BARANGAY HAPPY LAND
“There is a happy land where only children live
You’ve had your chance and now the doors are closed sir, Mr. Grownup
Go away sir “
David Bowie – There Is A Happy Land
The “Barangay”, which in the Tagalian dialect indicates a village, is the smallest unit of local government in the Philippines. Manila, which is the city with the highest population density in the world, with over 41,000 inhabitants / km², counts 897.
During my journey in this crowded metropolis I saw ten of these fascinating neighborhoods from the inside, where extreme poverty reigns supreme, small worlds in their own right full of piled lives, labyrinths of tunnels full of looks, colors and smells that are hardly forgotten independent communities where the real and the absurd coexist in perfect balance.
These places are not all the same, there are those who live a few centimeters from the train rails, some on a stilt house built with makeshift materials and some in real open-air dumps like in Tondo, the largest, most crowded slum (over 64,000 inhabitants / km²) and poor in the Philippine capital.
Since 1995, the year of closure of the infamous Smokey Mountain landﬁll (so known because of the constant ﬁres on the spot, involuntary or specially lit for the heat or the rapid disposal of waste) two other areas have been created to “accommodate” the displaced people, places born as temporary solutions that have become a single and huge permanent refugee camp on the edge of Manila: Happy Land (derives from the Visayan word Hapilan, which means “smelly garbage”) and Aroma.
In this place live whole families who use their lives looking for useful materials to be recycled or resold among the garbage of the whole city and remains of food re-cooked and proposed as the famous “pagpag”. Unlikely hygiene conditions and mountains of garbage are the usual panorama of hundreds of children waiting for the numerous trucks full of opportunities, with the naive enthusiasm of those who ﬁnd Santa Claus, school, a utopia.
The situation in these areas is the most noteworthy evidence of government failure. The conditions endured by the inhabitants of these slums are the result of the greed and corruption that still plague the country, but there are no demonstrations, protests or banners that draw attention here. Only children who laugh, smile and hope.