Peace, Education, Aspiration, Respect, Love, Smile

An excerpt from an article from National Geographic article, "Scavenging for Charcoal Fuel in the Rubbish of Manila"
Project PEARLS is trying to help keep children in school, and improve the living conditions in the Ulingan community.
The U.S.-based nonprofit is paying the school expenses of more than 60 elementary-school and 40 nursery and kindergarten children in Ulingan, and hopes to expand that to older school children. The group also delivers hot meals every Saturday morning to more than 100 children and elderly residents, and has built a day-care and learning center to replace a makeshift plywood structure perched above a polluted body of water.
"Our ultimate goal is to eradicate child labor in Ulingan," said founder Melissa Villa, noting that children start working "as soon as they can walk" picking up nails from the burned wood.
Villa was born and raised in the Philippines before moving to the United States more than 20 years ago. She grew up only about 30 minutes from Ulingan, which means "Charcoal City" in Tagalog.
"I had grown up seeing those squatter areas, but I had never seen anything like that," Villa said of her first visit in 2010 with a photojournalist.  "No electricity, no toilets, no sanitation. It's right on top of a garbage dump site."
Only the acrid smoke of burning charcoal masked the strong smell of garbage, she said. "I was overcome with grief, I knew I needed to help these kids and help these communities."
Her project now is about 18 months old, and growing. It relies largely on donations by businesses and individuals in the U.S. and Philippines.
"The children of Ulingan suffer from a host of respiratory illnesses as well as skin diseases due to living near the charcoal factories in the midst of the dumpsite," Villa said. Volunteer nurses and doctors recruited by Project PEARLS visit the site every three months.
We focus our outreach efforts in ULINGAN. Ulingan is a small slum community in Tondo, Manila that sits on a dump site and surrounded by charcoal factories that emit toxic smoke; there is no electricity, no access to toilets or sanitation. Children and families have no choice but to live with soot, garbage, mosquitoes, flies, vermin all day and all night. Children as young as three-year olds work in the charcoal factory to help their families. Our main mission is to put those children to school.

Here are some of their photos (downloaded from

To help PEARLS in their project, please visit