The Slum

Breaking Out of Manila’s Slums

A dancer, a model and a fighter dream of overcoming their harsh realities to achieve wealth and success beyond the slum.

For the majority of Manila’s slum dwellers, home is a school of hard knocks and the only way out of their desperate situations is in a box.

Generations have been born and will die in Tondo. But against the odds, a few do succeed in escaping the slums, and some even move on to better lives, achieving wealth and success beyond their wildest dreams.

Jessa Balote, 15, lives in Aroma slum where she shares one room with her family of nine. When they first arrived in Tondo, the family worked as scavengers – the default job for newcomers to the slums.

Elsewhere, mixed martial arts fighter Jessie Rafols faces hard knocks. He has become known as ‘The Finisher’ and excels among fighters in the Philippines.

Growing up in the slum has given him a hunger for success, but disaster strikes, and six months of training may come to nothing after he injures his knee four weeks before a fight.

Fighting is not the only way to break out of the slum. Would-be model Justine, 17, is earning her way out, performing in pageant and fashion shows. But she is also seeing the murkier side of the industry, and finding that the reality of making a living through modelling is far from glamorous.

This six-part series follows the residents of Manila’s Tondo slum as they live, love, survive and aspire in some of the world’s toughest living conditions.