When in Manila, Jane Walker’s PCF Container Van schools in Tondo tell a story that I could not ignore. WhenInManila was invited for the opening of PCF school in the infamous area of Smokey Mountain, Tondo.
It was not an easy subject to write about…. The location of this school is the north harbor port-side of Manila. A place where sea-men from far-off countries must have dis-embarked centuries ago… and holla-ed “Land!!!” But now Tondo is looked upon as the underbelly of the Philippine capital–where poverty is wedded to crime and disease.
My driver said he doesn’t know where Balut is. “TONDO? Why do you want to go to Tondo?”, he asked irritated.
‘Jane Walker, a citizen of UK has founded Philippine Christian Foundation or PCF which has opened a school for 1000 children living in Tondo and neighboring dump-sites. We are going there.’ I explained.
As we made our way out of the suburbanite Manila to Makati proper and further around the old city of Intramuros and beyond…it was like we were on a rewind journey.
I am a foreigner trying to make sense of my host country Manila … and for us Manila’s land’s- end is the sun-set at Manila Bay or a tonga-ride tour of the Intramuros.
Philippine Christian Foundation’s school made out of recycling old container vans in Balut lies much beyond the fifty-storey glass and steel ,behind the cheap night stay hotels and the Manila Bay walkway. But it is incredibly well-connected to the main city and I had a feeling that its inhabitants count. Their own church, prostitution quarters, five to six storey apartments even. Banana vendors, a bunch of boys without vests suddenly running between the street as I tried to zoom in my camera on girls in bright and tight tees and shorts. They were a vote-bank no government can over-look.
Coming from India with its ‘Slum-dog Millionaire’ brand of crime and poverty, the spectacle of Manila poverty looked comparatively well-off. The meanest shanties had a window and the meanest window had a row of hangers jutting out with clothes to dry in a neat fall….aaah the un-taught sense of personal aesthetics!
This must just be the surface of Tondo of today, that is counted by the governments. But our car was soon enough encountering piles of garbage and a scummy river-bank. And the stench was getting stronger. Little kids, just like in India, were rummaging through the heaps of plastic bottles and other trash to look for what they might sell or eat. Its never a pretty sight. Kids absolutely should not be here, I said. “Watch your camera. Roll the window up. You saw those kids? They just snatched something from that car and ran!” the driver pointed out.
It was really weird. I yanked the camera under my seat and instantly wished that the car had dark screen windows. But as it was…we were off the main road and entered the lanes running parallel to the waters with scum and trash afloat. Shanties that were now visible were half-submerged in the water that obviously couldn’t be clean. I felt my privilege…not to be born to that poverty and circumstance. . .
One such moment must have caught at the British national, Jane Walker’s conscience, I felt. She left her country and a high-profile sales job in UK, and decided to make a difference at a place she just came by.
When I asked Jane’s Communication Manager, Bea Raya
“What is PCF’s story and and who are its beneficiary communities?” her answer was non-direct:
“ I think it would be a great idea if you could see the dump site (in Tondo) so you can better understand the plight the children and families are in.”( and HOW right she was!)
ME:I understand that you are associated with a cause that is both challenging and value-creating… Can you please tell me what is the ‘container van school’ angle of PCF, before I come over?
Bea’s Reply: “PCF initially started as a day care center. It was really Jane Walker’s dream to educate children and keep them away from working in the dump site.
In 2003, PCF moved to a dilapidated warehouse and opened a regular school from pre-school until Grade 6. The area where the warehouse was situated was very poor. It’s beside an open dump site so the stench of the garbage was present throughout the day. The area flooded easily: canceling classes because of it. Other problems in the area were the mosquitoes, poor ventilation, and lack of security.
Jane always wanted to move to a better location and with the help of the wife of then British Ambassador, Mrs. Jill Beckingham, PCF secured a lot from the National Housing Authority. Jane got the idea of using recycled container vans because PCF was very near the port area and she saw so many unused container vans stacked together left to rot. This was how PCF’s Container School started. The dream is still the same: to educate as many children from the dump site as possible so that they may get good jobs and escape the cycle of poverty that they are in.”
Here is an excerpt from a Philippines newspaper, dated five years ago:
METRO, JUNE 27, 2006 (STAR) By Sandy Araneta – A British non-government organization (NGO) may have a solution to the Philippines’ chronic shortage of classrooms, especially in Metro Manila’s poorest areas: school buildings made from container vans.
Five years after that idea’s inception, on august 30th,when I reached the school site: it was already a dream materialized. It was a place of good will. A clean white building with wide corridors and clean comfort rooms. Unless one looks up at the roofing, it gives no clue that it is made out of shipping containers.
It was like any other school. Except for the wall plaques outside every class-room. Rooms in the school are dedicated to the donors who have funded the construction. The International schools like ABC, KSPACE, ISM,BSM, TIS and Willowbrook; Australian Emb!!assy; Hyder, Archion Architects; prestigious clubs like Rotary, SHOM and IBF and several service-providers have supported this initiative. And easy it could not have been….to attract this much support from the expat community in Philippines!
These exactly were the sentiments shared by Geoff Lucraft as he made the closing remarks: ‘ Its a miracle…to get through everyday.’ It has been rather challenging for PCF — getting the land to set-up container vans, paying for electricity but having the cables stolen by squatters, parents reluctant to send their children initially, furniture and supplies disappearing. Jane and her supporters have been steadfast, though and now seem to have won the hearts of their beneficiaries.
At the moment only the poorest families with more than 10 members, children who are orphaned or have single parent or disabled care-giver are admitted to this school that has space for only 1,000. The school runs two shifts: before and after lunch ones. And there is a shuttle service to transport the students. Its two stories are dedicated to class rooms and labs, and the third one has a livelihood section.
When we went up to the third floor, we saw Tondo’s women inhabitants making bags, belts and other fashion accessories out of ring-pulls of soda cans and from glossy magazine paper! These were refined accessories created from absolute waste….More recycling…more life…more autonomy to the individuals.
I was witnessing a sustainability act put-together in Philippines, but it was also an act of human empathy and sharing. PCF is an excellent prototype: an example, of what could be done locally, by the locals, for the locals. And being so easy… classroom walls made out of unused, re-usable large and strong cargo container sides why wasn’t it done more often ? Why just schools?……Whole shanties can be redone, and more schools, clinics, homes built using this exemplary running facility!
To this effect, Geoff Lucraft made a public appeal: to contribute for individual and corporate support for sponsoring the teacher’s salaries, food packets and tuition fees. While the school in Balut runs from Grade Prep to Grade 6, PCF has a similar school in Baguio; where it sponsors 130 children who were affected by the landslide, and in the Navotas Cemetery where 200 kids are taken care of.
The holiday season is approaching and it will be well-worth going up to see these facilities and pitch in resources and time.
They say: ‘Charity begins at home.’ Its funny that there actually are no rules…and ‘Our hearts have reasons that Reason does not know’. Please pass this blog post on to friends and corporate sponsors. For more information and donations please log in to
firstname.lastname@example.org and www.pcf.ph
PCF Container Van School in Tondo’s garbage burning site: Smokey Mountain