Twelve million people call the capital city of Manila in the Philippines, home. Despite its history of hardships, this developing megacity has grown to be one of Asia’s fastest growing economies.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Heartbreakingly, many who live here are being left far behind in abject poverty. According to statistics: 4 million or 37% of the entire population are below the poverty line and live in heavily populated slums.

A Child in the streets of Tondo, Manila (Source) 

These areas lack reliable sanitation services, access to clean water, electricity and other basic services. Natural disasters also pose a looming threat. This reality of the poor Filipino is devastatingly evident in the most highly populated area in Manila: Tondo where people are making a living from the city’s largest garbage dump.



Smokey Mountain in Tondo is one of the largest garbage collecting areas in the city. Here, adults and children risk their lives scavenging and sifting through toxic trash to find and sell recyclable materials. The fruit of this hardship is very little - around Php 100 to 300 a day ($2 – $8).

In the most populous Manila slums, occupation is around 75,000-80,000 people per square mile - one of the densest on earth. Life is a daily struggle for these people who live within crumbling “temporary” dwellings or in makeshift shacks created from collected materials. Their plight is grim yet remains largely invisible to the bustling city around them.

“Child labor perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems.” - Kailash Satyarthi

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“The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.” - Adam Smith

The weight of this reality falls particularly heavily on the children. More and more children are being born into this grim reality without a choice and without a voice. Their parents more often than not, are scavengers themselves and have very little to offer or provide them. Limited by a lack of education and a lack of action from those who could help, families are doomed to repeat the cycle of not enough work, too little income and too many mouths to feed.


A Child standing on a mountain of trash / Little Girls from Smokey Mountain (Source)


There is however a light dawning on the dark night of this situation. To break this cycle of poverty, we must take small steps towards a more promising tomorrow. The children and younger generations have the potential to be the bearers of light when given means to create opportunities for themselves – mainly through education through which they can eventually complete their studies, find a job and in turn, help support their families.

I have been working closely with a foundation that works to provide free and accessible education to children of all ages up to college, along with school sponsorship programs for the youth of Smokey Mountain. Young Focus works to give every child the opportunity to better themselves and to have access to an education regardless of their family’s situation. (For more information on Young Focus visit:

“Above all, we owe it to the children of the world to stop the conflicts and to create new horizons for them.” – F.W. de Klerk

IMG_5312 Catriona Gray volunteering with Young Focus.


“Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So it's very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.“ - Nelson Mandela

It has become my mission to fundraise for the Preschool in Smokey Mountain. Through multiple efforts such as holding and performing at benefit concerts, auctioning off original artworks, creating social media movements and approaching different bodies and companies I hope to make the Paraiso: Beginning’s Project a success.

After realizing that the existing establishments could not compensate the number of students, I in partnership with Young Focus set a goal to raise funds for the procurement and renovation of a 3-story building that would serve as a Preschool for children aged 3-5 yrs. This would allow the number of preschool aged students to grow from 80 to 300. Securing this building will allow the young children to have access to a free learning environment – a chance and opportunity that every child is entitled too. I believe that awakening a child’s love of learning as early as possible will pave the way for an enjoyable education and school experience that will best prepare them for the future.

What can you do to help?

- Spread Awareness. Share the video link below to inform your friends and family and inspire them to take action. Together we can better the lives of the children of Smokey Mountain. Awareness Video Link

- Donate. Any amount helps and will go towards Paraiso BBProject. Weekly updates will be posted (here) showing the renovation and progress of the Preschool Building. Donate to the Paraiso Bright Beginnings Project by clicking here

- Hold your own Fundraiser. Create a bake sale, host a raffle in your workplace – there are so many different ways to raise funds. Get creative!

- Volunteer. Young Focus is always looking for individuals to donate their time to help out with the programs and children. A helping hand is always welcome. (Information about volunteering here.)

““Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. Whether we give our children a future of more or a future of less - this, too, is a choice.” - Martin O'Malley

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Donate online via PayPal.

Donate via bank donation.
For donations in the Philippines please use this bank information and make it payable to:
Young Focus for Education & Development Bank: BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands)
Branch: Navotas Account no.: 4651-0036-58

Together we can work together to alleviate poverty in Tondo.

Together we can give the children of Smokey Mountain a brighter beginning.

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” – Sitting Bull

#ParaisoBrightBeginningsProject #EmpowerChange #AParaisoForEveryChild