Every day at 5pm Manila is blanketed with rain. I was nominally aware of this before I arrived, and spent a significant amount of time and a not insignificant amount of money equipping myself with waterproof Gortex jacket. To my dismay, I would have been better equipped with a golf umbrella and a pair of waders. In the Philippines, the start of a downpour does not indicate a cold front moving in, indeed the air is stays so warm the effect resembles a hot shower. It is far too hot for my Gortex jacket, and the flooded streets make my pair of sneakers comically impractical. Each day’s commute involves navigation around enormous puddles and across streets inundated with water. An umbrella in one hand and a bag in the other, managing this task through dense crowds can be daunting.
I blame the rain for this inconvenience. All the positive agricultural associations of rain are lost in the crowded metropolis; one only becomes acutely aware of the overwhelmed drainage system. Streets flood with two feet of water after a thirty minute shower, creating small brown rivers. I do not claim to have any technical knowledge of sewer systems (please comment if you do), but surely heralding the end of the workday with a minor flood is something that could be avoided. The government has so far failed to create a proper drainage system, and each day relies on public employees to shovel out thick grime from the pipes.
There is reason for optimism, however. Where government services stop short, private citizens have taken the issue into their own hands. A group of children have implemented a network of rudimentary bridges to facilitate the traversing of all the flooded intersections. Each bridge constructed with two pieces of wood laid across cinder blocks, the system proves remarkably effective in streamlining pedestrian traffic. I wait in a small queue for my turn to cross, and when prompted by the perpetually courteous bridge manager, pay a nominal toll, cross, and go on my merry way. Occasionally a bridge-crosser will find him/herself short a peso. The children are remarkably lenient in this situation. They have apparently figured out that future clientele are attracted by demonstrations of friendly flexibility.
For these kids, this is just one innovative means of generating income: they perform a variety of other odd jobs when the streets are dry. Their drive and innovative methods never cease to amaze me, and I am reminded of stories of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s early foray into one-man ferries to Staten Island. While there is no doubt that the odds of these children reaching such excessive levels of wealth are infinitesimal, their entrepreneurial spirit and adaptable response to adversity is every bit as impressive.
By Nick Whalley, KF12, Manila, Philippines. Nick is working with field partner, The Center for Community Transformation