You wander on foot in what city planners and denizens call the U-Belt (short for “University”). All around are materials used to build structures based on the negative aesthetics of the bad, the false and the ugly: plaster, new and old wood, concrete, naked hollow blocks, tarpaulin, plastic, sticks, GI sheets saved from last month’s typhoon. Name anything artificial, it’s on that Belt.
As for the natural beings, the living, breathing beings who give the substance to the “U” in the “Belt,” they are the students (full-time, part-time or working), teachers (the same–may be full-time, part-time or engaged in other survival projects), vendors, vendees, stray dogs and cats, rats, naturally, and the informal settlers, once condescendingly called “squas” (short for “squatters”) but now a force to reckon with.
And there are the children in various states of nourishment (well-nourished, malnourished, or hardly fed at all). In this, the Sampaloc of Manila, survival is key. You’re not even prepared to bring in the subject of quality of life yet.
But the founding fathers (and mothers) of La Proteccion de la Infancia had foreseen this day, had in their prescience seen far in the past and back to the future that hunger may be the meaning of the “h” in “Philippines.” This hunger of the body (and by extension, the soul) remains unsatisfied.
And so in a neighborhood of fast-food multinationals standing cheek by jowl with makeshift carinderias, turo-turos, student canteens and even beauty parlors that sell foodstuff on the side, the Gota de Leche building sits serenely, continuing its mission to feed the bodies of the nation’s future.
-Words by Elizabeth Lolarga, photos by J. Likha Yatco