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Responsibility at a young age

A young boy’s new commitment to help his family

He is always decided to go school, but he would oftentimes find himself not being able to.

Eric Ramirez, 16, a resident of Brgy. Tuhian in Catanauan, Quezon Province, admits to his frequent absences in school.

His reason is not because he is lazy. It is because he does a lot of things.

“Umaalis po kami dito sa bahay ng alas siyete ng gabi. Papalaot po kami. Tapos babalik kami mga alas tres na ng madaling araw,”
shared Eric.

Upon arriving home, he would immediately get some sleep. At six, he has to get up and be ready for school. However, most of the time, he would be too tired to start his day. When he’s lucky to be able to pull himself out of bed and come to school, he would still be too tired to catch up with the day’s lessons.

“Siguro sa loob ng isang linggo, mga dalawa o tatlong beses lang ako nakakapasok,” he shared.

Eric started this routine when he was seven. Most of the time, he goes with his father. But there are times, especially when he became a little older, that he goes with other fishermen as well.

“Minsan pag hindi na ako nakakapasok, sasama na lang ulit ako sa dagat. Aalis kami ng mga alas siyete ng umaga, tapos babalik ng alas dose. Tumutulong din ako sa pag-uuling,” shared Eric.

Gladly, these are all things in the past for Eric.

For two consecutive school years now, he is able to focus on his studies. Now in Grade 9, he is on his way to becoming a Mechanical Engineer.

Big responsibility at a young age

Eric’s family relies on fishing and charcoal making to make ends meet.

With six children, Eric’s parents, Erwin and Maricel, struggle to ensure food on the table, especially when the sea is rough.

Eric sees this problem firsthand, and being the responsible son that he is, he started helping out.

“Minsan po dumarating na lang ‘yan (referring to Eric) dito sa bahay na may dalang bigas at ‘yung sobrang pera mula sa pagpapaupa n’ya sa dagat ay binibigay din sa amin. Malaking tulong po s’ya sa amin,” shared Maricel, 36.

Erwin agrees how big of a help Eric is in the family.

“Kapag nagpapalaot kami, dalawang parte ‘yung naiuuwi namin dahil dalawa kaming nagtatrabaho. Mas malaki ‘yung kinikita namin,” shared Erwin.

Despite Eric’s help, the family remains struggling.

“Naglalambat po ako, naninisid sa dagat lalo na kapag hindi nakakasama si Mama. Minsan naiisip ko sana kami na lang ‘yung taong maluwag para hindi na namin nararanasan ‘yung ganitong hirap,” shared Eric, who added that he would rather work at a young age than see them having no food on the table or letting his siblings (all are girls) do these hard tasks.

Further, Maricel shares that her husband is also engaged in gambling.

“Kahit konting pera meron kami, isusugal pa rin n’ya. Kaya mahirap talaga ang buhay,” she said.

Turning tides for the family

In 2011, the family became a beneficiary of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. The family has been receiving conditional cash grants in support to the education of Eric and two other siblings, Erica and Mary Grace.

“Malaki ‘yung naitulong sa amin ng programa lalo na sa mga gastusin sa school at sa pagkain na rin po,” shared Maricel.

Also, little by little, Maricel learn about improving their family particularly through her attendance to the monthly Family Development Sessions (FDS).

The FDS is a component of the Pantawid Pamilya that teaches parent-grantees on various family enhancement topics including budget management, strengthening marital relations, rights of children and disaster preparedness among others.

“Madami po akong natutunan, tulad ng tamang paggamit ng pera. Mas maayos ko nang naba-budget ang aming kita at natigil na rin sa pagsusugal ng aking asawa,” she shared.

For Maricel, however, what she is more grateful about is her and Erwin’s revived commitment to support their children.

“Ngayon, hindi lang doble kayod ang ginagawa naming mag-asawa para masuportahan sila. Minsan pag uwi ko galing sa pangingisda, tinutulungan ko pa sya sa paglalabada. Nagcoconstruction din ako kapag malakas ang dagat,” said Erwin.

Maricel added that they started telling Eric to go to school every day. However, he remains insistent on his desire to help the family.

Another shot for Eric’s dreams

In 2017, Eric was included in the list of child laborers in the municipality during the pilot testing of the DSWD’s Strategic Helpdesks for Information, Education, Livelihood and other Development Interventions (SHIELD) program against child labor. The program aims to strengthen the capacity of the local government units and establish partnerships with other organizations and sectors in addressing child labor.

The municipality of Catanauan is one of the pilot areas of this program across the country.

A total of 97 child laborers in three barangays (Brgys. 7, San Antonio Pala and Tuhian) of the municipality engaged in fishing, vending, fish drying, coconut and coconut wine harvesting, charcoal making, scavenging and domestic work are being provided with interventions through the program.

“Dito po ay natutunan ko na mas maging maasikaso pa sa mga anak ko, na dapat sila ay binibigyan ng laya na makapaglaro at mas lalong dapat ay nasa eskwelahan sila,” shared Maricel.

Through the local government unit, Eric was provided with additional educational assistance including school supplies and uniforms so he can go back to school. The family was also provided livelihood assistance that they used to buy new fishnets and a couple of hogs.

“Mas lumalaki po ang kita namin dahil may sarili na kaming lambat, bukod pa sa kinikita naming mag-asawa sa iba pa naming hanapbuhay,” shared Erwin.

Eric, on the other hand, is glad that he can now focus on his studies. He no longer takes responsibility in the family’s finances since his parents are working very hard for all of them. Also, his parents become insistent that he needs to be in school.

“Masaya po ako na nakaka-focus na ako sa pag-aaral ko. Mas mapapadali ang pagtupad ng pangarap ko at mas matutulungan ko ang pamilya ko,” said Eric happily as he looks far into the sea seeing his father and mother working really hard holding their fishnet and spears not minding the cold early morning breeze.#

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