Back to school: GAME ON!

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…

The sound of computer mouse clicking, and the clattering of the keyboards fill the entire room full of young boys as they yell at the top of their throat during an intense digital battle using only their fingers.

Their faces are lit with hues of blues and whites as they stare powerfully at the computer screens. Their eyes ecstatically move left and right trying to strategize every move to beat the opponent on the other side of the other-worldly machine.

Then Grade 10 student, Renz Tamonan was so immersed in the world of gaming within the corners of the internet café. He could go on and on and on, skip classes, get a quick bathroom break, and go back to his gaming chair and play the whole day.

In the morning, his mother, Channel, would prepare their breakfast before they head to school with his siblings. All prepped with school uniform, bag, and shoes, Renz looked like a dignified student who attends class, submits assignments and projects on time, and one who could actually make it in the real world once he graduates.

But little did they know, upon arrival to school, Renz heads on to a different route other than his classroom. During the day, he is nowhere to be found within the vicinity of Kumalarang National High School in Zamboanga Del Sur. He can be seen inside a computer shop tapping on a computer mouse and eyes fully concentrated on the screen. You guess it right. He skips school for computer games.

LOGGING IN TO THE NEW WORLD

The young boy was not always as he turned out to be. Back when he was not yet introduced to the world of gaming, Renz was actually an active student at KNHS. In fact, he was quite an athletic person, running for track and field competition and played basketball and chess in their school.

He loved mathematics and loved to participate in problem solving. He also enjoys building things out of scrap materials. His ingenuity and reputation precede him that it made other young boys in want to befriend him. And so he was introduced to new set of friends that altered the course of his gameplan.

His new friends introduced him to the computer games and there he found himself logged in to a new world.

THE ENEMY HAS BEEN SLAIN

Renz was so fascinated by the entertainment brought by this new hobby. Everything was new to him –the edgy colors, the fierce looks, the sharp visuals, the dark sound. Moreover, he was also enthralled by the strength of these characters that he gets to portray online. It was like he discovered a separate persona and a different world where he could be a hero and slay enemies that stand on his way to triumph. He felt invincible.

While some may argue that computer games are helping students relieve stress, others think otherwise. More parents reportedly say that computer games distract their children’s focus on education. It is considered as an enemy by many parents whom we have talked to. An example is the case of Renz.

Ilang beses na namin kinausap si Renz pero nahuhuli pa rin namin sa computer shop. (We have talked to him countless times about this, but we still find him in computer shops,)” Channel, mother of Renz, said.

Since he started playing, he constantly skips classes to the point that he missed taking his final examination. Because of this, he had to stop schooling.

The hobby took a toll on Renz’s education.  

Namiss ko yung mga kaibigan ko, kaklase, yung morning prayer sa paaralan, pati yung pagsagot sa math. (I missed my friends, my classmates, the morning prayer at school, I even miss answering math problems,)” Renz told his Social Worker.

In 2019, the Municipal Link (Social Worker) conducted a Gender and Development (GAD) Mapping in Kumalarang, Zamboanga Del Sur and was able to talk to children who were not in school. In the past, counselling has proven to be an effective way to encourage children to stay or to continue their studies. This is one of the interventions of the Social Worker that she thinks necessary to diminish the number of children who drop out of school. This is also part of the activities in line with the Bata, Balik Eskwela campaign which the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program advocates.

Through constant monitoring and home visits, the Municipal Link finally was able to encourage Renz to go back and continue his studies. Because he was out of school for quite some time, he spent most time helping his father in the farm, and he saw how his parents strive hard for his education. Renz felt sorry that he wasted his time and their effort to something that will not be able to help uplift their lives.

With renewed determination, Renz, together with the Municipal Link enrolled back in KNHS. As of today, he is in Grade 11 taking Shielded Metal Arc Welding. In the time of pandemic, he assists his father in the farm after he finishes his modules. 

He feels grateful that he was able to slay his inner enemy –the addiction to computer games and hopefully someday, with formal education, he will be able to log-out from poverty.

–SIGNING OFF

Renz (in blue shirt) together with his parents and siblings.

