• November 4, 2013

A Boy and His Goggles

Kurt Mutchler

Photographing from his insect-like paraglider at an altitude of 500 feet, George Steinmetz is known for his beautiful aerial photography of places like the islands of the Ari Atoll in the Maldives, above. But even when he keeps his boots on the ground, he’s equally adept at searching out and capturing storytelling moments.

This post is about one of those moments.

I worked with him as his picture editor on “Rising Seas,” which appeared in the September 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine. The coverage for the story took him to Manila, Philippines, where some 625,000 people are squatting in crowded riverfront shanties extremely vulnerable to rising seas exacerbated by subsiding land and the threat of the next typhoon. The government hopes to relocate everyone out of harm’s way, but funding, the search for suitable locations, and construction of new housing projects are still in the works.

George was making headway by air but found the going tough in the crowded and cramped shantytowns. He was a white, six-foot-two-inch-tall foreigner who stood out just as you would expect a white, six-foot-two-inch-tall foreigner would. We discussed his frustrations by phone and agreed that he should take more of his precious deadline time and go after the elusive moments we both so wanted for the story.

Time is everything to a photographer.

Eventually, George found himself below sea level, knee-deep in a mudflat below stilt shanties that look as if an ordinary wind could blow them out to sea.

A contact sheet of photographer George Steinmetz's photographs.
A contact sheet of photographer George Steinmetz’s photographs.

As this contact sheet shows, George happened upon and began following Rodello Coronel, Jr., 13, one of nine children. Rodello spends each morning picking through the floating trash looking for recyclable plastic that he can sell for 35 cents per kilo to help his family. According to Denis Murphy, head of Urban Poor Associates and whose workers helped George on assignment, each family has five persons on average and earns about $6 a day.

Rodello Coronel, Jr., the second of nine children in his family, spends the morning picking through the trash on shore in Manila looking for recyclable plastic.
Rodello Coronel, Jr., the second of nine children in his family, spends the morning picking through the trash on shore in Manila looking for recyclable plastic.

Rodello looked far older than his 13 years as he focused on the task at hand, but then something unusual caught his eye—a pair of swimming goggles. His face lit up with joy, and my eyes with tears, as I felt for the boy whose spirit transcended his situation. This was my favorite picture of the story, yet it did not make the pages of the magazine, and it has never been published until now. Giving George the precious time on the ground paid off.

George wrote that on the next day he saw Rodello, “in his smart-looking school uniform with a small briefcase holding his homework papers.”

If you would like to help Rodello and families like his you can send contributions to Urban Poor Associates, a nongovernment organization registered with the Philippine government. Please send donations (in dollars) direct to:

Associates of the Urban Poor, Inc.
Bank of the Philippine Islands
Aurora Boulevard Branch

Or you can send checks or money orders to:
Urban Poor Associates
25A Mabuhay Street Barangay Central 1100
Quezon City, Philippines

View more of George Steinmetz’s work on his website.

There are 22 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Ilyn Billao
    February 11, 2015

    It is good to see them smile despite their conditions in life….They think positively.. 🙂

  2. Leo J
    November 8, 2013

    The kid has a WAY BIGGER smile on his face than I do right now! Ah – to be able to play in the garbage again…

  3. bret Nly
    November 7, 2013

    great pic, the kid looks so thankfull to have found the goggles…. smile on son

  4. Krisander Khysov
    November 7, 2013

    Because all of your governments’ fund goes to Napoles!

  5. deb fulk
    November 6, 2013

    one mans trash is another mans treasure. well the boy is happy and the ocean is beautiful and our journey thur life is what we choose. make the most of every new beginning nothing is permanent. maybe one of oyr many ceo of united states will sent some money or joyce myer will help/////////////////

  6. viktor laguna
    November 6, 2013

    by the way, mr mutchler..i wouldnt want to miss to tell you that i do like your catched-scenery. youre indeed very lucky to get this possibility to take shot of this happypoorboy! he seems too happy to know that there`s an eyewear as such! nevertheless, i cannot say its beautiful cause its in itself unpleasant background.thus, your picture was not chosen as a cover. so in photography, choose what you want to convey to “onlookers”. all i see he is a happy soul regardless of his environment and you touched of seeing him happy enjoying your trash interpretational object. why not take picture of our non-trashy coconut-palm trees and bamboos then? or our smallest monkeys in bohol? goodluck next time!

