More than 50,000 people per sq km in Navotas


It has been very interesting listening to my companions reflections on their time in Navotas.  One of the most challenging things for all of us was the lack of space. Not all of our familes had toilets (holes in the ground) – misleadingly called ‘comfort rooms’ here!  The first adjustment to make was being able to perform our daily routines knowing that within 5 meters you could hear the voices of dozens of people – who where only seperated from you by a billowing curtain, or a flimsy piece of cardboard! Luckily I was able to relax quite quickly and get into the routine – but I think this was a bridge to far for some of my brothers!

The creative use of space became a source of  wonder to me in Navotas. I remember when I was about eight and had my first airline meal, I was fascinated by how everything was designed to fit into the tray neatly. Plates, cups, were designed to maximise the space.  In Navotas too, especially when I stayed with the Estayo family – everything was neatly stored, hung up, folded away – to maximise living space.  Water, a precious commodity, stacked and stored, used efficiently for washing and shared generously with the poorer neighbours.  I felt very comfortable with my families – but some of the other tertians had much more challenging ‘living quarters’ – constant flooding, fumes from cooking (asthma a big issue), corrugated huts soon becoming baking ovens.  But I think once you get over the chock and adjust you start to see the incredible order and organisati0n that exists.


The slum areas in Navotas are incredible human colonies – full of energy and activity – carefully hidden from us was the suffering , tragedies and desperation.  I remember the amazing series on the BBC last year The Human Planet,  well worth watching, about how Human life is capable of colonising and adapting to such varying conditions – Deserts / Mountains / Forests / Ice Sheets –  and there was a sense of fascination just being briefly part of daily life here.  What seemed to be keeping so much of the community together, amidst the pressures and stress of Navotas were incredibly strong mother figures. I think that is where we as Jesuits should focus our support and training.  Below is a small clip of my daily journey home through the narrow streets, as well as all the friendly greetings – see if you can spot the man preparing icecubes, the videoke birthday party and when I get lost – I am following Maricel (the woman in red).  Apologies for my creeping finger covering the lense – its not easy being 6ft 2 – walking through such a narrow space! 

These urban slum areas are growing at a huge rate – according to the UN 2006, was the first time when the majority of people in the planet lived in urban areas. So there is a huge migration from the rural to the urban taking place especially in Asia. This presents a real challenge to the political classes – particularly at a local level. How do we protect and respect the dignity of these people. They seem to be living in a constant state of uncertainty, corrupt local officials exploiting them, fires being started by unscrupulous businessmen who want to clear the area for development, relocation always hanging over them – as the government want to build stronger flood defenses, adn of course the weekly threat of typhoons, monsoons and storm surges. I saw many signs of hope in Navotas – but the Church needs to be on the front line as advocates for these vulnerable communities.