dismissed it as prostituting poverty, more exploitative than enlightening, but the organizers were quick to blow the doubts away. The tour helps the residents in two ways: their guides are locals and that the profits — 100% of it — go to the community. Bahay at Yaman ni San Martin de Porres, the beneficiary, is a non-government organization committed “to improve lives of disadvantaged children” through livelihood, skills training, education, and health programs for communities like Smokey Mountain.
The project is not meant to turn this place into a tourist attraction but to open eyes and minds to the other side of Manila, the side that is tucked in a corner behind the thick haze, a place that most people would not dare or bother to see. “Deep experiences equal deep insights,” they claim. While a day here can’t be any deep as a real immersion, it is a good place to start to raise awareness and inspire action.