Immersed in Payatas: From Dump to Triumph

By Mark Wiens No Comments


“If you can smell the garbage, you are entering Payatas,” said Tita Silver, the mother of my host family.

Our jeepney crackled through the streets amidst the hustle and bustle of vendors and commuters.  The stank of garbage was in the air and the streets and shops were not what you would call clean.

I was on a weekend trip in the Metro Manila area of Payatas (known as one of the main dump sites in Metro Manila) in Quezon City, joining a group of students from Ateneo de Manila University on their immersion program with Gawad Kalinga (GK) who build houses with hope.

We were divided into groups and I was assigned to stay with Tita (Auntie) Silver and family in their Gawad Kalinga (GK) village and home that was already built by the GK community.  The house was simple but clean, small but sufficient, and the family was warm, kind, and hospitable.


I was given the opportunity to volunteer my services, helping transport sand and cement from one location to another, mingling with the community in Molave Payatas, and conversing with various people, especially my host mother.

One of my main curiosities was “how had GK made a difference in your lfie and community?’  That single question sparked a multi-part answer and demonstrated the effectiveness and hope of GK.


Meet Tita Silver-

She is from the island of Mindanao in the south of the Philippines.  Tita Silver has a husband and nine children.  Her husband is a foreman construction worker and originally moved to Manila to look for work.  He eventually found work abroad, doing construction in places like UAE and Vietnam.  At the time of my visit Tita Silver’s husband was building a hotel on the touristy island of Boracay.

Migration Mark: How was life in Molave Payatas when you first moved from here from Mindanao in 1992, prior to the Gawad Kalinga village?

Tita Silver: Life was difficult, the area here was not comfortable, with drunkards and drug dealers all over.  All the houses were makeshift shanties, made from garbage.  At night it was dark and criminals could easily hide from police in dark alleys and piles of junk.  Most of the men had no jobs and would sit around and drink.  When it would rain everything would get flooded, there would be mud up to our knees, and I wouldn’t even be able to leave.  Sometimes there was no water and the drinking water was contaminated.

My husband had a job but on payday (every 2 weeks) he would get drunk, spending too much of the family money.  Finances would become very tight on the 10th or 11th day, waiting for the next pay check and often the whole family would go hungry for a day.

Migration Mark: How were you introduced to Gawad Kalinga?

Tita Silver: I heard about GK through a friend and approached a GK official, filled out surveys and applications.  Then someone checked on us and eventually my family was approved.  We were accepted in the GK program.

The Tita Silver families GK village house was finished in October 2008.

Migration Mark: How has life changed since the GK village in Payatas has been built?

Tita Silver: GK has provided many families with comfortable living conditions and really improved the conditions of the area.  The garbage can still be smelt, but we have fresh water, clean homes, and we are happy.  There are much fewer drunkards in the area and it is safe at night because we have become a community and know each other.  Now, most of the men work and have steady jobs to provide for their families.  GK has improved our lives and given us hope.

Tita Silver is on her feet and thankful for the things they have.  Some children are in University and working and going to school.  She is a member and head of the GK Payatas homeowners association.  The family also runs a small sari-sari (tiny convenience) store out of a room connected to their home.

I was privileged to stay with Tita Silver and she graciously gave up the only air mattress in the house for me to rest comfortably, as well as fed me with fantastic meals.  When I got really dirty from construction work, one of the son’s even let me borrow a pair of bright pink shorts!


-Migration Mark