By Alana Range

COMPOSTELA, PHILIPPINES—We’ve been working with these faces for two weeks. Mostly, we pass them on a narrow jungle trail that winds from a pot-holed service road to a construction site, almost half a kilometer into the bush. We smile nervously at each other, balancing bags of gravel on our shoulders and heads as we teeter by, neither one of us able to communicate in each other’s language.

 

We’re deep in the forest on the island of Cebu, attempting to construct a community center for a future village that may still be years away. If everything works out as planned, these men and their families will make up some of the 50 families to move from the Mandaue garbage dump into this new village.

For now these men, some of them still boys, will work as unskilled labour, joining a construction team of more than 40 skilled labourers who will finish the project in fewer than ten weeks. Because they’re unskilled, they’ve been tasked with shuttling all supplies from the service road to the site.

Most construction projects in the Philippines are unsophisticated.  With each skilled labourer costing only around five dollars a day, hiring a back-hoe tractor for hundreds of dollars makes little sense when you can pay people to do the same work, however more strenuous. Electricity, hard to come by in the middle of the jungle, means no drills, power saws, or nail guns; foundations are dug by hand, steel frames are bent with the leverage of a torso and bound together with fingers and steel ties. This particular construction site, 400 meters from any service road, brings the added challenge of getting supplies to the site. Tons of gravel (literally), sand, plywood, nails, drinking water, cement, steel and tools have to be carried by hand down a slippery path, step by step, trip by trip.  The terrain makes it impossible to use something as practical as a wheelbarrow.

And so, these are the men who make hundreds of trips a week, up and down the steep winding trail, ferrying literal bags of rocks on their heads to the site in weather that hits 35 degrees every day.

The idea is that by helping build this community center, they can eventually learn skills to help build the entire village, teaching other members of their community from the dump site how the whole process works. Here, these men are paid the minimum 267 PHP a day to help, more than they’d make back in the Mandaue dump, scavenging for salable tin cans and broken glass. They work 48 hours a week, and sleep at the construction site on the ground under tarps, to save the transportation fees to and from home.

I don’t speak Cebuano, their native language, and they speak little, if no, English. What was incredible about shooting this series was that as each of them diligently took their place in front of the camera, these were the faces they held, bold, and strong.