The things I learnt from the slum

What is happiness? What is life?

Words & Photography by Etsuko Makino.

In June 2016, I visited the slum of Manila, Philippines. There in the place of Tondo lies the biggest slum in the Southeast Asia. Even though I had an image of the slum in my mind, I could not imagine how it was to live in such conditions.

I couldn’t imagine how people could prepare food, make a family or even retain a smile in such a place.

I stepped onto the bus, worried and tense, as I was about to move into an unknown world.

As I got closer, the atmosphere and buildings began to change little by little. It was like applying a dirty filter over the scenery. A peculiar smell started to hang in the air.

At first I saw a huge mountain of garbage.

I saw people using their bare hands digging through the garbage looking for things to sell. Houses were sandwiched in between the garbage.

What I had seen so far wasn’t beyond my imagination. I thought I seen everything now, but I soon realised I was wrong.

I thought it must be difficult for these people to live like this. But when I saw the people dancing and laughing, I realised there was no need to feel pity for them. They were genuinely happy.

Even though they didn’t have a clean place, enough power or modern comforts. They were living a happy life. I saw people full of energy.

Actually I didn’t want to accept this fact. I felt I was asked how could I measure happiness now. People here were full of life, even some with disabilities. While in more developed countries I have seen people with lifeless eyes. Who has a good understanding of life and happiness? How to we feel real happiness?

Even though I would never want to live here, the joyful people surprised me.

I thought to myself…

“ what is life? what is happiness?”

This experience changed how I think about my life and how I can manage the quality of my life.

I have noticed that developing countries usually have large populations. Though when I compare this to Japan, it is different. We have modern conveniences, safety, a clean place to live, yet we have a small population. I thought it was because of worry — about money and work. It seemed that it was easier to start a family in a developing country.

I learnt it was important that we spend time in other countries so that we can see opposite ways of living. It helps us learn more about our own countries and discover what are the most important things in life.