One-year-old John-John Magpuyo wears a green shirt way too big for him as he stands in front of a line of 20 children at Sto. Niño chapel outside the Inayawan
landfill in Cebu City.
The patience of the boy pays off as a volunteer pours two cups of rice porridge into a large, blue bowl John-John is carrying. His elder brother, Hernan, who also carries a plastic bowl, accompanies him.
The three large vats of porridge are gone in less than 30 minutes. The children leave the chapel carrying containers of varying shapes, colors and sizes half-filled with warm porridge.
Hernan says he is happy to have porridge for lunch. He says his parents, Mercy and Romulo, are both scavengers who earn 200 pesos (US$4.76) for a day’s work at the dump. They usually eat rice that they find while scavenging and vegetable soup for dinner.
Hernan can't recall what he last had for a decent meal, but a friend reminds him of the day they were lucky enough to have hotdogs.
“Sometimes we pick up hotdogs,” says Hernan.
"We want rice," says 36-year-old Erlinda Juare when asked what she needed the most.
Erlinda’s been working as a scavenger since she was six years old. She remembers how she would collect pieces of paper and sell a bundle for 20 centavos a kilo. The price of paper today has not changed, she says.
A mother of eight, Erlinda says she used to earn between 200 and 300 pesos per day before the partial closure of the landfill. It has become more difficult to earn money since then.
Her income is used to buy drinking water at 1.50 pesos per pail, one kilogram of dried fish good for one week and some vegetables.
On lean days, Erlinda buys one-pesos worth of fish sauce to mix with very light porridge made from the half-kilo of rice allotted for the day's meal for a family of 10.
Her husband, Leo, now works at a garbage separation site as a shredder. But he has not received his salary for the past two months.
Margie Matheu is the managing trustee of the San Pio Cebu Foundation which provided the porridge at the chapel.
She says putting food on the table for families like Erlinda’s is a continuous struggle.
She says the porridge is part of a feeding project which was the brainchild of “two friends who wanted to help the people in Inayawan.”
The Foundation requires its beneficiaries, to save the money they get and give 600 hours of volunteer work.
Matheu says there is a need to teach people life skills, to encourage them to work and save money. "Some of them need someone who will be there for them," she adds.
The feeding program is an example of persistence and community involvement, particularly from those who have seen and experienced the hardship of earning a living as a scavenger.
"The feeding project started because Joy wanted to give [porridge] to faceless hungry children. She got the [porridge] and I got the hungry," she says.
"Housing is not our main concern now. It is food. [Sometimes] the association of [real estate] developers helps 17 beneficiaries by giving them food weekly," says Matheu.
"We give priority to children who bring a container, say a thanksgiving prayer, fall in line and say [thanks]. We only count [how many come], no names are taken, no questions about income. It is pure charity as long as the food lasts," she says.