If there’s one thing that can make her say their life has improved, 53-year-old Erlinda Valdesancho shares a simple yet concrete answer.

“Hindi na kami nawawalan ng bigas.”

Looking back at their life before, Erlinda can still feel recall the shame and hardship of having just one child yet still having a hard time ensuring food on their table.

She and her husband, 54-year-old Vicente, used to be a caretaker of a property in Brgy. San Antonio in Mabitac, Laguna Province where they also raise hogs and farm vegetables.

“Hindi kami sin’welduhan kaya talagang hirap na hirap kami,” shared Erlinda.

Today, however, a lot has changed in their life. They have a house they call their own, albeit being not on their property. More importantly, Erlinda and Vicente have a steady source of income that enables them to buy food, send their only child to school and dream of a better life for the three of them.

Hard work and opportunities

Vicente shared that despite the challenges in their life, they continue working hard for Vincent, their 10-year-old son.

“Maski ganito ang buhay, sinisikap namin na mag-asawa na mapag-aral s’ya. Kami naman ay natutuwa na kahit wala s’yang baon, gusto n’ya pa ‘ring pumasok,” shared Vicente.

Erlinda added that their son does not want to miss a day in school.

Their son’s commitment to go to school only fueled them to work harder. Erlinda began working as an on-call cook in the neighboring town while Vicente tried all possible jobs including picking mangoes, raising hogs and planting vegetables.

Their hard work was later paid off when a neighbor noticed their determination and offered them a land to farm and also to build their house.

“Malaking pasasalamat namin dahil napagkatiwalaan kami sa lupang ito. Kaya lalo naming pinagsumikapan ang aming pagtatrabaho,” shared Vicente, who starts his day at four in the morning every day to attend to their crops.

For a couple of years now, the couple has been alternating different crops such as cucumber, squash, corn, beans and cassava. They are also raising chickens, hogs and cows.

“Yung kinikita namin dito, sumasapat na para sa pangangailangan namin sa pang-araw-araw. Nakabibili na kami ng bigas at pang-ulam,” shared Erlinda.

Besides this, the couple is grateful to the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. Since 2013, they have been receiving conditional cash grants for their son’s needs on health and education.

“Lalo pa kaming nagsikap na mag-asawa para kahit papaano ay makapagtabi naman kami para sa kolehiyo ng anak namin,” said Erlinda.

Vicente added that all his son’s needs on his education are shouldered by the grants they receive from the program. As a result, they are able to increase their crops and their livestock so they can increase their income.

More than just the money

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program invests on the health and education of zero to 18 years old children through the provision of cash subsidy in exchange for their compliance to program conditions. These conditions include 85 percent monthly attendance and health checkup of children.

In the CALABARZON Region, there are more than 300,000 households who are beneficiaries of this program.

For Erlinda’s family, the program not only opened opportunities for them to provide for the education of their son as well as ensure food on the table.

“Sa pagdalo ko sa mga Family Development Sessions, madami akong natutunan. Sa totoo lang, hirap akong magsulat sa notebook, kaya lahat ng tinuturo namin pinapakinggan ko,” shared Erlinda.

The Family Development Session (FDS) is a component of the Pantawid Pamilya program where parents are gathered monthly as a venue for teaching family strengthening topics including rights of children, financial management and disaster preparedness among others.

She said that what she values the most is how she learned to properly discipline and take care of her son as well as chasing all the opportunities that come along their way.

Looking forward, she dreams not only of an improved life that is ‘more than just having rice on the table.’ In the coming years, she wants a change where she can confidently say that they own a home, her son has a college diploma and all of them are living comfortably and able to help other people as well.