|Church offers hope to Filipinos living amid garbage|
A young girl is surrounded by trash at the dump
nicknamed Smokey Mountain in Manila, Philippines. The city's poorest
people live in the dump and make their living looking for goods to
recycle. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
Third in a series about ministry in the Philippines
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 17, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)
Shalom Kindergarten at Smokey Mountain United Methodist Church is
full of smiling faces. Sixty children in matching plaid uniforms sit in
three rows facing a large blackboard.
Teacher Elenita Laurente leads singing, and the children participate
at the top of their little lungs. Laurente grew up in squalid conditions
and is grateful for the opportunity to teach and raise six children who
do not have to live as she once did.
Sun Sook Kim stands outside and peeks in the front window of the
one-room classroom. She acts as if she has never seen such a scene,
although she has been a missionary in the area for 20 years.
Kim is leading a group of United Methodists from the United States on
a tour of her world. Prior to visiting this room of beautiful, singing
children, the group saw where the children live a few blocks away in the
"new" Smokey Mountain.
Poorest of the poor
For many in the United States, the phrase Smoky Mountain conjures up
images of breathtaking beauty in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
between North Carolina and Tennessee, the most visited national park in
the country. For most in the Philippines, Smokey Mountain conjures up
images of the last place on earth anyone would want to visit.
Children play on a dirty mattress.
Hundreds of families live on the edge of the city’s garbage dump
nicknamed Smokey Mountain because, during the summer months, the
mountain of rotting garbage often ignites underground and sends out
toxic clouds of smoke that hangs over the area like a blanket.
This is the rainy season so the smoke is drowned out by the rain. Of
course rain just brings on a different kind of misery — thick, stinking
Smokey Mountain is one of the five poorest places in the world, Kim
says. The people who have built homes here make their living by
scavenging through the city’s garbage looking for items that can be
recycled for money. The average return on a hard day of ripping through
bags of stinking trash is around 200 pesos — about $2 in the United
In the 1970s, what was once a small village by the sea became the
growing, burgeoning city of Manila’s primary dumping site. By the early
1980s, Smokey Mountain became an international embarrassment to then
President Ferdinand Marcos. He had the site bulldozed, and new public
housing was built for the poor about 25 miles south of Manila. The dump
was closed in 1995, and the "new" Smokey Mountain opened a mile away.
Families who could not make the minimum $8 monthly mortgage payments
in the government-built apartments were forced once again into shacks
along the new garbage heap.
Literacy consultant to the nation
Kim has been the United Methodist Global Ministries missionary to
this area since 1986. She has a big job. She serves as literacy
consultant for the whole country, training teachers and working with the
illiterate through local churches, seminars and community centers.
She is also a registered nurse and coordinates first aid, public health
teaching or family planning as needed. She conducts semiannual medical
and dental clinics and also is involved in organizing new congregations.
Missionary Sun Sook Kim ministers to residents of the Smokey Mountain dump.
When she first came to Smokey Mountain, she recalls, it was hard not
to be angry at the miserable conditions in which people lived. She just
wanted to "fix" them by covering their wounds and providing food and
"The little children with their bare feet –– no shoes or slippers ––
just walk on the garbage," she said. Every foot has crisscrossed wounds.
Most of the people have asthma and other respiratory disease from the
smoke. Many also have tuberculosis, and hepatitis is common.
A bridge to Jesus
"The purpose of this kindergarten is to be a bridge to bring mothers
and children to Jesus Christ," Kim said. "At the very beginning I could
not enjoy my work because I had such anger and depression. I kept
asking, 'Why do these people have to live like this?' Then I realized it
was my mission to bring them hope through Jesus Christ."
The kindergarten starts a child on the path to an education, and Kim says an education is a way out of poverty.
A young boy attends kindergarten at Smokey Mountain United Methodist Church.
Kim believes God sent her Matthew 6:33 as an answer to her prayers,
and the verse has been her guide: "But strive first for the kingdom of
God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as
"I cannot offer them a kingdom here on earth," said Kim, "but I can show them the way to a kingdom in heaven."
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tenn. She compiled this series based on her trip to the
Philippines in July.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Manila's City of Garbage
Street children find haven at United Methodist center
Filipino church ministers to destitute families
Children receive care, love at United Methodist orphanage
Orphans in Angola grow up 'in hands of church'
Philippines: Mercy & Mission - A series on ministry in the Philippines
United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Committee on Relief
Philippines Episcopal Areas
Funding and Giving