Monday, October 12, 2009

Streetchildren New Careers: Begging!

I sometimes see the modern mother-and-child scene as a mother carrying a child, sometimes not her own, in order to be her prop for begging alms.

More likely, this child will grow up roaming the streets as his mother adopts another sizeable baby to carry for the more appealing mother-and-child look, while the toddler learns how to walk while avoiding street traffic with older street kids.

These street children then become mentors of their younger counterparts in the profession of begging for alms. Over the years, they have grown in numbers and have become more aggressive in their approaches, even to the point of asking the food you are munching off your hands. And then if you take pity upon the hungry child and give him what you are eating, five or six other kids from a distance suddenly flock around you asking for their supper, too.

I have taken into my home three sisters who used to be just like these children, begging in the streets while their mother is away, her return uncertain while their younger siblings go through a ritual of hunger their elder siblings have grown used to. While Joylyn takes care of the little ones left in their makeshift home beside the city river, Janice and Jo-an comb the streets for alms. They return home with P100 worth of milk for the two babies and just enough food for the five of them. Their father has long left them, his whereabouts unknown, and thus their mother decided for them to carry her surname instead.

One thing led to another until at tender ages of 12, 11, and 10, the three started working as house maids in various families, some of which were my relatives. When the youngest, Joylyn, turned 12, she worked for my mother as night companion and errand girl. But my mother was by nature a virago and at last Joylyn gave up being the butt of all my mother's anger. Joylyn sought refuge to me.

I accepted her not as a house maid, telling her a child her age should not be working yet. It's against Labor Laws. Joylyn became a part of my family of two (minus my wayward husband). I enrolled her at a nearby public school where she was accepted in Grade 2. Instead of a wage my mother used to give her, the same amount is her allowance which she could either spend for herself or send to her family. The latter is always the case.

When Jo-an, now 13, and Janice, now 14, suddenly lost their "jobs" at my two aunts' homes, they went home to the hacienda where they now live, far from the city streets they were used to, because their mother has a new boyfriend who lives in the said farm. My house being big enough to accommodate two more people, I told Joylyn that her two sisters could come live with us and attend school like she does.

Like what I did with Joylyn's school records, I requested the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Elementary School at La Paz, Iloilo City to transmit the girls' school records to Efigenio Enrica Lizares Memorial School in Talisay City, Negros Occidental. Now the elder sisters are in Grade 4 of their new school.

Being too old for their grade levels, I urged them to apply for an acceleration exam and, in all the school, only the three of them were accepted to take the PEPT exams scheduled on November 22, 2009. This will determine what grade or year level they shall be placed in accordance to their academic standing in the tests.

For now, they are doing fairly well in school, and Joylyn who used to be in Section 6 of Grade 2 is then moved to Section 2 and now to Section 1. The elder sisters are also the teachers' pets for their academic excellence and reliability.

Janice the caring one dreams of becoming a doctor or a nurse someday. Jo-an the dark and ahtletic one dreams of becoming a teacher who promises never to verbally malign her students no matter how stupid they are, unlike what her teacher is now doing to them. Joylyn the one with strong leadership qualities despite her being the youngest, dreams of becoming an actress. Not having matinee idol looks, we told her to hone her skills of being a comedienne and maybe she might just make it big in showbiz.

Having become a single mother all of a sudden with the unexplained withdrawal of my husband from his fatherly obligations, and then swamped by three more people in his place, my financial burdens are becoming heavier than I thought. Having used to only one daughter to take care of all her needs, I realized I would also to take care of the needs of three more girls, which means triple the rice, triple the water, triple the laundry, triple the electricity, triple the everything.

Perhaps this is giving my otherwise only daughter an idea of what it is like to have siblings, competitions in terms of food, attention, and achievements. I grew up in a family with three brothers. Growing up a single child must be a different experience, and the sudden addition to her world seemed at first too much to bear, but she is now adjusting to the situation.

Still, I am just happy to be able to bless people who are less privileged than myself. My misfortunes are still a fortune from their point of view. I am happy that, although I am not in the practice of giving alms to random street children thus encouraging mendicancy, that despite my own needs I am helping three needier children to earn an education for themselves, a shot at a bright future far better than just wandering the streets for a lifetime career of begging.

Indeed, the mother-and-child image has a new face. They don't have to be connected by blood or by umbilical cord. They just have to face life head on, together as a real mother would provide and protect for her own children, and as children would give their true mother her due respect and love.

Psalm 68:5 "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling."

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