Manila gets a lot of bad press, so I really wanted to visit it for myself and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as people say.
It reminded me of cities in South America because of the Spanish influence. The city had a whole different vibe to the other cities I’d visited in Southeast Asia.
There was lots of history, friendly people and things to do and one of the things we wanted to visit was the Baseco Slum. We did it with Smokey Tours (not an ad) as it had been recommended to us.
Just like when I went on the Dharavi Slum tour, I wanted to learn more about the realities of living in poverty. I believe that if you’re seeing the world, you should see it.
You are not permitted to take photographs in the slum, as poverty porn is not encouraged whatsoever. I’ve used stock images to illustrate this story (except for the recycled chairs).
Smokey Tours is an NGO who give all their profits back to the slum for community projects and train local guides. It’s an experience and a donation all in one so it’s a great way to travel ethically. Poverty ultimately exists because the world is unfair. It’s important to redress the balance in any way we can.
If you want a long read to find out more about the ethics of visiting slums, then try Inside the Controversial World of Slum Tourism.
Meeting at Good Earth Plaza
We met our guide (who is a resident at BASECO), at McDonald’s at Good Earth Plaza in the morning and then we grabbed a jeepney to Intramuros and then swapped to a tricycle to get to the slum. You can also visit the cemetery slums in Manila too, but only with a tour. If you’re not travelling around the Philippines then this is your opportunity to experience this local transport. It is less interesting for backpackers like us who are doing that anyway.
The company used to go to Smokey Mountain slum, hence the name but now they go to BASECO which is the Bataan Shipping and Engineering Company Compound. It’s next to the sea in Metro Manila which is a problem in itself. People run the risk of drowning when visiting the shipping yard to take freshwater or sell sex to ship workers. It also means that inclement weather like the typhoons can badly damage the fragile housing and leave people homeless.
The Philippines Government
The government charges more for freshwater from the taps in the slum than they do elsewhere. One of the many injustices facing the BASECO residents. Not only that, but the government want to redevelop this prime real estate in the city, shattering this vital Metro Manila community. If there‘s one thing the Philippines doesn’t need, it’s more middle-class development of chain shops and restaurants.
We walked through the residential area which is a thin planked walkway lined with wooden shacks. You can buy wireless internet and water here from a coin machine. There is also a gaming centre and shops where we ate a delicious sticky coconut pancake.
The slum has a beach which is filled with trash from the sea and various fires that are used to make charcoal and to get rid of rubbish. It was incredibly hot and I saw a Japanese woman on another tour vomit as a result. The Filipinos leapt to help her because the community is everything here. They have a saying that money won’t pick you up off the floor. Which is true.
Many older people in the slum work as garlic peelers for the various fast food outlets around Manila as BASECO is used for cheap labour so people have to work hard.
We saw loads of kids, especially young lads who especially wanted to chat with my boyfriend. There isn’t so much of a language barrier in the Philippines as so many people speak Taglish. This means there is a lot of crossover and it’s easy to chat. As a small group of two, we had such a good time with the people that we met. Filipinos can be naturally gregarious and we weren’t treated as ‘foreign’ as you can be in other places.
We visited a community library, paid for by Smokey Tours where people can get materials they need to learn various things. I heard that they are struggling to make money to fund the projects. Knowing that, I hope that they can find a way to continue to do so.
Another great project is that plastic waste is made into school chairs that you can see in this photograph. It’s a similar one to the pellet making that goes on in Indian slums. The tour is three hours in total so you get to see a good chunk of BASECO life.
A taste of reality
You are asked to give feedback at the end, which is your opportunity to give a tip or a donation. There is also a small shop of local handicrafts where you can buy water lily weaving as they’re grown in the sea.
I was impressed by the sheer amount of work that gets done here and it was further proof that Philippino friendliness knows no bounds. It’s also a good way to give back to the community and see how international governments treat their people in a time when international news bureaus are closing down.
It’s important not to look away from anything as you could be missing a great injustice, whether it’s your back garden or that of someone else. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate your own life, as well as the power of a strong community, has on wellbeing. I hope that BASECO slum can be developed for the people and not at their expense.
Have you been on a slum tour? Did you feel that it helped you to have a greater understanding of life below the poverty line? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.
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