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Gulay for Magandang Buhay

Not only that gulay (vegetable) rhymes with their surname, it also is their instrument to magandang buhay (beautiful life).

Bulay Family is a testament to the wealth of vegetable farming. Aside from the fact that it brings rich nutrition to the body, one can also be successful and use this as a means to grow out of impoverished life.

Like most farmers, they, too, lived a simple life in the province of Sindangan, Zamboanga Del Norte. Their house is mostly light materials that keep them dry during rainy season and provides cool shade during sunny days. The couple, Danilo and Annie, own a 4.2-hectare farmland which is typical in the province.

Danilo Bulay cultivates his farm land

At first, they cultivate their farmland and grow crops only for their own consumption. It eventually flourished and became the family’s main source of income. They were also lucky to be registered to the country’s conditional cash transfer program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in 2008.

During their monthly Family Development Sessions (FDS), Bulay family learned more as they listened to lectures on gardening. Because of his knowledge in farming, Danilo, the household head, was chosen as one of the para-technicians on high value vegetable production using natural farming system technology in 2015. This paved the way for the Bulay family to be able to fixed their house as it pays quite a good amount per harvest.

The old, rustic, and light-material-house was upgraded to a more convenient and sturdier one that is made of strong materials. They also were able to acquire appliances such as a television set, refrigerator, entertainment set, washing machine, and others. Each member of the household also owns a cellular phone. Little by little, Bulay family is able to reap the fruits of their hard-work. Danilo also joined the Organic Vegetable Production program and was recognized as “East West Seed Farmer Hero” in Zamboanga Peninsula region.

ACTIVE COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

It is rather uncommon to see men during FDS as most attendees to this monthly meeting are the mothers or women of the households. But this is not the case for Bulay family. Danilo, has been showing great interest in the monthly sessions as he finds it interesting. He sometimes shares his knowledge in farming with other beneficiaries in the community as a resource speaker on topics related to his expertise.

Danilo shares his knowledge in farming with other 4Ps beneficiaries during Family Development Session

Aside from this, Danilo and his family are also active as church leaders. He was also appointed President of the Parents-Teachers Classroom Association for 5 years and Auditor of the Rubber Farmer’s Association. Truly, the community trusts the Bulay family as evident in their affiliations.

In 2017, they represented the municipality of Sindangan in the Municipal and Provincial search for Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya held by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Because of the confidence of the community to the Bulay family, there was a clamor for Danilo to run for local barangay elections in 2018. Needles to say, he was elected as a Barangay Councilor and was assigned to lead the Peace and Order Committee. On the same year, he was also elected as President of their association under Sustainable Livelihood Program.

EVEN MORE SUCCESS WITH THE CHILDREN

One of the greatest rewards to a parent’s life is to see their children doing well in school and achieving their little goals. Through the 4Ps program, Bulay children are monitored in school and perform quite well. All of their children are honor students in their respective education levels.

The eldest child graduated in college as a Dean’s Lister with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at Saint Joseph College of Sindangan Incorporated. The second child, on the other hand, also graduated in high school with honors while youngest child is still on his high school year.

These are the simple joys and milestones that Danilo and Annie treasure the most. For parents who have not finished their education, it is most rewarding to see that their children not only comply to school requirements but rather enjoy learning and seem to have a good time in school.

Danilo and Annie, when not in farm, mostly catch up with their children during meals. It is a must that all members of the family are present during meals so they can enjoy the bounty of their farmland and be able to check on one another as their bonding moment.

Presently, the eldest child is working at a private company in Cebu City with a monthly salary of 13,000 pesos while the second child is now on her 3rd year level in college taking up Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at Negros Oriental State University in Dumaguete City. Meanwhile, the youngest child is on his last level in Junior High School at Sindangan National High School.

CHALLENGE DURING PANDEMIC

Before the pandemic hit, Annie and her daughter, Jennycel, planned to undergo surgery for their medical health condition. Jennycel was found to have a cyst at the upper part of her breast. Initially, she was scheduled for a minor operation but due to the pandemic they were not able to do so due to the stringent protocols in hospitals.

