Smokey Mountain’s rainwater eco-laundromat
On the seemingly bleak landscape where thousands of families are mired in poverty, a bright little spot shines.
Smokey Mountain, the internationally known garbage dump that the media, social scientists, activists, environmental advocates, politicians and religious groups had so often visited, is no more, but the name, the symbol, the actual spot remains. For a long time, many visitors who experienced the shocking poverty and amazing endurance of those who earned their living through scavenging there had hoped that Smokey Mountain, this shameful symbol of Philippine misery, would vanish, if not transmogrify into something else.
Well, it did, thanks to the efforts of many concerned groups, individuals and the government. Tondo’s Smokey Mountain, the garage dump, is no more. The story of its transformation, the stories about the lives of the people who once lived on garbage could fill books. (There is a coffee-table book.) Where once there was a dump whose toxic fumes quietly killed many, there are now some two dozen five-story tenement buildings that house more than 2,000 families.
But the place is far from pleasant because poverty is still the lot of those who live there. Many of the residents still thrive on garbage, but now in a more organized, ecologically friendly way. Now in place is a materials recovery facility (MRF) where useful garbage (collected from institutions, homes, streets) are deposited, classified and segregated.
Last week I was in what used to be the Smokey Mountain dump. The last time I was on Smokey Mountain was when it was still a garbage mountain. Many “alternative” activities had been done there in the past, like exposure trips for visiting NGOs and the like. I remember joining a Holy Week Stations of the Cross there, organized by a militant church group immersed among the urban poor. At the end of the para-liturgy, Jesus Christ’s cross was fittingly planted on top of the dump. That gave us a feel of Calvary cum deadly fumes.
Today there is still a small portion of the mound that remains unleveled, but it is covered with grass, shrubs and some trees. The sad thing is that poor families are starting to set up homes there. There’s still a lot that can be scavenged and excavated, I was told, like pieces of wood that can be turned into charcoal. In fact, many are now into charcoal-making, a very unhealthy and environmentally damaging endeavor that needs to be checked. Young children who help out emerge from their smoke-filled lean-tos looking like troll dolls covered with soot. I hope to go back there to check things out.
So what bright spot am I talking about?
Inaugurated and blessed last week was the Smokey Mountain Eco-Laundromat Service Center. Anita Celdran, director of Sustainable Project Management (SPM), invited me over. SPM is into “innovative partnerships for sustainable development and poverty reduction.” The Laundromat is a pilot project of SPM in collaboration with Juniclair Foundation, Wise philanthropy advisors and with the full support of the community and private and government agencies. It was constructed following sound ecological principles.
Have you ever visited a depressed urban community? While traversing the narrow alleys you would notice women squatting in front of wash basins. They are washing, washing, washing all day notwithstanding the scarcity and high cost of water in their areas (more than five times what we pay for). One can’t help thinking, is that all the women do all day long? So backbreaking and time-consuming.
In 2008, SPM conducted a survey among Smokey Mountain residents and found that laundry was one of their most time- and money-consuming activities. Washing could only be done on the first floor of their low-income buildings and the clothes hung to dry along corridors. Laundering costs about P1,200 monthly per family. All that time and the money could be better spent on income-generating livelihoods.
And so SPM assisted the residents in putting up the first pilot laundromat on the ground floor of Building 24, Paradise Heights, Smokey Mountain. The laundromat will charge about half of what families would normally spend on their laundry and cheaper than a commercial laundromat.
This rain-fed laundromat is not only cost-effective, it is also environmentally sustainable. Designed by architect Clifford Espinosa, the laundromat has energy-efficient washing machines that will run for three hours a day. A “green architect,” Espinosa used eco-friendly materials for roofing and cooling purposes. The laundromat uses water collected from SPM’s Rainwater Harvesting Project. The captured water is filtered before it goes to the cistern underneath the laundromat. Only biodegradable detergents are used. The soapy water is then filtered and safely disposed of.
Another unique feature of this undertaking is the community’s major stake in it. The residents of the building where the Laundromat is located are organized into a cooperative so that they can manage this micro-enterprise. The income generated goes to building maintenance and other projects. The one in Building 24 is just the first of several that SPM and the residents of Smokey Mountain are planning. Joyet Castor, SPM’s indefatigable project coordinator, has her hands full.
Soon to rise is the parish church building which, Espinosa promises, will be of green architecture. The ground level structure which houses the Samahang Muling Pagkabuhay Cooperative is already there but the church building itself has yet to take shape. I couldn’t help remembering the Stations of the Cross and the trek to Calvary we did on the site many years ago. Now the place is called the Parish of the Risen Lord.
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