By: Cherie Rayburn with Edwin Estioko   |   Posted: May 09, 2017

Sponsored children live in the toughest environments. But they receive help and the hope for a better future.

Hope in the Wastelands

Sponsored children live in the toughest environments. But they receive help and the hope for a better future.

Written by Cherie Rayburn with Edwin Estioko
Photography by Edwin Estioko
People standing in line waiting for a new load of garbage from the dumptruck
Compassion sponsorship gives children like Hannah and Florence Rojo in the Philippines opportunities to escape a cycle of poverty. Still, the environments where children in poverty live, play and work are often difficult and dangerous.


A city dump next to their home is where 12-year-old Hannah Rojo and her 16-year-old sister Florence (pictured left to right below) spend every weekend, holiday and some early hours before school scavenging for plastic bottles, tin cans and other recyclable items to sell. They often use the change they get to pay for a ride to and from school and to buy lunch at school for the day.

Sisters standing in the city dump
Walking up mounds of garbage looking for recyclables


This massive mountain of garbage is just across a field from the girls’ home, a half-completed structure owned by their aunt. The stench of the dump fills the neighborhood. Lusita, the girls’ mother, says one of the tricks to working the dump is not to look down at whatever is squishing under your feet. Lusita works here eight hours daily. Often, a family member, usually a cousin or uncle, must also guard Florence’s spot throughout the night so that other pickers don’t steal the garbage she has started collecting and sorting.


Florence and Hannah are two of six children in the Rojo family. While their mother and father work, the older children care for the younger ones and older relatives look in on them throughout the day.

People trying to be first in line at dump
Sisters digging through new garbage at dump
Sisters collecting food from garbage at dump


On average, 14 trucks arrive daily with new loads of garbage. There is always a big scramble to be the first to go through the new loads. Men are typically first in line, women and children last.


People working at the dump find discarded food from the market. The sisters will take it for the pig belonging to their neighbor, who has promised to give them a piglet from the next litter. Sometimes their family also eats scavenged food.

Florence weighing her collection from the dump


After making her way down the garbage mountain with a heavy basket of recyclables, Florence weighs her collection to see what she’ll earn from the recycled-goods traders at the dump. Copper wire brings the most money, but she didn’t find any today. Each type of material brings a different price per pound. The girls hope their day’s work will result in big numbers on the scale.

Hannah holding the paper with written results of their garbage collection


Results from the scale, written on a piece of paper, indicate that Hannah and Florence have earned $1.44 from their four hours of scavenging today. On good eight-hour days Lusita earns up to $5.50. Raising a family on this income is difficult. But Hannah and Florence are gaining skills through Compassion so they can make their way out of the landfill.


Beyond the Dump

The Iloilo City dump in the Philippines, even though dangerous and unsanitary, helps provide for the people who live near it. The Iloilo City government has considered closing the dump because of increasing crime there.

This odd pairing of dependence and danger only serves to motivate Pastor Edwin Araña and members of his Compassion partner church, Christ Centered Fellowship, to work even harder to change their community’s future.

Compassion’s unique model of working exclusively through local churches like Christ Centered Fellowship — which hosts the Child Sponsorship Program and the Child Survival Program — means that pastors like Araña are from the community and know the children and families most in need and how to help them.

Araña also knows the two-mile route from his church to the dump. The thatched bamboo homes, plowed patches of rice fields and makeshift shops with piles of metal scraps from the dump belong to the families he has spent more than 30 years serving.

In the 1990s, when the government began using the area as a dump, “very quickly the ‘mountain’ grew higher and higher,” says Araña. “I used to hitchhike on bulldozers to reach the families.”

Since community members have a great need for other opportunities, the church created a crab pond and garden where families of registered children come to work and earn extra money. The church also lends money to parents who want to begin small businesses, which help them become self-sufficient.

“A number of our parents are now earning money from selling rice or snacks,” says Hayde Villanueva, director of the Compassion-assisted center at the church. “Some have tried food processing, others now drive their own motorcycle-taxis, while others have tried making and selling peanut butter.”

These activities also help parents provide for their kids. The children registered at the child development center are learning ways to create brighter futures for themselves.

“We train our registered children to excel in academics and do well in life,” Villanueva says. “We also teach them livelihood and entrepreneurial skills as we nurture them in God’s Word.”

Villanueva uses a curriculum called “My Plan for Tomorrow,” in which Compassion-assisted children are encouraged to think beyond the dump. They write down what they want to do when they grow up and the steps they need to take to reach their goals. Florence wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and her sister Hannah wants to work in ministry.

Pastor Araña and Villanueva believe the girls will achieve their goals and are determined to help them any way they can.

“We are a community-conscious church,” Araña says. “It is what Jesus would do.”