If you accidentally threw your diamond ring into the garbage, would you dive in and look for it?
Most women would do anything to find their treasure. Diamonds are considered the most precious gems on the planet… but the cutie pies I help are even more precious. And many of the children I help live in a garbage dump.
When I arrive in Manila, I visit our partner, which is near Happyland, also known as a garbage dump. Families can earn $1 a day by scavenging through garbage. The dump is their livelihood.
This garbage village is a whole new world of sounds, smells, sensations, and visual stimulation. There are dogs barking, barefoot and barehanded men, women and children sorting through recyclables, people eating, naked children playing, flies swarming, oil puddles glistening, and foul smells that tickle your nose until you realize, you don’t even smell it. This is home for them.
Happyland is like a maze of shacks. Little children call out to me, “hello!” “Hello!” “Americana!” I’m that woman, that foreigner who is welcomed to walk through their “village.” People smile, old toothless women stick their head out of the holes cut out from their homes, children wave, and men stare, probably wondering what on earth is this foreigner doing in here.
And I’m here to visit our cutie pies.
I came with the social worker and my volunteer. We came armed with an umbrella and sneakers. But as soon as we were a few minutes within Happyland, torrential downpour stopped us in our tracks. We hid under an awning that consisted of old plastic tarps. Children gathered around waiting for the water to run off to create an instant waterfall shower. For these kids, rain is welcome because, for many here, there is no running water, no toilet, and no public bath. Rain means getting clean.
When the rain finally subsided, the social worker called the parent of Snooki, our sponsor child. She asked them to bring rainboots. I said, “it’s okay, I have sneakers.” The social worker replied, “No, their area is flooded.”
Within minutes, Snooki and her mother arrived with 3 pairs of boots. As I put them on, I remembered how I first met Snooki’s mother. She had offered me a stool to stand on to cross flooded waters near her home. And a year later, she offered me protection from the floodwaters once again.
We walked through 5-inch high waters. There’s no drainage. The stench becomes stronger, but you just get used to it. I look around and it’s always dark because there are few places for natural light to filter through. Oftentimes, it’s just black, but I can see some light reflecting off the floodwater.
Finally, we escape from the dark maze and we find Snooki’s family peeling garlic. Snooki was so happy to see me, and more noticeably, her social skills have improved. She ran to her room and back to show me her test scores. She had a lot of “very good”s in red ink. She is so happy because she’s in school. When I first “found” her peeking out of her window last year, she wasn’t in school. I had asked her mom why she wasn’t in school. And she had explained, “we cannot afford the transportation to take her to public school.” Today, Maya’s Hope provides for her education at a private school for children with special needs. To see her exuding confidence, touches my heart. Snooki is proud of what she has accomplished in just one year.
Snooki took my hand and guided me to her bedroom, which was on the second floor of their “hand-made” home. Her floor was covered with colorful contact paper, and she pointed to the new wooden walls that we had funded. The rain no longer pours into her room, which often contributed to pneumonia.
I asked her where she sleeps and she pointed to the cardboard pieces next to an old pillow. I said, “We will get you a new mattress.” She smiled and hugged me.
I asked, “Is there anything else?”
Her mom said, “Snooki needs a fan. The mosquitos bite her when she’s asleep.”
I said, “We will get her a fan.”
Then Snooki hugged me tighter.
She understood that she is important.
I asked her mom about the improvements and she said that Snooki has learned how to cook some dishes, she washes her own clothes and her grades have improved. Snooki is so motivated to learn and is grateful to be around other students, even though it’s far away from her home.
Snooki has special needs, but she is capable of contributing to the family and learning important life skills. I hope to see her become more independent. Most importantly, she will know that she is special and perhaps one day, she will no longer be in the garbage dump.
When I left Snooki’s home, they accompanied me to the entrance of Happyland so they could take back their rainboots they were lending us. As Snooki slushed through the floodwaters in her slippers, I realized it didn’t bother her at all. It was just normal to her. But she couldn’t stop smiling.