As for Annie, she suffers from goiter, a condition in which the thyroid gland grows larger than normal. She is supposed to have her operation in Cebu City however chose to delay it since Cebu is a high-risk area for Covid-19.  

Amidst the pandemic, the household is able to sustain their level of well-being through their farmland. The children help them in their vegetable gardens since they mostly stay at home. They attend school through the modular system.

The household expressed their willingness to exit from the program.

An open-letter from Bulay Family:

            “Nagpapasalamat kami sa mga ahensya na tumulong sa amin, lalo na sa kaalaman na itinuro nila lalo na sa kaalaman ng pagbabalik taba ng aming lupain na siyang pangunahing nagbibigay kabuhayan sa aming pamilya. Sa ganitong paraan din, kami ay nakakatulong sa pagpapangalaga ng kapaligiran, at ito rin ang itinuturo ko sa aming mga ana –ang magmahal sa kapaligiran, sa kapwa at sa Diyos upang sila rin ang magturo sa kanilang kapwa sa darating na panahon o sa susunod na mga henerasyon.

            Malaki rin ang aming pasasalamat sa ating pamahalaan lalo na sa programang Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4P’s) na malaki rin ang naitulong sa mga gastusin namin lalo na sa pag-aaral ng aming mga anak. Dahil dito, kahit papaano ay may naipon rin kami para sa iba naming pangangailangan. Naipa-ayos rin namin ang aming bahay at malapit na ring matupad ang aming pangarap na mapagtapos sa pag-aaral ang aming mga anak. Kahit ano mang hirap ang maranasan namin, mawawala rin ang lahat lalo na kung makita namin ang aming mga anak na nagsusumikap rin sa pamamagitan ng pagtanggap ng mga parangal galing sa kanilang paaralan.

            Malaki rin ang aming pasasalamat sa ating panginoong Diyos sa lahat ng biyayang natatanggap namin na kahit kami ay gra-graduate na sa programang Pantawid, patuloy pa rin kaming natulungan sa programang Sustainable Livelihood Program bilang presidente ng aming asosasyon. Maraming maraming salamat.”

-DANILO L. BULAY
4Ps Beneficiary
Sindangan, Zamboanga Del Norte

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Equality through the lens of the poor

Gustuhin ko mang makapagtapos pero… hindi sapat ang hanapbuhay ng aking magulang upang matustusan yung pangangailangan ko sa pag-aaral.”

It is not anyone’s fault. Some of us are just unfortunate to be in a situation that does not allow us to have the privileges that others have. But school is not a privilege. It is every child’s right to be educated and learn. This story is about how a young boy persevered for his right to education. This is the story of Johnrey L. Mabait, an ESGPPA scholar from Zamboanga Sibugay.

Like many youth, Johnrey’s dream is to finish a degree in college and be able to help his family financially. But his circumstances would not allow that because he was born to a family that has very little in life. His father can barely provide for the daily needs of a spouse and four children even more so for their educational needs.

Growing up, Johnrey kept asking why the world was unfair. He compares his life to those of other children his age and could not understand why some have more while others have less. To a kid, the vastness of this inequality seemed surreal. But slowly, as he grows up, his understanding of life also grew and he learned to view things in an adult perspective.

Realizing that finance is their major problem and hindrance to achieving his dreams, he took a big step and for the first time, it felt like he was no longer a kid. He dropped everything back in his hometown –his school, his friends, his tough yet simple life in the provincial, including his family. He started to live an adult life outside of his comfort zone.

I felt alone and useless countless times,” says Johnrey.

Johnrey strikes a pose on a ship as he journeys to look for better opportunities away from home.

Despite leaving and dropping everything he grew up knowing, his feeling was weightier than it used to be. It is as if he felt the burden of the responsibility that he took for himself.

With a heavy but determined heart, Johnrey moved to the busy, chaotic, and totally different world in Manila to look for opportunities. The city was big and full of lights, cars seemed like flying through the flyovers which was new to his sight that were used to the provincial life. He thought that this is his time to be successful with the opportunities that the big city brings.

