Last weekend Vince and I joined Salinlahi (a child’s rights advocacy org) in providing a photo workshop to out of school youth from 12 to 17 years old in a fishing community in Bacoor (just outside Manila).

This is part of the photography program Salinlahi is bringing to different impoverished communities in the Philippines to explore the serious and common situation of child labourers. The chronic and worsening hardship in the country (not to mention the shrinking budget for education) leads to more and more youth dropping out of school in order to help make ends meet for their family. 

Our meals were cooked outdoors right next to our teaching area. It’s pretty amazing the quality of meals we got from an open fire, and a single pot sitting utop three rocks…

For Salinlahi the primary problem is not the labouring of children, but the situation that leads to it, namely the grave economic situation of the country that provides little opportunity for peasants and workers. No parent wants their children to stop school, but if there is no money to pay for the education, and/or if the family priorities are still at the most basic (food, water, shelter) then it becomes the obvious decision.

We had twelve official participants (those using cameras) and a group of younger brothers and sisters just tagging along for the ride. They were the children of fishers or vendors in the area, all had many brothers and sisters (most had from 5 to 10), all were out of school, and all were attentive students that were eager to learn.

Meeting these youth Vince and I were often overcome with sadness that such obviously bright kids did not have the opportunity to finish school. But even beyond this I also wondered even if they did have that chance—that right actually according to the UN Rights of the Child Convention (signed by every UN member except the United States)—what opportunities awaited them after school.

Most of the jobs in the community revolved around the fishing industry. Fishers made P200 ($4USD) a day on a good day. And as it’s usually only the men who did this work so that money was for the entire family.

The area where we were is also currently being affected by the ongoing construction of a highway that is cutting off the ocean from the villiage, combined with the El Nino drought, water levels have dropped. What you see here should be filled with water. This is where fishponds and seaweed farms used to be.

One of the youth there, Darwin (around 16), told us that other than his dad only his eldest sister who was a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, were the breadwinners. It’s easy to see why so many have to drop out of school to help their parents. And it’s clear to see why there are so many people (3000-4000 a day) who leave the country to be overseas foreign workers (OFWs).

This is the community story we were there to teach them to tell using images. For all it was their first time using a camera. We had to teach them from the very beginning, how to hold the camera, where to push the shutter button, to different techniques to make a nice image (rather just to point and shoot). And they were good. Some were very, very good.

Kuya Vince helps upload some photos while the youth crowd around him.

When you see the latent talents of these youth, not just in photography, but in academics when they were taught to analyze their political and economic situation, it’s easy to feel extremely frustrated that so few opportunities exist for them to find an outlet for them.

I saw youth come early to class, I saw them work diligently and focus for 9+ hour days, I saw them do chores like cook and clean for the group, and I saw them do their photography not just as tourists would (taking images without speaking with the people), but interviewing each of their subjects to understand their lives.


Darwin was one of the especially bright youth. It was his first time using a camera and he was a natural.  In another world he would have a bright future as a photographer or some other kind of visual artist.  Here is one of his photos:

You can check out more samples of their work by CLICKING HERE.

Working with Salinlahi his past weekend was an amazing experience for me. I think volunteering for an org like this is something more Filipino-Canadians should consider. Most of us have had so many privileges that I feel it is very important for us to understand that many do not, and that that includes the vast majority of our fellow Filipinos. It is important that we not only see and share in a bit of it, but to try to understand why it is, and how it links back to us.

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Find out more about Salinlahi here:

The work of the youth will be exhibited in May at Cubao LRT Station.  If you’re a local come check it out!

They need more help to keep this going btw, so if you’re interested in donating to the project (money or cameras/equipment), or interested n putting together a fundraiser please get in touch!

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All photos but previous one of the child: ©2010 alex felipe  / All Rights Reserved.

Please contact the photographer with use inquiries.

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The youth at work and play. BTW, the seaweed being held up is gulaman, yes that gulaman (the jelly)–it’s also used to make the coil burned to drive away mosquitos.
Tahong (mussels) are one of the main sources of income here.
Marimar (on left) was an organised and intelligent young women. She helped keep us on schedule and keep the others in line. She never got to go to highschool because of lack of funds.
Roland was also very good at helping us with the guys in the group.
Karla of Salinlahi with the girls.


*originally published in Project Balikbayan