'It Breaks Your Heart' the Poorest of the Philippines' Poor Live among Mountains of Garbage. Some Suburbanites Have Given Up Their Valuables an Dedicated Themselves to Ridding Their Homeland of Pervasive Poverty

By Comerford, Mike | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

'It Breaks Your Heart' the Poorest of the Philippines' Poor Live among Mountains of Garbage. Some Suburbanites Have Given Up Their Valuables an Dedicated Themselves to Ridding Their Homeland of Pervasive Poverty


Comerford, Mike, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Mike Comerford Daily Herald Staff Writer

TONDO, Philippines - In the shadow of the Smoky Mountain garbage dump in the middle of one of the world's worst slums, families are scavenging to survive.

Adults carry bags of trash into an abandoned warehouse. They sift through the garbage for food or recyclables, leaving the leftovers of others' leftovers to rot while flies swarm, rats scurry about and their children play nearby.

Longtime Lisle residents Manny and Margie Hermano and longtime Woodridge residents Esok and Sally Andraneda grew up in middle- class families near here. They knew of the slums, but never witnessed anything up close like this.

The sweat, stifling heat and stench from the rot creates a toxic combination that causes the women to gag and nearly pass out.

"I felt like I was having an asthma attack," Sally Andraneda recalls. "There was no fresh air at all."

Smoky Mountain got its name from the methane-heavy mist hovering over it on certain days. The squalor she saw two years ago still haunts Margie Hermano.

"We have better places for our dogs," she says, referring to her life in the United States. "It breaks your heart. No one should live in that kind of place."

Yet, legions of scavengers in metro Manila make a life sifting through mountains of trash. In shantytowns, under bridges and along railroad tracks, dump pickers and the rest of the crushingly poor live in conditions unfathomable to most Americans.

More than half the country's 86.2 million people say they are poor. Nearly 13 million (or about the same as Illinois' population) went hungry last year. The World Bank estimates half the people live on less than $2 a day.

The need is staggering. It compels the Hermanos, Andranedas and others who immigrated to the richness of Chicago's suburbs to make substantial sacrifices to help those back home.

The Hermanos and Andranedas are four of more than 63,000 immigrant Filipinos in Chicago and its suburbs who make up the region's fourth largest immigrant group. They are among many who have traveled a long arc from the islands and back again.

Significant sacrifice

Members of a mostly evangelical Catholic movement founded in the Philippines called "Couples for Christ," the Andranedas and Hermanos share a dream of replacing shantytowns with new homes.

The Andranedas, both in their 50s, met while studying for financial planning degrees on the main island of Luzon decades ago. The Hermanos, raised in a middle-class community on the southern island of Panay, also met at college, married and came to America to make a new life.

"My uncle told us the roads are like ribbons in America," Manny Hermano says. "He told me about the opportunities here."

The two couples lived in the suburbs and worked to achieve affluence but now have given much of it up.

The Andranedas sold their Woodridge home and raffled off their 1997 E320 Mercedes Benz last year. They now live in a son's home in Romeoville until they can find someplace inexpensive. The sale of their most valued possessions garnered more than $50,000, which will build dozens of homes.

"We call it simple living because we can continuously contribute as much as possible, not just this one-time deal," says Esok Andraneda, who works as a Downers Grove financial planner. "We both felt we had to do this if we are going to follow the Gospels."

The task seems insurmountable given the sheer number of Philippine slums. An estimated 5 million families need permanent housing. Around Manila alone, about 3.4 million people live in slums, according to the Asian Development Bank. That's about the same number of people who live in Chicago.

A tour of some of Manila's most infamous slums shows each with its own character, its own brand of misery, its own signs of progress.

It also shows how the Hermanos, Andranedas and other middle- class immigrants are making a mark back home.

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