Little did he know, life would not be easy on him. He submitted applications here and there. He endured walking under the sun holding his credentials, pieces of paper that make him worthy of a job but to no avail. He walks back home thinking how hard it is to find a job when you do not have a diploma in your hand.

In school, Johnrey might not be the smartest but he is diligent. He studies hard and he has a pretty good standing. He could have finished his studies should he only have the resources and money to pay for it. And again, he could not help but compare his life to others.

Yung feeling na every night bago ka matulog di mo maiwasan na tumulo luha mo kasi minsan maisip mo na nakapaka-unfair ng panahon kasi yung mga taong gustong makapagtapos sa pag-aaral sila pa yung pinagkaitan ng pagkakataon at yung tao namang may kakayahan sa buhay yun pa ang walang pake sa pag-aaral. (That feeling when you go to bed at night, you can’t help but shed a tear because there is so much unfairness in life; those that eagerly want to finish their studies are those that do not get the opportunity to do so while those who have the means apparently waste their given opportunities,)” Johnrey wrote in a statement.

After a year of working part-time, Johnrey decided to go back to his hometown in Zamboanga Sibugay. At first, Johnrey was hesitant to even set a foot in college thinking that it is an embarrassment.

During this time, their DSWD’s Municipal Link constantly conducts home visits to the family of Johnrey and tries to offer interventions for the family as they are members of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, government’s poverty-alleviation program that provides grants for education and health of children. Through counselling and constant encouragement from the Municipal Link and Johnrey’s sister, he was encouraged to go back to school and finish his studies.

Three months in school and he felt anxious that he might not be able to finish his studies again due to lack of finances. The thought of going through the same struggle again was quite traumatic for him. During one of the counselling sessions with the Municipal Link, he opened up and discussed his qualms.  

The Municipal Link (ML), being the Social Worker that is assigned on the well-being of the family, strategized several interventions that would address the worries of Johnrey. The ML introduced him to the Expanded Students’ Grants-in-aid Program for Poverty Alleviation or the ESGP-PA which entitles a qualified beneficiary to receive monetary aid for college expenses. The ML helped him accomplish his requirements until he was accepted in the program.

“Now, I am finally reaping the fruit of my labor for 4 years… Thank you for not giving up on me,” says Johnrey.

Johnrey finish Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education Major in Mathematics at the Western Mindanao State University External Studies Unit in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Yes, life may be unfair sometimes if you see it in a perspective of comparison. But once you get to know people who fight for balancing inequalities, people and organizations who reach out, people who offer opportunities, you will see that fairness is at hand and success is possible even for a poor family like ours. Opportunities are there; you just have to know where to look. ###

Johnrey shows off his smile of success as he readies to march for his graduation ceremony.

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DSWD pleas against fake news

The Department of Social Welfare and Development appeals to social media influencers and content creators to be factual and cautious in their posts regarding the Department and its programs and services. This is after several social media contents were observed to contain erroneous information and misconceptions about DSWD programs.

It has been observed that a number of social media personalities use DSWD’s programs such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps in their contents showing or portraying a supposed beneficiary while acting out scenarios of unvalidated reports of grievances.

Furthermore, the Department also has received several reports of fake news and deception from unofficial Facebook pages that post and circulate misinformation and unvalidated contents.

DSWD has already posted an official statement regarding this fake news on its social media account and official Facebook Page (DSWD Region IX). The national office has also released an article pertaining to the same subject to encourage social media personalities to be more responsible in using their platform.

While talking about social services in an online platform is appreciated, the Department encourages the public particularly the netizens to conduct fact-checks especially on information that may cause confusion. Should there be instances of malpractice, misbehavior, and/or misdemeanor among program beneficiaries and DSWD employees, the public may file an official report through the various grievance mechanisms that the Department has installed. These mechanisms are in place to conduct validation, provide action, and/or enforce necessary and appropriate sanction/s.

Sooner this year, 4Ps will launch a mechanism where grievances will be collected via online platform for reports that float on the internet. ###

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Escape from the Bondage of Poverty

When you are in an impoverish situation, you feel like your hands are tied and you could barely move. The tight grip of the rope on your wrists limits your movement; it can even make you feel helpless. No matter how much you struggle, you will always end up in the prison cell of your unfortunate condition. But not when you are given the right tools to make it out.

