Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Edison Tapalla/Catholic San Francisco)

Members of Children of Mother Earth, young Filipino dancers who call attention to the plight of the global poor, rehearse at St. Bruno Church, San Bruno, during their recent Bay Area visit.

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Smokey Mountain dancers: ‘We are people, and not trash’
October 23rd, 2013
By Edison Tapalla

In October a group of Filipino artists from the 2 million-ton landfill known around the world as Smokey Mountain hosted performances and workshops around the Bay Area to raise funds for the performers’ nonprofit work.

Sponsored by the Filipino cultural heritage organization Makibahagi, the performers known as Children of Mother Earth (Mga Anak ni Inang Daigdig in Tagalog) draw attention to the plight of the global poor and environmental degradation through cultural performances.

Smokey Mountain in Manila, Philippines, has become a global icon for poverty and environmental disregard. Generations of Filipino families are born and raised on the third-largest landfill in the world. Families navigate dangerous waste to the dump for sheet metal and other materials they can sell or recycle, bringing in less than five U.S. dollars daily.

The group, made up of some 50 performers ranging from 13 to 40 years old, raises funds for their environmental work in the Philippines and to put the artists through school.

The artists share their message of stewardship with young people in high schools and colleges where they perform. Founded by Divine Word Missionary Father Ben Beltran, the group hosted events for youth in Redwood City and Skyline College in San Bruno, discussing life on Smokey Mountain and global climate change. Father Beltran was a visiting priest at St. Bruno Parish, where the group stayed with host families during their October tour.

“When people think of Smokey Mountain, they think of trash,” Jon-Jon, one of two original members still touring, told Catholic San Francisco in an interview at the church. “They imagine the smell and the noises of the garbage dump, and when they think of the people of Smokey Mountain, they often see them as trash.

“We want the world to know that we are people, and not trash, and that even from a garbage dump like Smokey Mountain, you find beauty,” Jon-Jon said. “And we show that beauty in our dance. “

The Catholic bishops of the Philippines in the Philippines designated the performers as global ambassadors for peace and the environment for their social justice work. The Department of Natural Resources of the Philippines awarded the artists 67 acres for reforestation at the Marikina Watershed in Montalban, Rizal. The group intends to plant over a million trees over the next five years to help restore the mountain watershed.

In 2007 the Filipino government moved most of Smokey Mountain’s 20,000 residents to low-cost housing projects nearby. But there is not enough housing for all landfill residents, who continue to face threats from toxic waste, gang violence, drugs and exposure to natural disasters.

The artists have visited the United States six times. During this recent visit the group parked its van at Serramonte Mall in Daly City. While the performers were shopping, their passports and other valuables including money, electronics and luggage, were stolen from the vehicle. The group filed a police report but no leads have surfaced.

News of the group’s misfortune spread on social media and an outpouring of support came in over the next few days. Organizations and individuals from around the area donated money and needed personal items.

When the youths went to the consulate general of the Philippines to report their stolen passports, the office expedited their request for replacement paperwork at no charge.

Despite the setback, the youths gathered at the end of the day and sang “Lift Up Your Hands” as each member shared a prayer, giving thanks to God for their blessings and that no one was hurt.

The young people also forgave the thief or thieves. “Maybe the people that stole from us needed it more than we did,” one member said.

After touring Southern California, the group leaves for Smokey Mountain Oct. 28. The group is in discussions to tour New York later this year and Colombia for the first time in 2014.



From October 25, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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