For 13-year-old Joanna, one person’s garbage is her lifeline. Along with her mother and six siblings, Joanna is a scavenger in Baseco, an extremely impoverished region outside of Manila, Philippines. They pick through mounds of garbage on the shoreline looking for bottles and plastic items they can sell for food.
Joanna stood out to me as she was picking through garbage near the shore. She had a huge smile as she stuffed plastic scraps into a small sack she was carrying. Smaller kids gathered around her, seemingly looking to her for leadership.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her.
“I’m trying to get money so my family can eat,” she replied with confidence. “When we get really hungry there is nothing we can do, we just push through. We have to do what we need to do to find food.”
Joanna speaks with maturity well beyond her years, saying she pushes through by being positive. We followed her to her house and met her parents and siblings. It was hard to believe that all of them lived in just one small room. Joanna’s mother told us how dangerous life as a scavenger was for her kids. She said they’d often get beaten by other scavengers looking to steal their bounty. “What a life,” I thought to myself. With that thought, I bent down to ask Joanna just how hard her life was as a scavenger. Her answer put me in my place.
“I take it as a great experience because I get to learn about how to live life and how much things cost,” she said smiling. “And it is time I get to spend with my family.”
Joanna was looking at her life as a glass half full. I was looking at it as a glass half empty. Now, I imagine that she sees her glass overflowing after her and her siblings began eating through our feeding initiative in the Philippines.
“It’s a really big help,” she says. “It gives us energy and keeps us going.”
Remember Joanna the next time you look at your glass half empty.