From the small town of Sulo, Naga in Zamboanga Sibugay, Tumacas Family will tell us how they managed to free themselves from the bondage of poverty.

Tumacas, which by the way is a Tagalog word that literally translates to “escaped” (how fitting to our theme, right?), is a champion of success brought about by hard-work, perseverance, discipline, and social interventions.

In a recent interview by a Social Worker, Marites B. Tumacas, the loving wife of Dionesio Tumacas and a mother of two, reckoned the struggles the family had to go through before they even became beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

START OF CAPTIVITY

Her husband, Dionesio, is a rubber tapper at a nearby small cooperative earning a meager 120 pesos a day that covers food, transportation allowance, school expenses of children, and other expenses. With 2 children, both of which are attending school, one in high school and the other in college, it was a constant torment for Marites and her husband to budget their earnings day in and day out. She remembered having to weep on her tear-stained daster at night while she prays for better days to come.

Dionesio’s salary, no matter how they stretch and wisely spend it, clearly just cannot suffice the needs of the family. He needed to look for alternatives, a part-time job, anything that could augment their earning. Despite enormous effort, there is not much opportunity in the province and few job vacancies were usually a skills mismatch for someone who did not finish college education. Hence, when it is season, and while Dionesio is at work, Marites helps by assisting her neighbor harvest grains in the rice field in exchange for rice grains for her family’s consumption. The scorching heat of the sun is nothing compared to her fiery determination to feed her family. By doing this, she is able to get one sack of rice grains for every five sacks that they harvest.

Even that, it is still a hard knock life for the Tumacas family. While the parents have managed to put food on their table for them, the scarcity of financial resources led them to settle in a decrepit “kubo” that was made of light materials, a roof made of nipa palm that leaks when the angry rain falls. In the Philippines, the wet season begins in June and ends in October. This is also when the family, almost every night, bath in their sleep or takes shelter under an umbrella that serves as their band aid protection from the droplets of water that fall from the holes of the roof. Marites recounted: if you look up inside the house, it is as if the house is a free billboard full of posters and random plastics of chips that they stick to the roof to cover the holes. In the afternoon when the sun is up, they will be greeted by sun rays that poke from tiny openings of the roof.

Impoverishment had hit them so bad that it put her dreams of becoming a teacher one day on the back burner. But she had always wanted her children to have a bright future ahead of them and she knew that it can only be possible through education.

Desperate to send her kids to school, she recalls looking for opportunities where her children can get quality education with little cost.

 “It was like my heart was stabbed by a tip of a needle when I saw my son cried because I could not let him take the scholarship grant from a private school because we cannot afford to get him a dormitory and provide for his daily meal allowance,” she described.

Her son, Justin Jay, graduated as Salutatorian in elementary and would have been able to take advantage of a scholarship offer from a private school but it was the additional expenses such as the boarding house rent and daily allowance that forced the parents to step back from such an opportunity.

Aside from the educational expenses that the Tumacas family are tied in, they are also burdened by some health issues that both Marites and Dionesio are seemed to be cut from the same cloth. Dionesio suffers from psoriasis and hypertension while she suffers from cervical polyps and hypertension as well. They have been advised to avoid stress and too much strenuous activities but their past financial status left them with no option but to toil and plow the neighbor’s farm to make a living or else they have nothing to put in their mouth.

ESCAPE TOOL

When you are held captive, you should keep an alert mind and be mindful of the opportunities. One must look for tools to free himself and use these opportunities to further optimize the chances of getting out (of poverty, in this case).

Marites was over the moon the moment she found out she was considered for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program on October 2012. She thought that this is their opportunity, their tool to help alleviate them from the bonds of poverty that they are tied to.

Since then, she had made sure that the money they were getting from the 4Ps cash grant was put to good use, the way it was supposed to. She went back to the academe to pursue a Secondary Education course and graduated with flying colors in 2014. A year after that, she took and passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) and was immediately absorbed as a full time Secondary teacher at Sulo National high school in the same year (2015). Sometimes, things have their way of working out when you least expect it.

