Children as Pioneers in Philippines: Building Resilience in Coastal Slums

Davao City, 05. May 2017

With 1.63 million inhabitants, Davao is the biggest city in Mindanao, and has like many big cities huge slum areas: houses built of cheap material, no sanitation facilities, no water or power supply. Johanniter and its partner organization “Tambayan Center for Children’s Rights” started a three-year project in 2016 aiming amongst others the construction of sanitation facilities. Some people get trained on sanitation, electricity and disaster resistant construction in order to maintain the sanitation facilities and support their community members for construction or renovation of their homes. A plastic recycle machine addresses the huge waste problem, but more important is capacity building, especially for youths to change habits in their communities in relation to waste management and hygiene measures.

The afternoon rain of the monsoon season has just stopped. Water level is high, walkways are muddy and garbage is floating in the water just below the stilt houses. This is a regular day in Barangay 23-C, Davao city’s second biggest barangay (village), where about 20.000 informal settlers live along the coastal area including members of an indigenous tribe called Badjaos. In contrast to the usual smell of sea breeze when walking along the coast, here you’d smell foul odor coming from the mix of solid and human waste just about everywhere you look. Human waste is commonly thrown to open waters if not directly being disposed behind the seawall.

On days when water is at normal level, a sea wall made of rocks piled up just before water reach the shore can be seen. It also serves as a refuge for both children and adults who needs to “unload”. Open defecation is a common practice in this area. A report of WHO, entitled “Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment”, says that over seven million Filipinos don’t have toilets at home. With no proper toilets, limited water and power supply, housing made of scraps and/or light materials, this community is prone to various kinds of hazards like storm surge, earthquake, fire and a lot of diseases.

Ara, a 16 years-old girl, has been living in this barangay for years. She wants to be a policewoman someday. And as part of the group NAKAMATA (a local children’s rights advocacy group) she joins fellow youth in advocating for various issues including proper waste management and disaster preparedness. Ara believes in setting a good example for the others in the community: “If they see us doing the right thing [on cleanliness] we somehow influence them to do the same.”

16 years-old Ara believes in setting a good example. Foto: Balidoy/JUH

Tambayan used to organize child-led coastal clean-up on a monthly basis with NAKAMATA and with the support of the Barangay council, but it wasn’t enough to move everyone. Fishing production, what Badjaos depended on, is continuously declining. Most of the sometimes called “sea gypsies” started begging as means to survive. “It’s easy to blame the Badjaos; the uninformed and unrepresented. But really everyone contributes to this problem and everybody has a role to play to address this”, says Ara. She is hopeful that their voices as children will be heard. With stricter implementation of existing policies, she is positive that change will be achieved. She believes that if all members of the community, including local government, the youth, indigenous people’s leaders and other stakeholders, will work hand in hand addressing these issues, they will finally come up with a sustainable solution for everybody’s welfare.

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