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MANILA — In the midst of the Philippines’ most notorious slum, British expat Jane Walker transforms lives by turning rubbish into top-end fashion items, according to Postnoon News.

A unique four-story building houses the Philippine Christian Foundation, an organisation Walker founded 16 years ago to help scavengers at the Smokey Mountain garbage dump in Manila’s chaotic bayside Tondo district.

Walker teaches mothers to make colourful bags, purses and jewellery using items commonly discarded by the public — from toothpaste tubes, plastic bottles and lollypop wrappers to magazine pages and soft drink cans.

“It’s inspiring when you realise such a simple project helps so many families,” Walker, 48, told AFP during a recent visit to the school.
“We design things from laptop bags and iPod cases, computer cases, all ranges of different handbags, shopping bags, clutch bags, fashion accessories and even place mats made from waste paper.”

The products are sold in the country’s biggest department store chain, as well as to high-end and specialty shops in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, the Middle East and Singapore, with price tags ranging from 10 to 100 dollars.

A portion of the proceeds goes to the mothers and the staff, while the rest is used to finance the foundation’s operations.

Apart from teaching livelihood skills, Walker’s foundation also runs a primary school where up to 500 slum children are enrolled at any given time free of charge.

The building in itself is remarkable and true to the foundation’s recycling mantra.

It is made from shipping containers welded and cemented together in what Walker says is the first such structure housing a school anywhere in the world.

Walker first came to the Philippines in the mid-1990s on a soul searching holiday expecting to soak up some sun in a tropical paradise.Instead she found herself lost in a cab that drove her across Manila’s bayside Tondo district and its teeming slums.

She was both amazed and repulsed by Smokey Mountain, a sprawling open dump known for its constantly billowing black smoke that once symbolised everything wrong in the Southeast Asian country known for corruption and crushing poverty.

She returned to her native Southampton haunted by what she saw and was determined to do something about it.

She subsequently quit her high-paying job as a publishing executive and relocated to Manila.

Using her own money and donations from friends, she took over an abandoned warehouse near the dumps and converted it into a school.

Money, however soon dried up, forcing her to look for alternative sources of funding.“I thought, why not make garbage into something we can profit from,” she said.

“And that’s how it began.”

Walker tirelessly scoured the dumps with the mothers, and encouraged their children to enrol in her school.

As word of her work spread, corporate sponsors also lined up to donate cash that enabled her to expand her work, including construction of the new school in 2009 at a cost of one million dollars.

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