How a Tiny Shack in the Slums of Payatas Became a Field of Dreams
Most of us need no introduction to the abject situation of Payatas. We know of the dumpsite—still the largest open dumpsite in the Philippines—and that people live around it, and even depend on the mountain of refuse for their livelihood. Payatas is home to thousands who suffer atrocious standards of living. It is an immediate representation of urban poverty as Filipinos know it, and a singular image of the many harsh and unsavory realities that too many of us must face—realities that the rest of us often choose to forget.
But Roy Moore doesn't forget, and he doesn't ignore. After a couple of volunteer trips to the Philippines as a student, he returned and founded the Fairplay For All Foundation, a development initiative that promotes sustainable, holistic community growth in Payatas through education, social enterprise, nutrition, and football. Moore chose to live and work in Payatas, and faces its problems on the front lines every day. He can't forget.
Ten years ago, when Moore was just 18 and fresh out of high school, the British national took a year off before going on to attend college at the University of York in England. In that gap year, he decided to do some volunteer work, and so found himself in the Philippines for three months, helping with development projects for impoverished communities here.
The experience would move him enough to come back to volunteer a second time, two years later, when a student exchange program with the University of Singapore had afforded him a six-month break. After his second round of volunteer work here, Moore would return to England to complete his bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics, and economics, only to fly right back to the Philippines on the very day of his graduation. And this time, the third time, it was for good.
"I always wanted to get involved in development work," Moore says with a soft-spoken British accent now very slightly tinged with a Filipino inflection—one that has come naturally over the six years that he's lived here and learned to speak our language to the people of Payatas. "It's really what I love to do. It's what I'm passionate about: seeing the potential in poor communities like this to, with a small tweak, become something excellent."
As it happened, he returned to the Philippines at around the same time that the Azkals were drawing national attention to football. So while working in and on the communities of Payatas, Moore, who loves the sport, found himself fielding questions about it. "We were already volunteering beforehand, so we knew the community a little bit," he recalls. "And the kids asked about football."
Moore saw that initial interest as an opportunity, and then acted on it. He started by offering a training session, which, on its first go, attracted over 80 children of Payatas. Some played barefoot. All were eager to learn.
"We went and used the barangay basketball court once a week," Moore says. "About 80 kids with a couple of chairs for goals, a couple of footballs. Really not much equipment back then." And even if he was the only coach at the time, Moore stayed on it, promoting football in the community with games and training that kept kids occupied with something positive.
This is how Moore, along with fellow development worker Naomi Tomlinson, founded the Fairplay For All Foundation in 2011: driven to help one of Metro Manila's poorest communities, they offered a healthy, character-building sport that its kids could look forward to and enjoy together.
Over time, Payatas FC became a competitive team that plays across the country, grooming real contenders in national youth leagues. "Despite training on a basketball court once a week in a community like this, with a coach who had never coached before, and [despite] all the challenges that are there, they're some of the best [players] in the entire country for their age group."
"Every day, the kids could come by, and it was about having a safe space where we could connect, build up the trust and relationships."
It wasn't long before word about Payatas FC got out, and Moore slowly managed to rally some external support for Fairplay, which would naturally expand its community-building efforts beyond football. With the help of some fundraising efforts in the UK, they set up their first drop-in center later in 2011. "It was a tiny shack at the top of the road," Moore recalls, stressing the importance of starting with a space in which to foster community. "Every day, the kids could come by, and it was about having a safe space where we could connect, build up the trust and relationships."
Trust, he acknowledges, is a crucial foundation for truly sustainable community development. "People here are used to false promises," he says, "used to [other] people coming down once, giving out some food, promising the world, and then not coming back. Whether it's a politician, a rich family, or a feeding program—it's the same thing over and over again. That's why it was so key for us to be based here, and to live within Payatas, with the community, to hire within the community, to build people up here."
As the years went by, Moore would earn the trust of the people of Payatas, and the support of others outside. With help from several benefactors, the drop-in center would grow in size to become a school building in 2013. Here, Fairplay would provide a radical alternative learning system for the children of Payatas—the Philippines' first "democratic school" where kids have a say in what they want to learn, how they'd like to learn it, and at what pace.
