Michael Jadulco was 17, living in a typhoon-ravaged squatter colony along Manila’s Pasig River, when the roof was ripped off his home. The National Housing Authority was demolishing his community. His family and thousands of others would be relocated to prefabricated, rural settlements more than two hours away.
Though far from prospective employment, the families were at least promised running water and electricity in their new homes. Michael had just passed a difficult scholarship examination but gave up his dream of attending college and followed his family to Southville 7.
By the time Chad Noble-Tabiolo heard about Southville 7 last spring, Michael had been living in there for two years. A University of Hawaii graduate student in Indigenous Health, Chad headed to Southville 7 for a fellowship sponsored by the Honolulu- and Manila-based Consuelo Foundation. As Chad heard it, Southville 7’s residents arrived to find broken promises. Most homes, including Michael’s, did not have electricity or running water. Employment opportunities were non-existent. Many women and youth were abandoned by spouses and parents who returned to the city to find work.
I was introduced to Chad right before he left for Manila, when a friend told him about Map Your World, a GIS (geographic information systems) mapping project. The tool, which empowers youth globally to seek and create change in their own communities, was inspired by the work of a Kolkata youth group called Prayasam (which I helped document in the film “The Revolutionary Optimists”).
We showed Chad water tap maps developed by Prayasam to convince the government to bring a drinking water line to a long-neglected squatter colony. He wondered if he could mobilize the youth of Southville 7 to create the first real needs assessment of their community. He collected a batch of donated Android phones and hopped a plane to Manila.
Of Native Hawaiian and Filipino descent, Chad grew up in Kalihi, a marginalized community on Oahu, and was no stranger to hardship. Warm and magnanimous, with the natural gifts of a community organizer, he didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of the “outsiders” he had met in his own community—arriving with prescriptions and promises and leaving little behind. Collaboration immediately flowed.
From the beginning, the project was youth-led and youth-driven. He designated standouts like Michael to be “Star Leaders” of the project, who identified questions to ask in their door-to-door survey. Among them: “Do you have access to water in your home?” “Do you have a community garden?” “Does your family live together?” and “Have you gone for more than two days without food?” Michael learned Excel syntax, and the youth programmed the surveys themselves.
In total, 29 young surveyors hit the streets, wearing project t-shirts and armed with smartphones. Initially, they planned to visit a few hundred homes. But we watched amazed, back in California, as their map populated and the data began to tell a story. First 50 dots appeared, each linking to a survey data point. Then hundreds. Then thousands.
Here was visual proof that most homes had no water, that jobs and food were scarce. The group was galvanized. In debriefing sessions, they danced together, cried together, learned to care about each other.
To Michael, Southville 7’s mapping work was primarily a vehicle for instilling hope in the youth and community. “For me, mapping is like knowing,” he says. “Knowing the problems and how people are coping with them. Through the work, we can open the eyes of the people, not only to the things that can help them but to the things that can help us all.”
The work was not without struggle. Many residents did not want to be surveyed. Star Leader and young mother Nerisa Soilo said many had entirely given up hope. The team learned to quickly prove to respondents—who assumed they were from outside agencies—that they were part of the community and experienced many of the same problems.
For the youth, the process of meeting and conversing with neighbors changed their narrative from one of personal tragedy to one of empathy and community. They had not been aware that so many went without food, saw parents leave for the city, or lost newborn children—and this knowledge weighed heavily on them.
But they found knowledge and empathy to be important steps on the path to action. Noting that very few families had gardens, for instance, they now plan to start one for the community. Chad was impressed to hear that a survey revealed a case of elder abuse, which the youth reported to authorities.
As Rose-Ann Mores, 16, put it: “As youth leaders, our team can be the voice of the people. We want to restore the dignity that has been stolen from us.”
In July, the youth presented their results at a meeting with the district mayor and heads of major foundations. They handed passionate letters to the power brokers in attendance, describing what they had learned about the needs of Southville 7. Already, the work has paid off: the Consuelo Foundation has committed to starting a family center envisioned by the youth, focused on mothers, children, and young adults.
In the meantime, a sense of urgency continues to spread the work. Michael has been hired to conduct a three-day training at the Consuelo Foundation headquarters in Manila on the Map Your World technology and their project’s methodology, with the goal of initiating other youth-led mapping projects throughout Manila. He says, “This work opens up our minds to act and move now, not tomorrow.”