Reading is a way for me to de-stress.
I read books, publications and of course, I am an avid follower of really amazing bloggers. One of my favorites is Sab, a travel blogger from Germany who decided to quit her job to fulfil her dreams of exploring the world.
Her story is quite inspiring, and what I like about her the most (very subjective me) is her love for the Philippines.
One night I checked her blog, and was happy to see she has a new post. And it has a profound title, Smokey Mountain: A Walk Through The Slums Of Manila, Philippines.
I knew this place well.
I visited this slum in Manila a number of times when I was still working in the media. This place is filled with stories of survival, inspiration and hope.
As I start reading, memories flash back.
Credit: Smokey Mountain Manila
Manila’s Urban Poor
The exact place is called Sitio Damayan in Tondo, Manila or what they call Smokey Mountain 2. The original Smokey Mountain is located just near the place, it was shut down by the government in the 90’s in an attempt to provide better living condition for the people. But sadly, the government program did not turn out as expected.
The dumpsite still continues as well as the shanties of the people coined as the poorest of the poor.
Today, the place is still filled with garbage, a dumpsite where people make a living through scavenging and charcoal-making.
The air is filled with dark smoke because of charcoal production, it is just unbearable to think of how people, especially kids survive in this place.
“Pagpag” is also prevalent here. Pagpag is a Filipino word for leftover food from fast food restaurants scavenged from garbage bins. These are being re-heated or re-cooked (frying) by some people here…to eat.
Pagpag literally means to “shake off”, it means shaking the dirt off of the leftover food.
This will make you realize that the urban poor, people who live in the slums, have very few options even when it comes to the basic needs like food.
As I finished reading Sab’s post, and viewing all the photos of the kids in the slum, I was surprised.
I was surprised to have this weird feeling I just couldn’t explain.
I thought Sab joined a volunteer work in the area, or maybe she has a friend who works in an NGO and they would meet someone there.
It’s possible, because believe it or not, no matter how unsafe the place looks like, you can go there anytime. You would be surprised how people can be very friendly. It’s relatively safe.
But it was actually through a Slum Tour. Please don’t get me wrong, I am still a fan of Sab, nothing has changed.
I just wanted to validate my feelings after reading her blog post.
It was also a realization for me, that the concept of Slum Tourism which is highly debated around the world is now here in my country. The practice that is widely popular in Mumbai (thanks to movie Slumdog Millionaire), Brazil and Nigeria is now here in the Philippines.
And for my fellow Filipinos who don’t know about this, this is the time for you to be informed.
The tour in Smokey Mountain is being organized by Smokey Tours, a group of people who charges 750 pesos (16 USD) per head for those who want to join.
They said that “ALL” proceeds from the tour goes to their foundation which helps the people there.
Below are some of the tour’s “highlights:”
- *Pagpag: Observe and understand the leftovers that are considered sumptuous to the residents living in the area
- *Recycling Area: See how many of the residents’ scavengers earn a living
- *Residential Areas: Wonder through the area and visit somebody’s house
I wonder what do the tour guides tell the visitors when they observe their fellow locals/Filipinos eat pagpag. Just thinking about it makes me sad.
Slum Tourism Advocates
People who support slum tourism said it promotes social awareness.
A chance for someone who grew up in a wealthy country or community to see how the poorest of the poor live, igniting a sense of gratefulness, and to appreciate life more.
And hopefully, triggered something in them to help.
Some says, this is also good for the local economy. Operators of Slum Tour in Manila is claiming that all their proceeds go to their foundation.
Another good example is the Favela Tours in Brazil. The place that was once wracked by crimes is now one of the most talked about tourist destinations in Rio De Janeiro, and more help has been also given to the community.
The Other Side of Slum Tourism
To get a glimpse on how people from the slums feel?
You may read this beautiful article from New York Times written by then student Kennedy Odede from Nairobi, Kenya.
He said he was just 16 when he first saw a slum tour in their area… he wrote.
“I was outside my 100-square-foot house washing dishes, looking at the utensils with longing because I hadn’t eaten in two days. Suddenly, a white woman was taking my picture. I felt like a tiger in a cage. Before I could say anything, she had moved on… Slum tourism is a one-way street: They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.”
That statement was just so powerful that I don’t need more explanation to get the message across.
For those who are joining slum tours in Manila, I think you would feel that people there love your presence as they always smile at you.
Sadly, this is just the nature of the Filipinos. We are very accommodating to visitors, especially to foreign tourists.
But deep down, you would never know what they truly feel as you watch them eat pagpag, or take pictures of them or their kids while picking up garbage.
You would never know what they feel, when a guide intrudes their home to show you they don’t have a decent toilet.
I can’t say I wholeheartedly understand what the people from the slum feel, because I don’t live there.
But for someone who comes from a simple family, as I grew up… It’s painful.
Credit: World Watch
Manila Slum Tour And Beyond
Looking at the Smokey Tours website, they now have a “No Camera Policy” for their slum tours. I think this has an underlying meaning, that people behind this tour also understand. You do not take pictures of people living at their worst conditions.
I think the best way to answer the question if Slum Tourism is right or wrong. Or if is it worth it – is by putting yourself on their shoes.
Imagine this, If you were born in a slum, do you want strangers to just go to your house ask some questions and take your picture? Think About it.
As Kennedy mentioned in his New York Times article,
“Slums will not go away because a few dozen Americans or Europeans spent a morning walking around them. There are solutions to our problems — but they won’t come about through tours. “
I am certain that Slum Tourism will continue here in Manila, and I don’t have control over it.
But there is one thing I am sure of – there are other, better ways.
How about you? What can you say about Slum Tourism? Feel free to comment below.