When the school opened, the previous drop-in center became a café, ran by local mothers who cook and sell nutritious meals as a form of social enterprise. These meals are sold within the community, as well as outside, as a catering service.
Then by 2016, growing still, Fairplay finished building the Payatas Sports Center—a full-fledged, open-air court and a smooth, clean concrete oasis in the middle of Payatas. Here, Payatas FC hosts football games with teams from neighboring barangays.
"We started, really, from a tiny shack in the middle of the slum," says Moore, considering how Fairplay has evolved. "It's been very organic, it's been very community-led, and we're very happy with that."
The fruit of Moore's labor speaks for itself, most clearly in the ways that Payatas' children benefit from the education and the sport. Students of the Fairplay School, which has been officially recognized by the Department of Education as an alternative learning center, have been testaments to the power of a more empathic and less rigid education, especially for marginalized children. The democratic nature of the school means that the learning process is focused on the learner, preferring to foster a sense of individual responsibility and accountability rather than enforcing conformity. "When you create a supportive, safe system where you trust the kids and have their respect, you see massive growth," notes Moore.
He tells the story of one of Fairplay's students, who dropped out of a public school in the third grade, not knowing how to read or write. Fairplay took her in, only to have her watch and observe timidly at classes for six months. This is what Moore calls a "de-schooling period" for children who have dropped out. "For six months, she’s very shy, she’s waiting to understand, she’s waiting to test the adults and see how they respond, to see if they’re—to be frank—abusive and shouty and loud. If at all they care about her."
But after the de-schooling period, the same student signed up for every single class in the Fairplay School, and within another six to eight months, learned enough so that she could re-enter the public school system and pass an advancement test for fifth grade. "We can clearly say that in a year's period, with six months of literally not studying and six to eight months of learning modules, she caught up all of those grades. And that's not unusual."
"It has to be everything together, from the ground up, in order to make real change, to break the poverty cycle."
The same principles and philosophies are applied in all of Fairplay's programs, including the football club, which has had similar success with developing in students an initiative for self-improvement. But as only sports could, football has done this recreationally, as something that kids look forward to and find inspiration in. "Nagkakaroon 'yung bata ng isang bagay na inspired siya," says Earl, whose eight-year-old daughter plays for Barangay Santo Cristo. "Mayroon siyang goal, mayroon siyang inspiration na inaasam-asam. Nakakatulong, kasi nagkakaroon siya ng motivation. Palagay ko, kahit sino sa mga parents ang tanungin mo, [ganoon din]."
The social enterprise operates likewise, by entrusting the café to members of the community and allowing them to reap their own benefits from its business. "We employ five to six mothers from the community to run the café," says Moore. "Every week, they meet, and they discuss the problems and how to solve them. By having that, they're able to very quickly respond to certain issues and certain problems." This has resulted in a steady growth in sales of about 20 to 30 percent over the past few months.
And because of these democratic ways in which Fairplay sets up all their community development initiatives, the growth is more sustainable. "Traditional charity says 'kawawa naman 'yung mga bata,'" Moore bemoans. "'They're a victim, they're powerless, but your two dollars a month can save them!' That's really backwards." Instead, through Fairplay, Moore is proving that it's better to include the entire community in creating and implementing its own development efforts. "Once that independence is gained, they're not just waiting for something to happen. They're proactive in everything, because they trust and believe in themselves. That's the key."
Today, Fairplay is a lot of different things to the people of Payatas—no longer just a football club, not just a school. Fairplay is more than the sum of all these things, and a force for holistic, inclusive, sustainable community development in one of the poorest areas in the capital of a poor country. They've empowered a lot of people in a lot of different ways, all towards shared growth with others.
"It has to be everything together, from the ground up, in order to make real change, to break the poverty cycle," says Moore. He recalls a quote by architect and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
In Payatas, Moore is building his own new model. "We call it 'levelling the playing field.' When you have a field of any surface and you try to level it, if you get one thing raised up, it's still unlevel with the rest. You can't play on that." So many other efforts have tried to, but Moore's new model may render them all obsolete. "You need to bring everything up together."