She also learned about the various programs and services that the government agencies offer for the welfare of the marginalized families through her attendance to Family Development Sessions (FDS). It was as if her blindfolds were taken off of her eyes and her hands were untied and doors of opportunities have opened for them when she learned about these services.

Thereafter, she noticed that their life began to get better. Their membership to the governments’ program enabled them both, her daughter and her, obtain their college diplomas and are now both full time teachers at Sulo National High School. Her son, Justin Jay, is completing his final year in Criminology.

Through her husband’s Phil health, one of the inherent benefits for being a 4Ps member, Marites was able to go under the knife that removed her cervical polyps. On top of that, they are now able to buy maintenance medicines for hypertension and afford regular medical check-ups.

Being a member of the 4Ps did not only help the Tumacas family in the financial aspect. More importantly, it empowered Marites, to know some of her basic human rights especially those that are stipulated in the provisions of VAWC. In fact, she has helped at least 2 troubled teens who were allegedly sexually abused by their own father.

Tumacas or in Tagalog “escaped” rightfully describes Marites’ situation. Through determination, hard work and perseverance Tumacas family had eventually escaped and freed themselves from the bondage of extreme poverty.

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A Generous Gift from an Ex-Domestic Helper

If you can give something to other people, what would you give?

As much as we would like to be generous and kind, unfortunately, many of us also have just enough for our own. Not all are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they say. Others must work hard, persevere, and even endure sacrifices in order to attain at least a decent life.

At an early age, Uminsalam J. Amerol from Barangay Sta. Catalina, Zamboanga City, had hurdled many obstacles in life that served as the core foundation of her character. Like many struggling Filipinos, Uminsalam also experienced not having ‘baon’ for recess time in school. With her tiny feet, she would walk back to their home during recess to drink water just so she would not be hungry in class.

She also recalls selling yema and ice candy in the hopes that it would somehow help her parents. Whatever she earns, she shares with her siblings and give some to her parents. As a child, she would not ask for money from her parents because she knows that they do not have any. That, and many other memories, have taught her to constantly seek for opportunities where she could make money and share the blessings that she receives.

With the grace of God and her determination, she was able to finish her studies. But opportunities were quite elusive so she decided to work overseas as a Domestic Helper in Kuwait. It was such a sacrifice because although she belongs to a poor family, they sure share a close and harmonious relationship with each other. Being away from home is something that challenged her strength.

Life as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) is not like walking in a park. It can either make you strong or break you apart. And though Uminsalam was lucky that her employer was kind, she cannot escape the thing that bothered her most –her parents were becoming sickly to the point that they frequently checked in and out of the hospital.

After her two-year contract, with very little savings in the bank, she had to come home to be with her parents.

She then proceeded to taking the 24-unit Professional Education so she can qualify to take the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET). During this time, she also has started to build her own family with her husband and children.

In the year 2014, they became members of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) under Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) track. She feels so grateful that the program was able to help them sustain the needs of her eldest child in school. And since 4Ps beneficiaries are registered to the PhilHealth through the program, the agency was also able to help her family when she gave birth to her second children who are twins.

When asked about what she enjoyed the most about being a member of 4Ps, Uminsalam says that she enjoyed attending the monthly Community/Family Development Session (CFDS). As a mother, she finds value in the lectures that are discussed during their meetings especially on parenting and the rights of women and children.

Luck must be on her side this time. She was able to finish her Professional Education Certification, she became a member of the 4Ps, she just gave birth to two new babies, and in 2016, Uminsalam passed the LET which makes her a licensed teacher.

After two years, she was finally hired as a public-school teacher. With this new opportunity, she felt like she is blessed enough. She can now provide for her family’s needs on her own so she thought that it is time to share the blessings to other families who may have undergone or undergoing struggles as she did in the past.

Going back to her core character, she remembered that in the past, they were also struggling and they can just wish that someone would help them. With that in mind, she decided to waive her membership from the 4Ps program in the hope that some other family/ies will be able to get in, take her slot, and be able to rise from poverty. This is despite the fact that her eldest son is just 8 years old and her second children are still 4 years old which means that she could still have enjoyed the grants from the program for many years should she decide to stay in the program.

