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A Visit to Smokey Mountain

Our continuing celebration of Women's Month takes us to Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila where four Relief Society sisters celebrate the joy of service.
Smokey Mountain used to be a beautiful little fishing village before it began to be used as a garbage dump site many decades ago. At its present height, the community is over seven stories high. It has literally become a mountain of garbage inhabited by 25,000 people and over 7,000 families. Children roam the trash-strewn streets naked or scantily clothed and shoeless; they swim in disease-infested waters. People die every day unremembered. Death has become as common as birth, and the cycle of life continues in seemingly hopeless misery. But they are not without hope.
Each day, thousands wait for garbage trucks to come in and drop off fresh garbage from the cities, so they can pick through it for recyclables and then trade their collections of plastics and tin cans to a junkshop dealer for a few pesos. On a good day, a scavenger can make about Php100. On a typical day, however, fights break out over territories of trash. Children who are not in the local school, roam the mountains alongside their fathers and mothers helping to supplement the family's income with what they find. Make-shift shacks of sheet metal, cardboard, plastic tarps, and tires often house three generations, and these ‘temporary’ shelters can be easily destroyed in one storm.
A majority of these people suffer from respiratory diseases, parasites, infections, and malnutrition.  The average life expectancy at the Tondo dumpsite, where the third generation is now being raised, is 36 years old.
On March 5, a group of Relief Society sisters from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Makati, visited Tondo to bring much-needed supplies to the school there and to help serve lunch and give encouragement to both teachers and children. Three of the women made the following observations about their incredible day spent bringing relief to this unbelievable community built on and from trash.
They were impressed with the Philippine Christian Foundation operating nearby, which for 10 years has worked to provide an education for some of these children, giving them a chance to one day escape the poverty that currently traps them.
At the 4-story PCF building, constructed of 74 recycled shipping containers, these children are fed breakfast and lunch during their 7-hour school day.  As an incentive for attending school, the children are allowed to take home cans of food so they can still contribute to feeding their family. The Relief Society sisters of the Makati 4th congregation brought backpacks and dry-erase boards to personally present to the schoolchildren.  This was a rewarding opportunity to interact with the children fortunate enough to be able to attend the school.  However, as they walked around the communities built on the dumpsite, observing children and adults living in such extreme conditions, the sisters were almost at a loss for words.  They left with an increased desire to serve as well as a deeper appreciation for their own fortunate circumstances.
Going to Smokey Mountain was a profoundly sobering, thought provoking experience.  It reinforced a belief in the critical importance of all forms of   compassionate service. One woman cared enough to start the school and a small amount of money supports one child for a month.  With a little training, the mothers were industriously creating beautiful works of art from recycled items which they could sell to provide for their families.  Whether we start a school, volunteer to help, contribute money, time, food, needed items or show love and concern, the "Lord has need of all of us" to make a difference in the world if we are willing.
“It was one of my most memorable experiences. The people there are the poorest of the poor, yet the children played and laughed like all little children.  They don't know any other life.  It was touching, heartbreaking and moving.  I thought of Mother Theresa and how she did all she could to help the poorest in India and Egypt.  The people who run the dump schools are just like her, doing all they can to help lift people out of poverty by educating the children.  Bless all those who work there or contribute to the cause.”  Janice McAllister
“Although I knew this dumpsite city existed,” said Jamie Bohn, “seeing it first-hand was a solemn experience and an overwhelming reminder that I have been richly blessed and that my blessings come with an obligation; that as I leave the dumpsite and return to my well-plumbed, well-lit, and well-built home, with plenty of food to feed my own children, my gratitude doesn’t mean much if I don’t take action to ease the suffering of my brothers and sisters—to offer them hope.  True gratitude mandates action.”
Chris Marchant concluded the experience with her observation, “My thoughts as we walked through the Smokey Mountain Garbage Dump were that these people love each other, care for each other and are content with very little. It was very humbling.”
The Lord reminds us in Scripture, “When you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:40

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