‘Most of the children were just wearing rags’

WAY OF LIFE Some of the children who live on Smokey Mountain
WAY OF LIFE Some of the children who live on Smokey Mountain
Yachts taking part in last years Clipper Round the World Race			             	  Picture: onEdition

‘Team spirit’ will keep us buoyant on global challenge

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The Philippines. It conjures up images of sandy beaches, blue skies, palm trees and clear waters.

But the reality for some couldn’t be more different.

TEAM The members of Portsmouth Family Church on the trip

TEAM The members of Portsmouth Family Church on the trip

Tens of thousands of women, men and children of all ages spend their days clawing through piles of rubbish as they desperately look for things to sell.

This isn’t a hobby –it’s their only way of making a living, keeping a roof over their heads and putting food on the table.

It is estimated that 30,000 people live on Smokey Mountain in Manila – a sprawling rubbish tip that consists of more than two million tonnes of waste.

The average life expectancy of people living there is 50.

But many of the tip’s inhabitants would be lucky if they reached that age.

So when Portsmouth Family Church pastor Stuart Payne decided he would lead a team of 16 worshippers on a trip to the deprived country in south east Asia, he knew he was going to be in for a culture shock.

But nothing could have prepared him for the grim reality he faced.

‘The smell coming from the rubbish tip was absolutely unbearable,’ Stuart, 35, says.

‘It was made even worse by the heat. The temperature was a constant 95F (35C).

‘I couldn’t believe that people had no choice but to live their day-to-day lives on a massive pile of rubbish.’

He adds: ‘I was overwhelmed by the depth of the poverty. What really got me was the sheer scale of it.

‘What was also difficult was knowing that just a few miles down the road was the US embassy. It was a completely different world.’

He was apprehensive about going at first because he had not been abroad very often.

He explains: ‘I had to adjust to being in a country where things are completely different.’

The purpose of the congregation’s two-week trip was simple – to make a difference to people’s lives and deliver the Christian message.

During their stay they repainted a technology college near the tip, built two years ago by the Philippines Community Fund in a bid to give children an education.

A nearby building that was previously used to house the 450-plus students is now the headquarters of the charity, which endeavours to improve the quality of life for poor Filipino communities.

But a constant stream of polluted water flows through the building because the mountain of rubbish nearby stops it from draining away properly.

Stuart, of Baffins in Portsmouth, says: ‘One of the most frustrating things was discovering that the local government had built an adequate sewage system near to the tip – but it wasn’t functional.

‘All the sewage continues to pour into the river, which children play in and families wash themselves in.

‘It seemed that the government had just built the system as a way of showing outsiders that they were doing something about the problem.’

As well as praying with children living on the streets, the team also ventured to a small community in Navotas, Manila which is built on top of scores of human graves.

As they made their way through the slums they came across a pocket of homes built on wooden stilts by a river.

The team – made up of Family Church members from Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport congregations, soon discovered that 18 months previously a typhoon had swallowed up more than 300 homes near to the water’s edge – leaving families homeless.

But despite their loss, Stuart and his team realised the people living there were some of the happiest they had ever met.

‘These people literally had nothing,’ he says.

‘But they were smiling, joking and laughing with us. Most of the children were just wearing rags and were covered head to foot in dirt and mud.

‘It was incredibly emotional, but it was amazing to see these people unfazed and getting on with life.

‘They’re also incredibly religious people,’ Stuart explains.

‘The core belief is Catholicism. We were out there when it was Good Friday and people were physically punishing themselves as a way of symbolising what Jesus had gone through for us.’

The church endeavoured to do all it could for the people they met. Nurses from the team helped out at a new birthing clinic, whilst mechanics’ skills were also passed on.

Five months before the trip, Family Church congregations began shipping out scores of boxes full of unwanted toothpaste tubes, ring pulls from soft drink cans and other recyclable goods to the Philippines so people could make jewellery and handbags out of them to sell.

More boxes were taken out by the team, who got to see some of the impressive resulting handiwork.

Stuart says: ‘The trip has made me think a lot about what we take for granted and how lucky we are in this country.’

THE PHILIPPINES

Though the capital Manila is home to a massive rubbish dump, the Philippines is regarded as one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world.

It is made up of 7,107 islands which are split into three geographical areas - Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The country is prone to earthquakes and typhoons because it has a tropical climate and is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire - where a large number of of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean.

Multiple ethnicities and cultures are found throughout the islands.

An ethnic group called Negritos were some of the earliest inhabitants.

They were followed by successive waves of Austronesian peoples who brought with them influences from Malay, Hindu and Islamic societies.

According to a UN-Habitat report, more than 20 million people in the Philippines live in slums.

In the city of Manila alone, 50 per cent of the 11 million-plus inhabitants are in slum areas.

Smokey Mountain has operated as a rubbish dump in Manila for more than 40 years.

The dump got its name from the fact that large parts of it catch fire because the waste decomposes at such high temperatures.

The fires have caused deaths in recent times.

CONGREGATIONS

Family Church has congregations across Hampshire - and five years ago it set up a base in the Philippines to help people living on the Smokey Mountain rubbish tip.

In Portsmouth, Family Church meets at King Richard Secondary School in Paulsgrove and City of Portsmouth Girls’ School.

A total of 500 worshippers from across the city meet at both locations every week.

Just days before churchgoers embarked on a trip to the Philippines, they decided to distribute 450 boxes of chocolates to residents in Buckland and Paulsgrove.

Pastor Stuart Payne says: ‘This free goodwill gesture was about giving something back to the community.

‘We want to show people that we are an active church which not only cares for people abroad but for those living on our doorstep too.’

The team raised thousands of pounds towards the work of the Philippines Community Fund before going on the trip.

Ian Pattinson, 50, who was a member of Havant’s Family Church congregation, was due to join the team but sadly died of a stroke at the beginning of the year.

Stuart says: ‘His passing was really hard to take in. Lots of people came forward and helped to raise money for the trip. So really Ian made more of a difference than the rest of us.’