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As a child, school is a second home where children learn lessons, discover things, and make friends with classmates. But for John Robert Sanchez, this was not the case.

Robert, as his family calls him, is a 14-year-old magkakangkong during the time when he was profiled last 2018 in Tagpos, Binangonan, Rizal.

Since he was a kid, Robert experienced bullying from his classmates. He was always threatened to be assaulted. Robert recounted a scene that happened when he was in Grade 4:
“Inaasar-asar lang po nila ako tapos tinatakot po nila ako noon kaya napahinto po talaga ako[sa pag-aaral]. Tapos hinaharang din po nila ako sa simbahan na ano, may hawak din po silang bote. Kahit wala po akong ginagawa sa kanila, pinagtitripan po nila ako.”

(They teased me, threatened me that’s why I opted to stop [from studying]. There was a time that they waited for me near the church, holding glass bottles. Even though I didn’t do anything, they are making fun of me.)

Because of that traumatizing incident, at the age of 14, Robert doesn’t want to go back to school anymore. He diverted his attention on working at the swamp—by cleaning, collecting, and lifting kangkong to earn money to buy his dream bicycle. As part of his daily routine, Robert harvests 15 to 20 kilos of kangkong and then carries the harvested goods to the buyer. He endured extreme weather conditions while working at the swamp.

Robert roughly earns PhP 40.00 to PhP 100.00 a day, enough to buy the things that he wanted that his parents cannot afford. Sometimes he shares some of his income with his family.
But his parents were not pleased that Robert is working instead of going to school. Marilyn Binamira, mother of Robert, often blamed herself as to why Robert chose to work at a very young age.

“Kaya minsan sinisisi ko ang sarili ko, bakit naging mahirap pa kami. ‘Yung mga tanong sa buhay na ganoon. Kaya ‘pag binabalikan ko ‘yun naiiyak ako. Kasi sa murang edad niya, kinailangan niyang kumita dahil sa kagustuhan niyang mabili, sa mga pangarap niyang mabili”.

(Sometimes I blame myself for being poor. That is one of the questions I have in life. Every time I look back on that situation, I will always get emotional. Because at a very young age, he had to work for him to buy his want, his dream thing.)

Through DOLE’s Integrated Livelihood Program, Robert’s family find a new glimpse of hope as they were granted and awarded a livelihood assistance. With their newly installed sari-sari store, Robert didn’t have to work at the swamps to gather kangkong.

“Nagpapasalamat talaga ako sa tulong na ibinigay ng DOLE. Kumbaga sabi ko sa wakas, may pampuhunan na kami sa tindahan. Naisip ko noon na sa bahay na lang ako kasi hindi ko na mapapabayaan ang mga anak ko, maasikaso ko na sila.”

(I just wanted to extend my gratitude to DOLE because of the assistance that they gave us. At last, we have a fund start our variety store. I thought if I would just stay in the house, I could focus more on caring for my kids.)

As they continue to earn money from theirstore, Robert’s parents decided to reallocate some portions of their earnings to buy kangkong plant starters to further increase the earnings of the family.

Their decision comes in handy because last 2020, their store was damaged by Typhoon Ulysses. Marilyn holds the money that they’ve earned through their sari-sari store and kangkungan. Through this, they could easily start anew and progress in life.

Currently, Robert is enrolled at Tayuman Elementary School and he is now in fifth grade. Though he is uncertain as to what dream he has right now, one thing is for sure-- he will continue to finish his education. Robert promised to himself and to his parents that he will not work at the swamp anymore and he will allot his time in studying.

Robert reminded his fellow youth to focus more on studies rather than working at a very young age like him.

“Ipagpatuloy nila ang kanilang pag-aaral bago magtrabaho. Kasi doon nila marerealize na…na dapat pala inuna muna nila ‘yung pag-aaaral kasi nasa bandang huli lang din ang pagsisisi.”

(They should continue and prioritize their education before working. Because, at some point in their lives, they will realize that they should’ve studied first as regret is always seen at the end.)
Marilyn also shares her advice to parents not to let their children work and urge them to focus on their studies instead.

“Payo na lang [sa mga magulang], paki-usapan ang mga anak na mas mabuti pa rin ang pag-aaral kaysa paghahanabuhay kasi napakahirap ng buhay. Mahirap maghanapbuhay. Kung tayo ngang mga magulang, hirap maghanapbuhay ‘yung mga bata pa kaya. Kailangang sikapin nila na ‘yung mga anak nila ay mapag-aral pa rin. Kausapin na mag-aral pa rin at ‘yun ang ang daan para sa maginhawang buhay”.

(My advice [to the parents] is talk to your children and let them understand that pursuing education is much better than making a living because it’s arduous thing to do. It's taxing indeed. If us parents experience difficulties while working, much more to the children’s end. They should find a way to send their kids to school. Tell them that the only way on having a good life is through education.)

DOLE Rizal, aside from awarding livelihood programs to parents of child laborers, is advocating the elimination and prevention of child labor through awareness campaigns. Parents of child laborers, before the awarding of livelihood are oriented about the dangers of engaging their children in working at an early age and the importance of attending school. Marilyn Binamira is one of the beneficiaries of said child labor awareness campaigns last 2019 when the sari-sari store worth PhP 20,000 was awarded to Robert’s family.


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