A few weeks ago I had an experience that if I’m being honest, I’m still trying to process. I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines and visit some amazing people in extremely humble circumstances. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to fully portray the totality of the thoughts and feelings I had during and after this experience, but I’ll try to paint a picture.
My assignment in the Philippines was to document a charitable effort that my company facilitates once a year. In past years we’ve built schools in Peru and Mexico. This year our group brought food to the needy and spend time playing games with orphaned children.
On a scouting trip before the main group of volunteers arrived, I traveled to the village of Payatas. Parts of this village are built on a dump site. It’s staggering. If you’ve ever been to a garbage dump you know the unforgettable smell. The odor is compounded by the high humidity and sweltering heat. It’s inescapable.
The very garbage that most of us get rid of without a second thought is the source of food, shelter, and commerce for hundreds if not thousands of men, woman, and children. Pagpag is a common meal in this area – meat scavenged from other people’s discarded leftovers. Take a look at this short video to see the process.
Despite the conditions, the children seem clean and happy. We met a young boy and his mother at a community church who agreed to let us interview them. The boy, named Racin reminded me of my own oldest son.
A village built in a dump site is so completely different than anything I’m used to seeing. The family led us down a narrow passage between shacks built with discarded cardboard, plywood, and sheet metal. As we stepped through raw sewage, avoiding a sickly-looking stray dog we saw mothers bathing their young babies with rainwater collected in buckets and old tires.
We arrived at Racin’s home. What I saw changed me. Racin’s mother and two siblings don’t have running water, electricity, security, or any of the luxuries so many of us enjoy. The youngest baby was miserable. He was teething, just like my youngest daughter.
They do their best to stay clean but when you are living on dirt, garbage, and broken concrete, it’s a challenge. This little family sleeps on cardboard and rags.
A short time into my visit, I received a notification on my smartphone. My “smart” sprinkler system back home in the United States was notifying me that it had just finished dumping gallons of fresh, drinkable water on my acer of grass. The irony was immediately apparent.
I went back to the hotel that night and saw everything differently. My hotel room would have been a palace compared to where those kids were going to bed that night. I thought about the breakfast buffet and the amazing abundance available to me. I thought about my own kids. My thoughts returned to Racin and his family with nowhere else to go and no way to escape. I lost it.
I felt pathetic and helpless. I wondered why so many people need so much help and why the rest of us can’t give it to them. I wondered why war is a thing. I wondered how anyone can get good rest at night knowing that there are people – just like me and you – who are hungry and suffering.
I still wonder those things.
The images I took on this trip are some of the most meaningful images I’ve ever taken. I don’t know if they mean much to anyone else, but for me they represent a paradigm shift for myself. I’ll never take anything for granted again, and I’ll do my best to help others however I can.
I hope the images I took will help motivate others to do the same.
I’d like to end this post with a challenge. Find something you are passionate about and use photography to share that passion.
Create meaningful work.
What are you passionate about? What photos are most meaningful to you? Tell me about it in the comments.