A photowalk with Nicole
Admittedly, even with my work, which exposes me to poverty, I have never been to a slum area for so long a time. The first one I did was when I was in college and with a group of PSBA students who had an exposure to then Smokey Mountain. The second one was a weekend tryst near a community in Pasay-Rotonda together with my SDWFP batch mates. It was some sort of community immersion which we did on our own, sans the knowledge of our trainers from PBSP. Needless to say, the two visits were professionally rewarding as it gave us a real picture of poverty in the urban setting. Also, my exposure in Smokey Mountain has started all the social development blood in me.
Forward to present, I could say I am no longer a stranger to a slum area. And I could confidently talk about it--the issues, development initiatives, as well as their aspirations. However, I am not blessed to handle a project that has something to do with urban poor. It was always about the fisherfolks of Quezon, rural women in the Dumaguete, upland farmers in the Cordillera, and indigenous peoples, upland and lowland farmers in Mindanao, etc.
Last Saturday, May 14, I accompanied our visitor from The Netherlands who was on official visit to gather stories about Cordaid-funded projects. They were about to build a website for their resource mobilization. We went to Brgy. Tatalon in Quezon City (near Araneta Avenue). This community was flooded during the typhoon Ondoy, and they had to endure more than 15 feet of flood water for 24 hours. The area was like a maze. I could not even remember where we came from and where we ended, and finally exiting in the main street back to the office of the cooperative that is assisting the community.
I always had to be behind the "trail" and Nicole, who was gathering more than enough attention being a Caucasian, was also following the staff from the cooperative. I served as a "body guard," (since she was our guest and we have to protect them from scrupulous individuals who may be lurking at us), a personal assistant (slightly--I was carrying her tripod, which made it difficult for me to shoot, too.), a translator, as well as an interviewer too.
I could have taken more photos. Dark alleys and shanty interiors, and the children loitering and following us, wanting their photos (and videos) to be taken, the hot and humid weather, and limited time, proved to be challenging for both of us. She took care of the video and I took care of some stills. There were many good shots, but I am not very satisfied. I could have taken more. There were too many tasks and distractions for me to properly compose and even take that candid photo, without children surrounding me and getting in the way of my viewpoint.
It was a rewarding day for me, both professionally and personally. I was not the one who developed the project intended for the members of the cooperative, so it was also a learning process for me to know the project a little bit more. At the personal level, I came to know more about the people from the slums. I realized that more than 20 years ago, their issues are still the same, perhaps, even more complex. And the most important thing--they too have their own stories to share--their failures, successes, and dreams.
Definitely, I will be going back there...to shoot more and to gather more stories.