Bilang guro, kaya ko nang sustentuhan ang aking pamilya sa tulong na rin ng aking asawa. Humingi na ako ng waiver sa aming Community Facilitator upang makaalis sa programa upang mapagbigyan naman ng daan ang iba pang karapat-dapat na maging parte ng programa. (As a teacher, I feel like I can already sustain the needs of my family with the help of my husband. I requested to be waived from the program from our Community Facilitator to give way to other families who deserve to be part of the program,)” Uminsalam said.

Uminsalam recognizes that she is not rich, at least not yet, but this is her simple gesture of showing gratitude for the blessings that she receives and her gift to poor families just like her. Her generous heart is big enough to care for other families.

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Triumph from farmland to the sea

Lucena O. Velasco, a 50-year-old mother of three, comes from a family of farmers. All her life, she has worked alongside her parents who farm on a land that they do not own. Her uncles and other relatives are farmers as well.

In the far and quiet municipality of Salug in Zamboanga Del Norte province, they live a peaceful albeit meager life cultivating the bounty of nature. They mostly spend their days under the scorching heat of the sun, growing crops, and working the ground for planting seeds.

Although this provides for her family, Lucena certainly does not dream this for when she has a family of her own. She desires for a better life for her children. For her, it is enough that her hard work and sacrifices stay with her generation and not pass on to her children.

When she married, she worked double time to make both ends meet. Her husband, Remegildo, is into carpentry earning three thousand pesos monthly. Lucena, on the other hand, applied as a house helper to suffice the needs of their growing family.

The couple strives hard to let their children be in school as they think that this will be their ticket out of their unfortunate situation. They are just grateful that the country’s conditional cash transfer program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), helps them keep their children in school by providing cash grants for education and health.

Through dedication, perseverance, and prayers, her children reached college and took up Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering. It was quite a challenge for the family especially that her eldest son, Ryan, was enrolled in Zamboanga City. Good thing that Ryan was diligent and gumptious at the same time which landed him a scholarship grant at the university.

By God’s grace, Ryan triumphantly finished his degree and was able to pass the licensure examination. He was hired by a company in Manila and currently works overseas with an income of 70,000 pesos monthly.

With this well-deserved success, Ryan had built their fully-concreted house with two air-conditioned rooms as a gift to his parents. He also bought 2 units of XRM motorcycles as gifts for his father.  The family also bought some farm lands in the municipality of Godod, Zamboanga Del Norte as a recollection of their childhood experiences as farmers.

Lucena’s and Remegildo’s second child, Jan Cris also wants to try his luck on the sea as a Mechanical Engineer. He is currently waiting for his schedule for licensure examination. Meanwhile, the youngest child, Desiree is in Grade 12.

As per latest assessment of the program, Velasco family is now at Self-Sufficient level and they actually have already exited from the program. Lucena and Remegildo feel so proud of the achievements of their children. They have successfully transitioned from being farmers to seafarers.

The hard-earned gift of Ryan Velasco for his parents: their own convenient home.

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A Catch of Hope (A Story of a Fisherkid)

We often hear parents say that they do not want their children to experience the same struggles as they did. It is most commonly heard from Filipino parents who want to give a more decent and comfortable life for their children. But what happens when it is the child who expresses displeasure of his life?

Tader J. Amuali is a Pantawid Pamilya monitored child from Zamboanga City. Being the youngest in the family of 8, he has seen the difficulties that his parents and his older siblings went through. No one from his family has finished a degree because of poverty. It is as if their lives are meant to constantly paddle to survive or else drown in deep water.

As a kid, he would often see his older siblings help their father in the vast and mostly risky waters of the open sea trying to catch fish for livelihood. At dawn, he sometimes wakes up to the noises of his father arriving with nothing in the basket.

His mother, on the other hand, would take laundry jobs from their neighbors no matter how small it pays only to augment whatever income they get on a daily basis.

