This young girl’s five words moved the heart of this budding photographer

Poverty has always been an on-going issue in the Philippines. This photographer was able to capture the reality of it when he had the opportunity to visit the slums of Payatas.

Julius Villavieja, a fresh graduate from the University of Sto Tomas, documented his immersion with the people living in Payatas. He was able to interview them and ask about their stories. But one encounter struck him the most – he was very moved with what the young girl in this photo told him.

“Nag-aaral ka? Sana ako rin.” (You’re studying? I hope I could, too.)

Even at a young age, Mantang knew the value of education. This broke the heart of Villavieja, considering her current living conditions.


Villavieja shared the experience to WHEN IN MANILA.

I didn’t plan on going to Payatas at first for my photo documentary project. I initially planned on going to Marawi, but it was a busy week and I didn’t have time to prepare my bag and reserve a ticket. Besides, the security there would be heavy, so I’d have to process a lot of papers. My friend Patya from UST suggested that I go to Payatas. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know how to go there and who I have to talk to first to interview around.



Villavieja tells WHEN IN MANILA that his encounter with Mantang, the young girl in the photo, was brief.

I was speaking to her father Juanito. We watched her play around. I walked her to the opposite pile of the garbage to take a photo from a different angle. I waved to her, said hi, and asked her name. She was looking at me, curious at the camera that I was holding while I was taking her photo. Then she asked the question.

I felt really emotional upon hearing what she said – AND REALLY SURPRISED. It came out of nowhere. I was caught off guard. At first, I was just playing it cool, happy that I got a quote from her that I can put on my presentation. Then what she said dawned on me. She said it in a very casual, comfortable way. Not in the way that she was asking for my attention, not in the way that she was expecting to be pitied.



Reality hit Villavieja hard when after that encounter with Manting. Having heard those words from her was “confronting”.

To have heard those words from her was confronting. It was like the very privileged life that I lived all along was being challenged, and now, there’s a chance to help someone and I couldn’t just go home, proceed with my photo documentary, and let her just be a forgettable encounter. It wasn’t.

That moment with her was really profound and meaningful. Life-changing even. I didn’t think I’d ever hear those words from a 5-year-old girl.


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Disclaimer: WheninManila.com does not own the images above. Credits go to Julius Villavieja.