By: Elsa S. Subong
THE DUMPSITE used to be the last recourse for people who had no choice for a living, who would risk life and limb just to have a big share of the city’s thousands of tons of garbage.
Today it is not just a mountain of garbage and a people who fight with each other for sacks of solid wastes that can give them a meager P50 or P80 a day, and illnesses every now and then.
The Iloilo City General Services Office (GSO), seeing the situation, organized them into the Uswag Calajunan Livelihood Association (UCLA) in 2006 and provided initial livelihood trainings to develop their capacity to evolve into better practices and participate in the management of the site.
GSO Chief Engr. Raul Gallo said UCLA was formally organized on May 11, 2009, with the full support of the Iloilo City government and the Solid Waste Management for Local Government Units, registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Its Board of Directors is composed of former waste pickers and representatives from the private sector, invited to provide assistance in managing the group.
For the past four years, according to Aldwin Abcede of the GSO, the UCLA members were able to implement various alternative livelihood projects, like recycling, composting for commercial fertilizers, which did not only earn for them a living but capacitated them to perform their role in the overall solid waste management program of the city.
Engr. Gallo said the operation of UCLA is financed by the members’ P30 monthly contribution, membership fees, profits from sale of products and donations.
Fifty-two year-old Lolita Espinosa, mother of seven, said she could not contain her joy upon receiving her first voucher for P10,000 as her share in the profits for making paper beads, which recently made a hit in sales.
“If I remained simply as waste picker, and did not participate in the training UCLA offered, I would have not improved my income,” Lolita said in the dialect.
Using recycled papers, they craft fashion jewelry with the assistance of GSO personnel Maribell Pisuena in the designs.
Moreover, the members were also trained to process and fabricate bag designs, tote bags, handbags, from non-biodegradable aluminum cello-foils.
“More and more groups come in to give assistance to UCLA,” Engr. Gallo said.
Products find their way into external markets, with the help of the GIZ, a Germany-based technology company, the Holcim, a cement company which purchased residual waste from them, and the Love Our Own Brethren (LOOB), Inc. a Filipino-Japanese NGO that conducts trainings and serves as clients for products which they market to Japan and some European countries.
Recently LOOB helped in the establishment of the UCLA Center, just near the dumpsite, which now serves as meeting place and training venue for the livelihood projects and a demo area for gardening and composting.
Later, it will also serve as child minding center for children as their mothers go to the dumpsite for waste picking.
LOOB also donated two sewing machines to augment the 10 given by the city government from its social development fund.
Meanwhile, another waste picker, Luz Obaredes, 44, was equally thrilled upon receipt of her voucher, from the sale of alternative fuel resources, and those recyclables sold to junkshops.
“Someday, I can already afford to pay for a hair rebond,” she said in jest.
Presently, with 171 active members, the UCLA with the GSO, are intensifying its marketing strategies, through consultations with experts on new designs and patterns, mass production for paper beads, and in joining trade fairs and exhibits as well as putting up a recycling shop at the Mandurriao Public Market.
Gallo said UCLA's website will be launched soon in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, while a Product Catalog is published for a consignment venture with SM malls.
Meanwhile, as the "good news" of better income for Lolita and Luz spread, more waste pickers and recyclers wish to be members of the UCLA.
As the Calajunan Dumpsite has transformed, it has also transformed the lives of marginalized waste picker, according to Aldwin Abcede, inspiring them to dream further, that of creating an UCLA village, where each member will have a titled lot and house, as of the moment, about 80 percent of them are still illegal settlers.
"That is an aspiration they can reach," said Abcede, who has been following and documenting the dumpsite's transformation.