  7. viktor laguna
    November 6, 2013

    enough with your analysis of who is pitiful and poor. trash dumping in every country exist. the problem here is the non-strict and non-monitored waste dumping in the metropolitan.any poor boy will look for a treasure but it doesnt mean he is sad and much poorer than you, mr photographer. problems exist in every country. in america, uncontrollable debt ceilings are shooting to nowhere, firearms freedom to trigger unto anyone is Free every second of the day, in europe-psychological&depression problems, suicide attempts are rising, in UAE never ending wars, others facing massive Unemployment, Cancers and all uncontrollable nuclear dangers,etc! Your subject Rodello is a product of a very catholic family system in SEAsia where Abortion, Birthcontrol is a Sin. 9 children leads to Poverty. and the govt. cannot control nor forbid a couple to produce many children which then led to scavenging playgrounds like him! Your trash may be his gold and likewise his trash(white sand,37 degrees warm blue water and clear skies are definitely the most precious ever to have. Diffirent world, different problems. So, why not accept your picture as the unpleasant picture. period! Philippine people are the happiest people in the world. Live some years in our islands..youll never leave our “trashy” country.

  8. Aldo Zambrano
    November 5, 2013

    Lo felicito, excelentes fotografías, como me gustaría que también, pudiera fotografiar, los niños, familias enteras, reciclando de los botaderos de basura de mi país, Ecuador, de la ciudad de Guaayquil, ¡Bendiciones!

  9. Esmeralda
    November 5, 2013

    A common sight in most Asian countries. People come to Asia looking for paradise and exotic cultures but the reality of those countries is quite different. It’s always heartbreaken to see boys like Rodello scavenging human trash in order to survive. It’s degrading and beyond human decency. But is even worse to know that corrupted and shameless politicians won’t do nothing to change it. These children deserve a decent education and a proper home. But what we do? We get shocked with pictures like that, cried out a little and go one with our comfortable lives, and forget about it. Is easier that way, isn’t it. Yet, millions of children around Asian (and I have seen them during my travels) are just like Rodello. So sad. The picture is beautiful. It does speak by itself. The happiness of a boy with a discarded pair of swimming goggles. What is trash for me, is a treasure to someone else.

  10. Aldo
    November 4, 2013

    I’ve just seen this clip, Disturbed – Another Way To Die, and this photo freaks me out!

  11. anon
    November 4, 2013

    PORK Barrel should be abolished here in the Philippines, PDAF, DAP & Lump Sum (all are Pork Barrel) are becoming the source of wealth of our Congressman & Senators….

  12. anon
    November 4, 2013

    Our politicians (Philippines) always says: Mawawala na ang kahirapan kapag akoy nakaupo!” (Poverty will be eliminated when im seated).. But the real message is that ” I will be out of MY poverty and become rich if i am seated” 🙂

  13. jon
    November 4, 2013

    survival at its best… filipinos are on top of this. no-matter how difficult life may present, even at young age… we learn and keep on adapting. we know how to cope on any situation we are in. it may be a harsh life for the eyes of others but for the boy pictured here… HE’S SMILING. this is his way of dealing with his family’s needs to survive. innocent of who’s to blame: (the government et al.)… free from the frustrations of today’s political status. ELSE; at age 22, he may end up shooting security officers at NAIA. We are filipinos and the will to push through no matter how trivial life may present, and that distinct “SMILE” regardless of the problems faced is our genuine trademark.

  14. fernando
    November 4, 2013

    the stark reality of poverty in the Philippines, a very common sight in any urban centers in various island province, our shameless politicians, who cheat, lie, continue to wallow in stolen riches, while this boy continue to wallow in dirt, poverty, and pollution. just to survive, he has to look for opportunities among the trash near his home, his family could be living in one of those stilt houses.

  15. Corsica
    November 4, 2013

    He’s just so please with his goggles. I was once like him. That was in a different time. Bring back before the 2000.

  16. woah
    November 4, 2013

    This is a very strange comments section indeed.

  17. Zorro
    November 4, 2013

    Who do you blame? Philippines has virtually no war vs Vietnam is just next door- and has been economic partner with the US before the world war and yet, their idiotic governments never bothered to capitalize the USA benefit. I remembered one of the x-x president Madam Marco bought a house in Montreal in my area ( the richer section, not my) and she needed space for her 200 pairs of shoes.

  18. Ninky Cabauatan
    November 4, 2013

    Behind the sophisticated urban environs of metro Manila lies the decadent life in the depressed slums depicted in these pictures that the government has ignored or just refuses to admit it exists…such a shame!

  19. edilson aguiar de moura
    November 4, 2013

    temos um projeto social aqui no Ceará que podera resolver essa problemática dessa sujeira nos rios e riachos.

  20. Kades
    November 4, 2013

    The firtst start for the govefment would be birthcontrol. I can understand that poor people can’t realize the less children you have the better change to beter their situation.

  21. ganga limbu
    November 4, 2013

    no any comment

  22. paulhixon
    November 4, 2013

    these poor people,im unemployed and have seen it bad..but if i had the way I myself would be there in the water helping these children as much as i possibly could not even considering the dangers..

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