Contributed by Maricon Alvarez, Raphaelo Villavicencio, and Mary Jane Banglos (Mother Earth Foundation, Philippines)

Waste Workers of Pilar Village in City of San Fernando, Pampanga receiving Zero Waste Relief from MEF together with the City ENR Officer, Ms. Ma. Regina Rodriguez (Photo by Mother Earth Foundation, 2020)

At the height of the pandemic in April this year, the entire population of the Philippines was advised to stay home. Frontliners, however, were exempted from this advisory as they are considered essential workers needed in the fight against COVID-19. Frontliners include medical practitioners, policemen, bank employees, grocery employees, food delivery crew, and other essential workers in the non-medical field. One of the many frontliners, often not given much importance, are the waste pickers and waste workers who play a vital role in preventing the spread of the virus. 

At present, the majority of the waste pickers and workers continue to do their job by collecting segregated wastes from the households and maintaining proper hygiene and cleanliness in the community. Being one of the frontliners, the daily task of waste pickers and workers’  has become riskier because of the threat of COVID-19.  

In solidarity with the significant contribution of the frontliners like the waste pickers and workers, Mother Earth  Foundation (MEF) targeted to raise funds to provide food relief to 1,677 partner waste workers on duty in all  of MEF’s Zero Waste sites. 

Project Tuloy

Pile of Zero Waste Reliefs to be distributed for 163 Waste Workers of City of San Fernando, Pampanga (Photo by Mother Earth Foundation, 2020)

As part of MEF’s support and recognition for the efforts done by waste workers, they launched Project Tuloy to help the waste workers through two initiatives: Kusina ni Juan, a community kitchen that provides fresh and healthy home-cooked meals and Zero Waste relief goods to avoid  further waste generation and plastic pollution in the environment. 

Sample of of Kusina Ni Juan (Food) for Distribution in the selected barangays of Malabon City; and Face Masks and Vitamins for the Waste Workers (Photo by Mother Earth Foundation, 2020)

As a result of this initiative, MEF was able to provide personal protective equipment (PPEs), health care kits, and food packs to over 554 waste workers from four project sites in Malabon, Batangas City, City of San Fernando, Pampanga, Brgy. Fort Bonifacio, and Taguig City. 104 waste workers were also given cash aids. In addition to this, we are aiming to reach 1,200 more from the remaining sites in the Philippines.

In the midst of challenges facing the Philippines due to COVID-19, I thank and pay tribute to all people who continue to perform their roles; and to all frontliners who continue to fight this pandemic… and wholeheartedly embrace their duties. I salute you. It is a great blessing to have people from Mother Earth Foundation who have big hearts and care for each other. Thank you MEF for your love and care for us waste workers. Your help has given us strength everyday. – Jonalie Manalo Brgy. San Jose, Navotas City 

In the middle of this nationwide problem caused by COVID-19,

We, the waste workers of Barangay Magliman in San Fernando, are sincerely grateful to Mother Earth Foundation for providing assistance during these difficult times. The (relief and sanitation kits) are of great help to us. Thank you very much! – Waste Workers of Brgy. Magliman (City of San Fernando, Pampanga

While the Philippines is still under the threat of COVID-19, Project Tuloy is still ongoing and accepting donations. MEF is targeting to provide relief packs to all waste workers in all of MEF’s project sites across the country.

Definitely, there is still a huge need for any kind of support (in kind or monetary) for our Project Tuloy. We are planning to expand Project Tuloy’s Kusina Ni Juan and Zero Waste Relief where there is still a concept of avoiding the use of unnecessary packaging and being true to the organization’s  advocacy of promoting Zero Waste. The  additional support will help us promote and execute this initiative. We make sure to  buy directly from the local farmers (for ZW Relief) to also help them earn in  these trying times.  We  cook nutritious food for the waste workers packed only in reusable containers to avoid the use of single-use plastic.”

As most of our waste workers are still continuing their jobs during this crisis, we are also aiming to  allocate funds for their health and security. We aim to provide HEALTH INSURANCE (Affordable Health Insurance) for the waste workers of  MEF in all of our  project sites.”

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GAIA is grateful for the contributions from Mother Earth Foundation. This feature is made possible through the Zero Waste Cities project — an initiative coordinated by GAIA Asia Pacific and funded by the Plastic Solutions Fund (PSF). The views expressed in this feature do not necessarily reflect that of its funders.