Her name is Nica. She's 13 and even with her age which is supposedly a Grade 7 age, she's still in fifth grade because her teachers retain her there for she cannot read well. They are 9 in the family, 10 to include her father. Her mother died of childbirth after her youngest sister was born. She's a child laborer, like many others her age and even younger.
Nica enjoys the life that her friends are experiencing now, they make it feel like they are on a game, a race or contest to be exact, like how many bundles of cut sugar canes they could carry to the truck, and how much money they can get after the deal is done.
I went up the mountains to document on the child laborers of a certain municipality in Sarangani Province, and there I met Nica. When I interviewed her to ask of her profile, she was almost in tears not because I was asking deep questions, but because I was asking her what she wanted for Christmas.
My first question was: What would you ask Santa Claus to give you this Christmas?" And her curt reply was, "Sino si Santa Claus, Ma'am?".
That almost made me cry. But I held back my tears because I was supposed to interview four more children. She tells me she has never met Santa Claus yet, and her father or guardian granny never introduced her to Santa Claus. But she has heard stories of the bearded man.
The teachers said Nica only goes to school twice or thrice in a week, most days she is absent, she is out in the sugar cane plantation or in the cornfields, weeding. She gets to be paid a little, only about P1.20 per bundle of cut sugar cane she could manage to carry to the truck for shipment. She gets as much as as P30-50 for she can only carry as many as as 50 bundles.
Wow! Fifty bundles is a lot, seriously. I doubt if my kids could even carry two or three to and fro. Imagine carrying a bundle of cut sugar cane? Sugarcane is heavy because they are water-filled, and they are long poles that if one may not be careful, can harm a child. But Nica says this is what's sending her to school, she can only do so much for her siblings, to bring home at least P20 can provide them dried fish for everyone to share, and she can provide for herself school allowance.
The teachers said Nica knows how to manage loans well. In fact, may utang na si Nica. At her young age of 13, may utang na siya, and she has admitted of having them paid up. The utang is very minimal - P2 for a piece of ice candy and a stick of bread, not even a nutritious food. But she pays them whenever she's paid with her earnings on a day's long haul.
Nakakaiyak. But they are many like Nica who are being exploited just because they need to help in the provision of food for their families. A lot more are in worst situations.
Nica answered my question. She wanted a set of uniform. I asked her why she'd need a uniform when she is already in Grade 5, and public schools are not really required to be in uniforms as they may opt not to if they cannot really get one. She answered "Gusto ko mag-graduate Ma'am na may uniform."
The teachers confirmed that a set of uniform is the last requirement needed for these children to go onstage and claim their certificates.
A lot of our children in the mountain and elsewhere need our help. They must be pulled out of child labor. Let us help one another in terminating child labor. Children like Nica deserve to be in school, enjoy their time of play, and not work like they are obliged to provide food for their families.
What disgusts me is the irresponsibility of the dad to father 9 children. And abuse/exploit Nica and many other children to suffer their education and health, and time for play.
I'm helping Nica by looking for sponsors to grant her the uniform she wanted for Christmas. I hope you can help me make Nica a happier child this Christmas.