FEATURE | Angel Tree puts a smile back on faces of children at risk

Photo: DOLE Bicol
AROROY, Masbate – Mavi entered a small mining sinkhole to work with his father one Saturday noon. He started hauling ore that his father dug from the ore-bearing soil down the pit. But when he was going out from the pit bottom, he felt some rocks falling on his head. Fortunately, he was able to escape from the collapsing mine pit that could have buried him underground along with his dreams and aspirations. Incidents such as this one could happen to any child laborer like him.

Mavi, 16 has been working to help his father look for gold in the remote village of Gintong Araw, Aroroy, Masbate where he currently resides.

He started helping his father with mining works when he was 14 years old. During weekends or school vacation, he would lift and carry heavy sacks of ore to earn P500 per day.

He is the youngest among four (4) children of a housekeeper and a miner. And extraction of gold has always been their main source of livelihood.

 “Kaupod ko si papa pa sagka sa bukid para mag ukad san duta. Nagakuha kami sin bato na buhay, ginabuak-buak kag ginapino-pino. (I would go along with my father to the mountains. We would go underground to look for ‘bato na buhay’ and crush it until pulverized),” shared Mavi.

 “Kada Sabado kag Domingo kag kun bakasyon ako naga bulig para makatabang kila papa kag mama (During weekends and school holidays, I make it a point to help my parents earn extra income),” he continued. He also shared that their daily income is almost never enough which is why they only eat meals twice a day. There are times however, that they have nothing to eat at all.

But this struggle has only fueled him to continue his education and fulfill his ambition to become an electrical engineer someday.

Not far away from Mavi’s village is an old shanty where another child worker lives. Joma (not the real name) is a 15-year-old Grade 10 student who lives with his parents and three (3) siblings at Barangay Purok Pag-asa, Aroroy.

Just like Mavi, he would join other children of his age to get ore and carry them on his shoulders.

At 15, he looks shorter and leaner than the other boys.

“Nag pa-panning po ako. (I do panning. I extract gold from a placer deposit using a pan),” he described his weekend activity.

From panning, he earns P300 to P500 per day, albeit he would only do it during weekends. Joma also dreams to become an electrical engineer.

“Gusto ko pong matulungan and aking pamilya at makapag-ipon para matugunan ko ang pangangailangan ko sa eskwelahan. (I also want to help my family and earn money so I could buy the things I need in school),” he added.

When asked if he wants to be a miner like his father, he responded: “Ayoko po. Mag-aaral  na lang po ako para matulungan ko po ang nanay at tatay ko. Kapag nakapagtapos ako ng pag-aaral, magkakaroon ako ng magandang trabaho (No, because I’d like to finish my education first so that I’d be able to find a better job. That way, I’d be able to help my parents).”

He also added that he does not want his future children to work at a young age. For Joma, it is a tough job to carry sacks of ore and he will not have his children experience this kind of life.  

A number of children work in mining, and many are exposed to harmful chemicals that could threaten their wellbeing. But their health is not the only aspect that is at stake, they are also being robbed of their childhood given that their priority is to support their family. Even if it means doing the same work as adults.

In a report, there are around 500,000 small-scale miners operating in the Philippines. In Masbate province alone, there are around 30,000 engaged in small-scale gold mining, including artisanal gold mining or gold-panning activities. Aroroy, spanning 44,030 hectares is known as a mineral-rich area in Bicol region. Most of the families in the said town make a living from mining.

Project Angel Tree

Meanwhile, Mavi and Joma were thankful when Project Angel Tree of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Bicol thru its Provincial Field Office of Masbate was brought to their town in celebration of the 26th National Children’s month.

They are among the 100 beneficiaries of said project from Panique National High School who received educational supplies and a happy meal.

“Masaya po ako at naramdaman ko ulit ang sarap na balikan ang pagiging bata. Panandalian kong nakalimutan ang stress sa school at hirap ng pamumuhay namin. (It feels good to experience being a kid again. Somehow, it helps me forget my problem in school like deadlines. I also momentarily forget life’s difficulties),” Mavi said in delight.

Joma, on the other hand, was ecstatic upon seeing Jollibee’s mascot.

“First time ko po makita si Jollibee kaya na-surprise po ako at na excite. (I got surprised and excited to see Jollibee for the first time),” he said. “Isa sa mga pangarap ko ay natupad. (One of my wishes came true.)”

Small acts such as this one offer a precious opportunity for child laborers to have a positive outlook in life even in the face of insurmountable poverty.  While child labor is a reality that would take a long time to eradicate in a community, extending one’s support and compassion can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

According to Atty. Alvin M. Villamor, Regional Director of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Regional Office V, there is a continuous identification and profiling of child labor in the region which will serve as a basis for the provision of appropriate services and interventions necessary to address the prevailing issue.

“We make tremendous efforts to provide more protection to children and effectively keep them away from being used as laborers. Hence, we are now starting making referrals to concerned agencies for provision of services and assistance needed by children and their families,” Villamor said.

“Together with other government agencies and private institutions, we unite in the common vision to transform the lives of these child workers, so we can keep them safe, out of hazardous mining working conditions and in classrooms where they can learn, play and socialize,” he remarked.

He added: “We also try to help the parents and siblings of these child workers obtain livelihood and employment opportunities. Simply put, there are child workers because of the poverty of their families. We are doing our best to alleviate their poverty and their apparent exclusion in the “inclusive growth” equation. It’s not only a matter of doing something       about the inflation rate and the poverty threshold but also doing something to help these families rise above and overcome their poverty.”

Through the Project Angel Tree, which is a component of the DOLE Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program, an array of social services are made available by sponsors or benefactors (‘angels’) to child laborers and their families, ranging from food, clothing, educational assistance or school supplies, and even work and training opportunities. 

This project forms part of the combined efforts of the government and private sector to keep the children away from dangerous workplaces. It would also greatly help if the parents and the whole community are involved in keeping the children safe and protected from exploitation.

 “Nag-enjoy po kami sa activity at nadagdagan po ang aming kaalaman na ang pag-trabaho nang mabigat ng isang bata below 17 years old na naapektuhan ang pag-aaral, pagtulog at socialize ay tinatawag na child labor, (We enjoyed the activity. Besides, we were able to learn that a child below 17 years old whose work interferes with his ability to attend regular school and deprives him of the right hours of sleep and socialization with other children is a form of child labor.), Joma recounted the key message he learned from the focal person of DOLE during the orientation on child labor in the morning.

This is the reality of child labor and those children who live below the poverty line often have a similar tale in the hope of helping their family get by on a daily basis. Mavi and Joma are just two of the thousands of children ages 5 to 17 who work in hazardous conditions in the Philippines.