In moments like this, he cannot do anything but accept his fate being in poor situation with very less, and sometimes nothing, in life. He would often be seen in the afternoon walking along the shore, looking at the endless horizon of the sea, and thinking about what he can do to help. After all, he is only a kid. What can a 12-year-old kid do help in such a gigantic family struggle?

A CHILD THROWN INTO THE OCEAN

The late afternoon walks led to one life-changing decision that impacted his life, taking away his right to fully enjoy being a kid playing around and learning new skills and knowledge in school. This decision has brought him to sacrifice his freedom, so to speak. He decided to stop going to school and help his father instead. He thought that with his strength being young and able, he would be able to be of help to the family. His school, he thought, will just burden them more.

Every night, while his friends and former classmates are conveniently sleeping in their comfortable mattresses, Tader would be in the ocean making the most of his time. Then he would arrive in the shore very early in the morning to prepare their catch to be delivered to the market. He only gets a few hours to sleep before it is time to work again. This routine has been very exhausting for young Tader.

He felt as if his life as a child was thrown into the ocean and that he needed to learn to swim at a very young age. It did not help as well that the waves were tossing him around and tormenting his current situation.

Sobrang hirap, mahirap kumita ng pera kahit pangkain lang araw-araw lalo na kapag masama ang panahon o minsan walang huli (It is very difficult, it is hard to earn a living especially during uncontrolled weather situations, sometimes we come home with nothing,)” Tader said as he talks to his Social Worker, the City Link.

Two years have passed and life has not been any easier for young Tader. From time to time, his Social Worker conducts home visits, family counselling, and monitors the over-all well-being of the family. Tader is quite relieved that someone checks on them and he has someone whom he can talk to about his personal struggles.

During one of his conversations with the Social Worker, he mentions that he misses school. Tader, apparently, was an enthusiastic kid in school. He loved learning new things and he says that he finds excitement in gaining new knowledge every day.

Their conversation has transitioned from how he misses attending classes to his personal realizations now that he has already felt the hardships of life. He tells the Social Worker about how he does not want to see himself doing the same thing for his entire life. He wants to do something else. He says that he does not want to regret someday knowing that he could have done so much more.

His first-hand experience of what his father and brothers are going through each day made him realize his aspirations and goals in life. As young as he is, he already knows that he does not want to live his whole life as their present situation.

Tader realized that he cannot do this everyday and expect to swim out of poverty by doing such. And so, with the intervention of the City Link, he reached to a decision that led him back on track. He wants to go back to school.

PADDLING FORWARD

Just like a paddle that propels the boat forward to its destination, Tader feels like he was given a paddle to move on from the ocean to a better route in reaching his goals. He learned from his Social Worker about several options that he could avail that would let him stay in school.

In 2019, with renewed hope, 14-year-old Tader Amuali enrolled as a Grade 6 pupil. Since then, he has been attending school and does not miss his classes. He advanced to 7th Grade.

Currently, in order to be in school while being able to help his family and at the same time catch up to formal education, he enrolled through the Alternative Learning System or ALS.

ALS is a parallel learning system in the country that provides opportunities for out-of-school youth and adult (OSYA) learners to develop basic and functional literacy skills, and to access equivalent pathways to complete basic education.

Tader’s ALS teacher, Ms. Janet Lasola has also testified to his eagerness to learn and finish his studies.

Tader is a fast-learner and he submits his modules on time and completely. There is so much potential in the child and you can clearly see that he has a goal to finish,” says Lasola.

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) monitors his progress and ensures that he enjoys and stays in school through the Bata, Balik Eskwela (BBE) campaign. 4Ps provides cash grants for indigent households to support the educational needs of children.

As a 4Ps child, I want to tell the other 4Ps children like me to strive hard in obtaining education because that is the only way to have a good future, it is the only way out of poverty. If all children will be professionals someday, they can apply for better jobs,” Tader said in a statement.

Because of his experience, Tader pays respect to the fisherfolks and laborers who work day and night to provide for their families. But for now, his plan is to focus on his studies even if it takes walking along the shore with a book on his hand. While it is true that he learned a lot as a fisher kid, what he truly desires as a grown-up man is to become a policeman someday.

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