Scavengers Turn Trashy Magazines Into Jewelry

Women who used to scavenge in Manila's garbage dumps are now being taught to turn discarded glossy magazines into beads and bracelets. Many of the women, working from home, have tripled their family income and can more easily meet their children's needs.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

About a third of the 11 million people who live in Manila, in the Philippines, have no official address. Many live near dump sites where they survive - barely - by scavenging. But at one site, a group of women has found a new and lucrative use for old magazines. Simone Orendain has the story.

SIMONE ORENDAIN: On a muggy morning, a driver maneuvers a small truck across the muddy sludge and black-water road of Community 105 in Tondo, Manila. Business is brisk at the crammed-in junk shops and shanty homes, all stacked high with garbage. A sewer-like stench clings to everything.�

Marcel Clado points to a teenage girl in an abandoned pedicab sniffing a plastic bag filled with glue - her eyes rolling, legs twitching. He says shes doing rugby - a common term for sniffing noxious cement glue that dulls hunger pains.

Clado works for the non-profit Philippine Christian Foundation. The truck drops us off at the foundation warehouse.

Mr. MARCEL CLADO (Philippine Christian Foundation): Because this is an open dump site, there are scavengers for the waste.�So usually, theyre earning around 50 to 100 pesos a day.�But its not sufficient for their daily needs.

ORENDAIN: Thats little more than $1 to $2 a day for an average family of six around here.

Two years ago, the foundation started teaching neighborhood women to take surplus and gently used glossy magazines, and cut and roll them into beads.�The beads are turned into jewelry.�This work pays the women close to the minimum wage of about $9 a day.

In the foundation library,�Mylene Virtucio links together chains of red and yellow beads.�She says before she came to the foundation in 2008, she picked garbage to help supplement her husbands salary of $4 a day. Virtucios seven children ate trash leftovers known as pagpag food with the maggots and mold dusted off.

Ms. MYLENE VIRTUCIO: (Through translator) When Im making jewelry, Im happy, because when youve made a lot, you know youre going to earn a lot. You start to think ahead to when you get paid. When I get the money, what can I get for my kids?

ORENDAIN: When the recycled jewelry program was brand new in 2008, the foundation approached a high-end, organic, local retailer called EchoStore.�Echo became the first commercial store in the Philippines to sell the recycled jewelry. Echo founder Jeannie Javelosa went to the dump site, and says she was speechless.

Ms. JEANNIE JAVELOSA (Founder, EchoStore): A sense of social responsibility is key. That is the reason, I think, why after visiting that place, our passion to just push what we could, and help, has just doubled.

ORENDAIN: Just like the jewelry makers efforts have doubled, as they keep an eye on a growing number of orders and their growing income to help keep their families alive.�

For NPR news, Im Simone Orendain in Manila.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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