A Mall In An Open Dump Site

“There is a mall in Smokey Mountain!”, the children gushed as they watched in awe while the finishing touches were being put in place in preparation for the visit of government officials to the area. Smokey Mountain is the term coined for a large landfill located in Manila, Philippines.

The children were talking about the GK (God's Kraft) Livelihood and Community center in Tondo, Manila, site of the Smokey Mountain temporary housing, where the residents from the previous dump site were relocated. The housing was intended to be temporary but inconsistencies in government and policy planning have made the arrangement permanent.

Most of the “legitimate” dwellers dream of the time when they can transfer to the permanent medium-rise housing the government has built for them. However, health and safety concerns remain - the remaining mountain of garbage still emits gas and there is very real danger of an explosion. Mercifully, the government has responded to the plight of the people there. The government authorized the grant of 24 million Pesos for a program that will provide attractive alternative sources of income for the residents. Hopefully this will stop the scavenging from the new mountain of garbage rising behind the temporary housing.

In the midst of the chaos, residents now see a ray of hope for a better quality of life in the multipurpose center the children have dubbed the “mall”. The old dilapidated livelihood center formerly managed by NHA has been turned over to the GK project. It has been converted into a beautiful multipurpose center with a classy show room.

The new center stands as a symbol of the every resident's dream - to have a beautiful, spacious, clean home and the opportunity to derive and increase their incomes. The last aspiration is being addressed by the livelihood and micro-lending program that CFC is managing through the Foundation for the Fullness and Integrity of Creation Inc. (FFICI)

The Foundation is led by a group of women with Gerry Padilla as Chair and marketing head, Bernie Cuevas as Vice Pres. and Project Consultant and Ruby Borja as treasurer and Chief Finance officer. Together with Fr. Ben Beltran, parish priest of Smokey Mountain and president of FFIC, and with the help of a host of other professional volunteer workers coming from CFC and Handmaids of the Lord, they have made a difference in the lives of the people there.

The production of stylish bags went into high gear when GK opened its first outlet at the Glorietta mall, courtesy of Fernando Zobel and the Ayala Foundation. Right in time for the Christmas season, the beautiful unique bags made of recycled newspapers were a big hit among buyers. A number of inquiries for export was also entertained. The FFIC/SMP group is gearing itself for an expansion of product lines and continuing improvement of the quality of the bags.

Sen. Manny Villar, who is an avid supporter of the program, graced the opening of the outlet.

The micro lending program has also shifted to high gear with the completion of the training of the loan officers and members of the Board of the SMP cooperative. The operations managed by Egay Alcanzare have established the systems in support of both the production and the micro-lending. Medy Kapunan, retired administrator of UNDP, is assisting in the administration of the project.

To date, a total of 150 women have already passed the requirements of the program and have availed of the micro-lending for various business endeavors. 350 more are being processed. By the end of two years, we envision servicing at least 2,000 women from the area, providing income augmentation for their families.

FFIC is also providing office space for the CFC Social Ministries in the community center to ensure that not only livelihood, but health, counseling, responsible parenthood and even legal and other essential services are brought nearer to the people of Smokey GK.

The government officials spent their time in Smokey Mountain talking to the women, expressing their satisfaction for the direct impact in the lives of the beneficiaries of her project grant.

Indeed Smokey Mountain is a model of how government, CFC and people’s organizations can work together in a shared vision for a sustainable better quality of life for the poor.

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