JOURNEYS

Trash into Treasure

Ree Soria displays Christ’s love to scavengers at the one-time trash dump Smokey Mountain in the Philippines

Lolo, one of the scavengers on Smokey Mountain, scraps for a day’s wage. He is one of many here that find treasure out of trash, yet still are overwhelmed with the feeling that they are trash and can only look forward to death. © Ree Soria 2010

Children of Smokey Mountain. © Ree Soria  2010

A gathering of residents that call the trash site formerly known as Smokey Mountain (it officially ceased to exist in 1990) gather together after a day of scavenging. © Ree Soria  2010

The place is like a desert of trash...but instead of sand it is pieces of metal, plastic, and other debris piled up everywhere you look. The endless piles spell BAD STINK, the aroma just so terribly polluting to the nostrils. The place is called Smokey Mountain, or better known as Hell on Earth.

I was in Tondo, a district in Manila, Philippines, as part of a True Love Waits Philippines training event with YWAM (Youth With A Mission), teaching the youngsters the importance of purity within the love of God. While in that area, myself and some guest missionaries of TLW, Jason Brown and Greg Lewis, sought to visit the ajacent Smokey Mountain, the trash heap whose fumes from the ever-smoldering incineration give it the “smokey” name.

The area was once Manila’s main dumping ground (until it was shut down in 1990), a landfill that hosted more than 2 million tons of garbage. People used to live on the heap in squatter villages—and some still do—but most now live in government housing—huge towers—right next to the former dump.

Seeing the life there, the kids, so innocent and covered with the dirt of the dump, my instant reaction was sorrow and sympathy. I really feel soooorry for those people living in that place and I know life is not easy for them... I wish there's something I can do for them.

On my visit, I came across Lolo Carlito and his team; they are scavengers who make a living out of trash by taking plastics and selling them for recycling. To many of us, we spell TRASH as BAD STINK, UNPLEASANT LEFTOVERS or just simply TRASH but to Lolo Carlito and his team they spell TRASH as TREASURE and that's their wealth.

As I was talking to Lolo Carlito, we started a funny conversation that went something like this:

Me: Lolo, kamusta ang buhay? (How's life?)

Lolo Carlito: Eto, mahirap. walang makain. gusto ko na nga mamahinga sa La Loma (Life is a challenge . Nothing to eat. I wanna rest- La Loma)

Not realizing it at the time, what he meant by that was probably that he wanted to die and be buried in La Loma Catholic Cemetery, a famous resting place for many Filipinos. Thinking that the rest was literal and not meant to relate to death, I responded with: Ahhh mabuti po yun mamahinga na kayo.. (oohhh, good that you can take your rest).

Lolo Carlito: Ibig kong sabihin mamahinga na ko ng habang buhay. Kaso inaalala ko panu ko ililibing eh wala naman akong pera panlibing. (What I mean, I want to rest forever but I worry about my memorial, I don't have money for that).

Honestly, I was lost for words when I heard that. I can't just believe someone is wishing for his death and yet, worried about how he would be laid down on his grave.

Upon hearing him said that, I prayed at the back of my mind, and I knew God wanted me to share His LOVE and the LIFE He intended for Lolo Carlito and his team.

I simply shared with them that even if life seems to be all trash, unfair and without hope... JESUS gives HOPE to the hopeless, He cares so much for them and that He loved them so dearly and God is offering them LIFE... I related this verse (John 10:10) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have LIFE, and have it to the full.”

I told them all that there's nothing I can offer them, but I came to share the good news and that God offers LIFE. Then they all said, "I want that LIFE," so I led them to prayer and eventually prayed for them. While I was praying, winds came in and something slapped my face and when I opened my eyes to check, it was one of those plastic bags from the trash. I was reminded that I was once a piece of trash and there's nothing that I can boast but only the thought of the grace of God I was redeemed from the trash life...

My prayer for Lolo and all that suffer throughout the world was this: Lord, continue to heal and give life to the people who hurting physically and spiritually. Help each and everyone of us to share YOU to the lost ones and help me to live the life that you designed for me for Your glory and honor... I love you JESUS :))

It was such a joy to share the LOVE & LIFE that God has for humankind... :)) I will always be thankful that He led me to Smokey Mountain that day to intercede for Lolo.

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Ree Soria is the media marketing manager for True Love Waits Philippines, the organization that seeks to teach young people about purity and the love of God. She can be reached at heiressofgod@gmail.com or through the TLW website at www.wagmuna.com.