When you’d arrived at Payatas, it had seemed like a mountain looming on the horizon. Then you’d gotten closer and realised it was a colossal pile of rubbish. To others, Payatas is an eyesore. To you, it is your source of shelter, income and food. The place you now call home.

 

Hours pass without finding any food. How many exactly, you can’t tell, but the sun is now on the other side of the sky. Finally, you see a bread crust floating in the sewerage that trickles through the dump. You lunge onto it, brush the maggots off and, as hungry as you are, stuff it in your pocket. Your children haven’t eaten yet. You pray the crust won’t make them vomit like the last bit of food you found.

 

This is what Ana’s life used to be like. Ana grew up on the Payatas dumpsite in the Philippines. Her parents had very little money and, alongside her three siblings, she struggled to survive amongst the rubbish and the waste. The Payatas dumpsite is located on the outskirts of Manila in Quezon City in the Philippines. It is a landfill area where solid waste is dumped after being collected from the city. Here, thousands of families live and work, scavenging in the rubbish to find food and anything of value to sell. Ana remembers the suffering of her childhood and the lack of opportunity that she was faced with.

 

“There were four of us siblings and our parents didn’t have jobs. They neglected us and we went wherever we wanted. When we came home there was no food. It was everyone for themselves. Each of us would have to find a way to eat,” she says.

 

 

Ana started ‘working’ as a scavenger amongst the rubbish when she was eight years old. She would spend her days searching for food and items such as copper, tin, aluminium and wood that she could give to her parents to sell. Though her father had worked as a carpenter and her mother had worked in a laundry, they were not able to make enough money to provide for their children and had to move to Payatas so they could scavenge to survive.

 

“Life in the rubbish tip was so hard because you’d dig through all sorts of trash – anything from faeces to dead dogs. When we saw food, of course our stomachs were aching. So all of us would just eat but you would vomit because of the dirty things you’d touch and smell. I was immune to it, but I wanted to breathe fresh air and to be nice, clean and tidy. I saw that my neighbours had beautiful toys. They ridiculed us and said we were just street children and would avoid us.”

 

At nine months pregnant, Ana was still scavenging for food amongst the rubbish. She worried for the health of her baby. Sadly, she believed that there were only two options for women living in Payatas, to scavenge or prostitute themselves. Then Ana heard about a third option – she applied for a small loan through Opportunity International Australia’s local partner in the Philippines.

 

“My siblings and I were all scavengers and I thought I’d always remain in the dump as a scavenger, and if I stayed there I was worthless. So I strived and worked hard until I found someone that I could borrow money from to start a business and I was able to borrow money…to get started.”

 

Ana took out a small loan to start a sari sari store which is a small kiosk. It was the first time in her life that she had been given a chance to succeed – she was able to begin to work her way out of the dumpsite. “With the first 4,000 pesos ($A91) that I received, I bought all the items that I was going to sell; biscuits, shampoo, candies and noodles. Whenever I earned money I would buy more of what people needed. I bought and sold every day for six months and it grew and grew.”

 

Access to financial services such as credit, savings and insurance may seem simple, but it can dramatically change someone like Ana’s life. Instead of having to scour the tip looking for rubbish, Ana stands proud in her store with her goods hanging on the wall around her. When the sun shines through the front window, it lights up the bright packaging of the ’candies’.

 

“My 4,000 pesos (A$91) grew and the contents of my store has almost reached 15,000 pesos (A$341). After six months, I paid off what I borrowed and now I’ve got my own store! So when I wake up in the morning I’m so happy because I can’t believe right here I own my own business.” With her new income, she is able to provide for her four children Faith (12), Sharma (10), Janmuel (4) and Jekrry (3). “I was able to start buying medicines.”

 

Not only is Ana now able to give her children nutritious food, clean drinking water and medicine when they are sick, she is able to give them an education – ensuring that they won’t know the life of poverty that she once faced. Faith is in her first year of high school and dreams of becoming an actor or a dancer and Sharma, in just her fifth year of primary school, wants to become an entrepreneur, like her mum. Janmuel and Jekrry will start school in the next few years.

 

“Poverty makes you dream about succeeding in life. And here I am. I used to be one of the street children, now I have a family that is in order. I have a kind husband and I have a business. My dream is to make it bigger and bigger until I can become truly successful and I can be proud and dream for my children. That’s why I’m saving, to help them finish school because they are talented. I really want to help them finish studying.”

 

“When you start at the bottom, you appreciate where you came from. I’ve learned in my life to be firm and strong in whatever trials that come. I don’t want my children to experience sleeping on the streets. I want to help other people because my heart is soft for those who are poor.” Though to others she may still not have much, for Ana it is important to give back to those with less – those that are still suffering. “The street children – I call them in and give them food and water to drink because I see myself in them."

 

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Opportunity International Australia provides people living in poverty with the opportunity to transform their lives. Offering a hand up rather than a hand-out, we use a sustainable approach to solve poverty – empowering families through community development programs and loans as small as $100 to help them grow their own small business. These services mean families no longer have to struggle to afford food, water, healthcare and an education for their children. Inspired by Jesus Christ’s call to serve the poor, we seek to help people regardless of their gender, ethnicity or religious affiliation.

Our desire is to see families permanently break free from poverty.

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