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A Different World Right Here in Manila – My Tondo Experience

Last Saturday, quite early on a weekend - at 6:00 AM, I woke up to meet with the rest of the group from work. I didn’t really know any of them except that we all volunteered to paint a school library somewhere in Tondo. I was actually a bit anxious because I didn’t know anyone and I wondered how we’ll get along. I also thought of ditching the activity and just sleep the whole morning then hang out with my friends in the afternoon but I felt guilty. It’s not like me to be that selfish. Anyway, I really wanted to help out and experience the other side of Tondo. I know lots of well to do families live there too but some of the areas is unfortunately more famous as a breeding ground for macho sangganos, snatchers, murderers, avenue for domestic violence, child abuse and as deep as you can get type of poverty. I’ve actually been there a couple of times for work. I used to go to Makro North Harbor about once a month and I’ve never been robbed although I would often hear talk to people who knows someone who just got robbed. Anyway, I haven’t experienced going inside that kind of community I hear people talk about. I’m quite positive that although there’s a grain of truth to what they’re saying, it’s not as bad as people think.

I went to the reception hall at the 45th floor (our meeting place) thinking I was already late but I was actually the second person to arrive. This other guy came in first and oh man, I didn’t really like that guy because I find him so snobbish. Well, that was just my first impression of him. Later, I realized he can be nice and funny. He was seated in one of the blue sofas reading a magazine. I started talking to this girl who just came in. She’s so friendly, warm and talkative so we bonded instantly. The girl introduced me to the snobby, cute guy and he just sort of grunted a hi to me. The organizer came in next and I felt more at ease with everyone because they all seemed nice. This other girl came in - which I’ve actually met before. She’s actually a friend of a friend. Anyway, we waited a while for the rest of the people to show up which took quite a long time. I was feeling impatient already. Good thing I had Elena to talk to – my new friend.

Before 10AM, our van turned right to an alley covered in garbage on both sides. It’s not just any garbage, it’s the mother load of garbage! I’m talking about huge piles of garbage sacks and when I stared at the top part of the piles of the garbage, I was surprised to see shanties. People actually live there?! We thought it was a junk shop. We all got culture-shocked except for the organizer who has been there a couple of times. Our mouths were hanging wide open wondering how people can survive to that place. Ysa (organizer) warned us that it’s very stinky but we shouldn’t cover our nose with hankies since we do not want to offend the people who lived there and we all agreed. Afraid to offend anyone, I got the cologne from my bag, took some and placed it inside my nose. I’m not a high-maintenanced girl, it’s just that I have a bad gag reflex. Our van reached an abandoned building and yikes, it wasn’t really a school yet. It was an old abandoned building owned by this livelihood program people. It was kinda scary. It looked like those buildings in American movies where people get slaughtered, as well as pinoy movies where Bong Revilla gets chased by Paquito Diaz and the rest of the gang and they shoot against each other. Hahahaha! Anyway, as soon as the airconditioning was turned off, the stink of the air welcomes us and goes straight to our nostrils. It took a while before we decided to go down. This is it….time to rough it up. We all went down, I tried to stopped myself from gagging. The smell is like a million little kids, all sweaty under the sun rushing to you. It smelled so rotten. Luckily, in less than two minutes, our nose got acquainted with the scent and we didn’t smell the stink anymore. Thank God! So that’s how people survive living there huh?! We had a little meeting on what needs to be done. We were actually going to paint 3 classrooms and a library. Each classroom is about 50 square meters big.

I realized I had to pee so I asked one of the contractors where the restroom is. Like the rest of the building, it wasn’t a sight to see. The floor was mostly covered in water so I had to skip so I wouldn’t get wet , there was poop in one of the stalls, the second stall – was interesting. I realized one of the construction workers were taking a bath with the door slightly ajar. Tempted as I was to take a peek, I decided not to and proceed with my business. When I got out of the stall, the restroom door was closed and as I opened the door, the guy who was taking a bath in the next stall was standing right in front of me – still all wet. I didn’t peek in, I swear! I just saw his brown-checkered shorts that’s why I recognized him. I felt a bit embarrassed and I just ignored him and headed to the rest of the group to paint. Ohhh my virgin eyes ain’t ready for freshly bath nipples. Hahahahahahha!

We started placing newspapers under the walls – boring job – to prevent spilling paint on the floor. After that, we all set out for our second chore – scraping rugby off the walls! Yikes…it was quite difficult. We had to use sandpaper and the rugby thing doesn’t come off without a fight. It was very tedious. Good thing this pretty American woman – I think she’s with the foundation in charge of building the school – she made us stop scrapping the walls and told us to proceed with painting. She’s actually so friendly but we never got introduced to her.

It takes a while before we could get started with painting. The guys from the construction had to mix the paints first. I didn’t realize it takes a lot of work before you get to paint. Finally, when they had almost fill this huge, blue drum with paint, we started with the walls. We had to paint them all white. A minute or two after starting painting, we all looked so sweaty. It was intensely hoot! We painted for about 5 hours and after that, my hands were calloused – I’m not exaggerating. To think it was only for a few hours and people actually do this for a living. I will never throw construction worker jokes ever again. Merely painting a room is hard work! We painted 4 rooms! I did some construction for habitat for humanity for a week when I was in college and by the end of the week, I had inhaled so much sand, I developed colds and whenever I cough, I can feel the sand in my lungs. Over the years, I have forgotten how hard it was.

Being in Tondo for less than a day was a beautiful experience. I’ve learned that it doesn’t take a plane ride or more than an hour to get lost in a different world. I don’t have pictures yet , I’m not even sure if pictures would be able to capture the plight of the people of Compound 8 in Tondo but being able to visit them enlightened me in a lot of ways. When we left at 4:00 in the afternoon – muscles aching, palms slightly calloused, paint blots on our clothes, I was able to acquire new found respect for construction workers. I woke up the following morning feeling like I’ve been rolled over by a tractor but the pain was worth it. I knew in my own little way, I was able to create a change – in my life and on other people. I gained new acquaintances, experiences and helped build a school for children who will stay longer in the world than I would.

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