Climate change and its effect on the poor

Some say “think global but act local” because the idea of acting local is much easier for people to embrace. But something recently happened in my life which made me question these words.

Following a recent visit to Manila, Philippines, for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corp training programme and to the poorest community in Manila, this is what I believe: We need to ‘think global and act global,’ because wherever we are in the world, our actions –  good or bad – have a knock on effect which ripples around the globe.

We all share the same planet, one expanse of sea, one water cycle, one sun and one air supply.  Everyone around the world needs to work together to care for the planet that sustains us, our ecosystem, all its animals, mammals and human life as a whole.

The Pope summed this up well when he visited the worst hit site of Typhoon Haiyan (known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines), in November 2013. He said “The care for our common home states, the forces that cause poverty are the same ones degrading the environment.” The city Tacloban which he was visiting was in the eye of one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, it is estimated that in Tacloban alone 10,000 were killed.

We are citizens of the world – not just of our own countries.

During the week of the 14th March 2016 I went to Manila in the Philippines and spent a wonderful week with 700 passionate and motivated people from all around the world. We learnt about the reality of climate change, its causes, devastating affects and most importantly the solutions at hand to combat it.

You can learn more about the incredible Climate Reality Leadership programme here.

But it was one experience in Manila that changed my life. Here’s my story.

On our final day, I led a team of 11 newly qualified Climate Reality Leaders to the poorest part of the Manila – an area called Smokey Mountain in Tondo on the outskirts of the city. There we met with the Purple Community Fund – a charity I work closely with in the UK.

As we approached Tondo the changing landscape became increasingly dilapidated; Both sides of the 6 lane road were lined with houses pieced together with odd bricks, scraps of sheet metal and scavenged wood.

The area is the definition of survival – survival and rubbish.

The front room to these buildings or sheds formed their trading outlets. Some selling loose corn or flour; no packaging here. Many were stores for what most would describe as rubbish, one with piles of old tyres and hub caps, another would display big bags of plastic bottles another bag fast food cups and tubs.

A Beacon of Light

As we neared the PCF on the dock side of the congested road was the Smokey Mountain dumpsite; housing 2,500 families.

Amid the crumbling, ram shackled buildings stood a beacon of light: A brightly painted purple school, clean and beckoning. The school, run by the Purple Community Fund, is constructed from upcycled shipping containers and teaches 525 children.

The pupils live in shacks in the nearby landfill – their crisp uniforms and polished school shoes a stark contrast to the rotting dump that is their home. Here, food is an incentive to work – they are seen clutching parcels to bring home to their families.

200 plus other children are funded by the PCF in other schools, colleges and universities. Without the support of this charity, the children would be destined to a life of scavenging like many generations before them.

By the entrance to the school there were several silver PCF branded geepneys school buses ready to take the pupils home at the end of the day.


The Depths of Smokey Mountain

After donning wellingtons handed out by the staff in the school, we boarded another bus destined for the depths of the slum. We were told our tour had to take place in the morning as in the afternoon the drunks and drug addicts woke up and it was not then a safe place to be.

The path was rough and covered in rubbish – although apparently it was greatly improved since a hard core had been put down on the mud and human waste. After about half an hour of walking, we reached an open area where two very large and extremely run down warehouse styled buildings stood on either side. These were built in 1970 to offer a room per family for the landfill scavengers. No maintenance had ever been undertaken, so they are in a very bad state of disrepair, several of their roofs had caved in but they were still occupied.

James and Khandie from the PCF, took us into one of the buildings which now provided a community space for prayer. This was the building which were PCF had started their work in 2003. James pointed to a couple of the rooms with a tear in his eye, explaining one had been the school, another their livelihood programme.  He has been with PCF since the beginning: It was a tear of joy at their incredible progress.

The children of the slum were excited to see us – laughing, waving and skipping along beside us – but we were reminded of the chilling fact that they are constantly at risk of child trafficking and abuse.

We saw many  recycling scenes;



Other sources of income include pealing and cooking the generally unwanted small garlic bulbs which formed part of their every day diet, eaten whole like a vegetable.  A small fire on some rocks was being used to boil second hand cooking oil in industrial sized tins with their lids cut off. Apparently by rapidly boiling this oil it separates the food waste from the oil, this is then sold for second use. Probably unbeknown to them it’s carcinogenic consequences.

Another man could be seen scooping food waste out of fast food pots into a pan with his hands; this is then cooked up and served for dinner.

Everywhere you looked, there was rubbish strewn across the ground, unsorted bags of rubbish and bags of sorted recyclables. Although the conditions were hot and generally dry, there were areas which contained foul smelling water and waste: they called these summer time floods.

Apparently, as it’s so close to the sea, the ground under the surface gets water logged, so there are always wet spots. Of course in their winter they now frequently experience very bad flooding.

A New Lease of Life

When we left, we sat in on the bus in a subdued silence, mulling over the horror we had just seen – but also harnessing a renewed sense of motivation to help them. We returned to the school, hearing the children’s sweet singing as they practiced for their graduation ceremony the following day.

Upstairs, we were brought into a room where 15 women sat, making jewellery, bags and purses. These stunning pieces were all produced from waste resources such as aluminium ring pulls, glossy paper, crisp packets, tooth paste tubes and tetrapaks.

We each bought pieces to bring home – meaningful gifts, the proceeds of which would go back to the charity and the families of Smokey Mountain.

The 12 Climate Reality Leaders all pledged to help in whatever way they could:

Eric, an environmental consultant from Manila, offered to run free workshops showing staff how to put in place a form of air conditioning without using electricity, in thr one room the air conditioning was on but not effective.

He also suggested looking at more environmentally friendly varnish for the jewellery and art paints for use in the school, and will explore the idea of introducing a system for processing the used cooking oil as a biofuel, and  safe ways of disposing of light bulbs.

Katy suggested selling the PCF merchandise in her parent’s art gallery and shop in Dublin, with the possibility of displaying some of the children’s art, while Laurel is determined to go back to her community in Australia and to explore ways to fundraise for PCF.

Rina from the outskirts of Manila is going to research sales opportunities locally, and Rina and Ester have offered to liaise with PCF to set another date for local Climate Reality Leaders (there are 600 from the Philippines) to visit.

I agreed to set up a Facebook page which the new Climate Reality Leaders can use to share their commitments, ideas and promote the charity and opportunities with each other. Here is the url, do like and share!

Climate Reality Leadership Corp have just opened a Philippine office so this will be an excellent project for new leaders to support and deliver acts of leadership.

Although I know this is a rather sad story to feature on Sussex Green Living and there are many countries with marginalised communities, if we work together we can make a difference in the world.

As the Pope said – “the forces that cause poverty are the same ones degrading the environment”.

Let’s work with charities such as PCF and look at ways we can reduce our impact on planet earth.

Let’s reverse climate change.

Ways in which you can help PCF: 

We would be happy to come along to give a talk in your community, group or school about:

  • PCF and life in the dumpsite – 1 hour talk.
  • Recycling and inspirational upcycling 1 hour talk.
  • Al Gore’s Climate Reality presentation and reasons to be joyful!  1 1/2 hour or 4 hour presentation.  More information about Climate Reality here.
  • Ideally we would like to bring along PCF merchandise to sell after the talk/presentation.

Obviously any talks given to children are adapted to be age and content appropriate. More information about our work with children here.

To find out more or book a talk/presentation call Carrie on 07768 212833 or email .


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