Action before celebration on World Environment Day
MANILA, Philippines – Two decades ago, their grandparents' source of livelihood was closed down. Their grandparents left the dumpster. But two decades later, the grandsons and granddaughters found themselves back in the dumps.
Welcome to Barangay 105 or the Aroma Temporary Housing in Tondo, Manila. The settlement is popularly known as Happyland; it was only meant to be a temporary relocation site for displaced Smokey Mountain dwellers and scavengers. Two decades later, what was supposed to be temporary became permanent.
It is a place full of irony.
Although known as Happyland, most of the people living in the community are unhappy about their living condition – saddled by sanitation issues and problems with government assistance.
When assistance is lacking, people turn to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for help, but the aid they receive is just enough for one Sunday. Worse, some NGOs even encourage "slum tourism," turning Happyland into an aquarium of sorts for tourists to wonder about and wander in.
Finding a toy from the heap of garbage that also serves as their playground, most of Happyland's children are unaware of the dangers that the squalid conditions they are living in bring. They smile even with dirt on their faces, and even if they are sick and hungry. But what do they know?
Such unsanitary living spaces expose children to various diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. And since securing food and proper nutrition is another day-to-day struggle experienced by most of Happyland kids, the risks to such diseases could only grow higher.
Manila celebrated World Environment Day (WED) by clearing its bay of garbage and informal settlers – a replay of what the government did before Pope Francis visited the country earlier this year. This action took place only 4 kilometers away from Happyland.
WED, or "people's day" for doing something positive for the environment and for encouraging awareness and action, is not just about cleaning our surroundings for one day. It is about ensuring a healthy community for the lasting well-being of humanity.
This is something the children of Happyland badly need.