Friday, December 30, 2005

No Feast For The Yuletide For RP Children

ZAMBOANGA CITY (ZamboangaJournal) For its residents, Lumbangan is a man-made hill of poverty, a symbol of a struggle for many who brave the heat and cold in search of scrap.

The village, about 10 kilometers east of Zamboanga City, is a dump for tons of garbage that could be anything from a harmless piece of rubber duck toy to more toxic materials such as computer and television parts or even a bottle of pesticide.

“Welcome, Joe, this is our place,” said Rodel Cabayacruz. At age 13, he has spent half of his lifetime scavenging for scrap—papers, tin cans, and even rotten food—just to be able to help his family.

“I come here every day and I don’t mind the stench. What is important to me is I bring a little money for my brother’s milk. We are so poor that my mother cannot even send me to school,” he says.

Rodel earns around P50 a day and he is only one of many dozens of children, some as young as two years old, who regularly go to the dump.

On Christmas Eve Rodel needs to take home some money, not for the traditional feast, but to buy medicines for his kid brother. “You know the kids, they get sick often,” he says.

“What’s for Christmas, let’s see. Well, it is just another day for us. No feast for sure. Just last night we had a rice and fish sauce for supper, and the other day, salt, and earlier, we had a dinner of fish paste,” he says.

His father and mother also scavenge for scrap. “And my kid brother stays in the house alone and sometimes with the neighbors,” says Rodel, the eldest of the three siblings. Another brother, aged 12, helps him scavenge.

The dump is a place of opportunity for many jobless people in the village, but there are dangers to face as well. Many scavengers are suffering from respiratory diseases.

One man says he has tuberculosis. “I am always feverish and I cough a lot.”

But for many, life must go on. “There is no help here. We struggle here every day so we can also eat at least once a day. We are appealing to the government to help the poor by providing us with sustainable livelihood programs,” says Marilyn Solis, a 29-year-old.

“It will be very lucky if can take home P50. Most of the time I get only 20 pesos from the scrap I pick up here,” Marilyn says.

Another scavenger, Victoria Alejandro, even brought her baby as she scrounges for fresh garbage. “Not much today, look around you, there is nothing, and if there are some, the others have already got them,” the 39-year-old mother says.

Many have waited for Santa Claus to arrive at the dump, but it was already Christmas Eve and there was no sign that the great gift-giver would come.

“Santa is not coming, I guess. Maybe it is because of the smell and the garbage. You know the place is really dirty,” says Emong Patrocino. “We want to ask our Santa some food for the kids, not for us.”

Like Patrocino, the rest also waited for Santa, but many Christmas eves had passed without his showing up.

“You know who is our Santa? They are the people we voted in the past elections, and we always pray that for just once, they would come and visit us here and see our plight and have pity on our children, even on Christmas Day,” Emong says, wiping his tears with a piece of tattered rag.

And for Rodel, his only wish this Christmas is for Santa Claus to come.

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