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A child miner’s love and sacrifice

Lester, 13, used to shovel rocks and squat over a large sifting pan for hours searching for tiny pebbles and scraps of a precious metal, scraps smaller than a grain of rice called “palay”.

Being the eldest in the brood of five, he was obliged to help his father Rodolfo, 34, to earn a living for their family.

He entered his first mine at 7, with his father, who was a miner. He started sending food, then picking up clumps of rock until carrying heavy loads of rocks from the hill down to their house.

Everyday life is a harsh for this young boy. His day usually starts trekking to the hills at 7:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. He asks for low-grade ores from miners uphill and carries the heavy sack of rocks to their house and spends the whole day pounding with a mallet before the ores can be put in a ball mill for grinding. When the rocks grind into a fine powder, he dropped the mercury to search for gold.

In a day, he usually gets PhP 175 for forming a small coin gold called “aliwan”. This supplement the family’s everyday living.

Kadalasan, dalawang beses lang kami kumain sa isang araw. Pag wala kaming bigas na maisaing, kangos ung kinakain namin” { We usually eat twice a day. When we have no rice to cook, we eat “kangos”, a root crop like cassava}.

Melanie, 35, Lester’s mother, knows that mining is dangerous. “Bilang isang ina, nag aalala ako sa kanyang kaligtasan, pero wala kaming choice, wala kaming ibang mapagkakakitaan.”  {As a mom, I worry about his safety but we have no choice, we didn’t have other ways to earn, she says}

LOST CHILDHOOD

Lester usually goes to school without a meal or without “baon”. He needs to ride a jeep or tricycle which costs 40 pesos back and forth. Sometimes, he has to walk when his parents couldn’t give any cents to him.

After school, instead of playing, he minds his siblings at home, helped his parents doing household chores and worked in the mine.

“Ayaw ko mag laro, kasi kailangan ko pang alagaan ang mga kapatid ko.” {I don’t like to play because I need to take care of my siblings, Lester said}

He’s in Grade 7 when he was forced to quit school because his father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and his mother is nursing for a month-old baby.

His parents could not afford to send him to school and need him to help in earning a living.

“Kailangan ko maghanap buhay para sa amin dahil ako ang panganay at may sakit si Papa.” {I have to earn to provide our daily needs because I’m the eldest and Papa is ill, he thought}.

No playtime, no afternoon nap, this is the childhood Lester has.

HARSH REALITIES

Lester is one of the children in Brgy. Palanas, Paracale, Camarines Norte who’s at an early age has been involved in toxic and hazardous work.

Derived from para cale meaning “canal digger”, Paracale is known as the gold town in the province of Camarines Norte. Gold mining or “Pagkakabod” is the primary means of livelihood for most of the townsfolk. The search for the precious metal has become a way of life.

A survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2011 showed that 2.1 million children are engaged in child labor in the Philippines, 218,400 of which are found in Region V.

Similarly, in 2015, the DSWD’s Listahanan has recorded 25, 304 poor working children in the region. Most of them are laborers and unskilled workers.

In a study on worst forms of child labor (WFCL) conducted by the DSWD Social Technology Bureau, it was found out that poverty is the main reason for children’s engagement in dangerous work.

Mining is physically dangerous especially for children like Lester- the strenuous work, heavy loads, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and contact with toxic chemicals like mercury.

“Sabi ni Papa masama sa katawan ang asoge, lalo na kung ito ay niluluto.” {Father said mercury is harmful in the body especially when it is heated, Lester disclosed.}

He also revealed that he doesn’t use safety gear in handling the mercury.

At an early age, Lester had experienced to go down the tunnel.  “Mainit , masyadong madilim, nakakatakot at mahirap huminga sa ilalim ”. {It’s hot, too dark, scary and it’s hard to breathe in the tunnel, he said.}

New HOPE

When asked if he will leave the mine if he has an option “ Opo, mahirap ang pagkakabod, masakit sa katawan” {Yes, mining is very tiring, it causes body pain}

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) take a closer look at this serious situation. As a member of the National Labor Committee, the agency supports the Philippine Program against Child Labor 2017-2022 aiming to withdraw one million children from child labor and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which calls to end child labor in all its forms by 2025.

With this, the department created the Strategic Helpdesks for Information, Education, Livelihood and other Developmental Interventions (SHIELD) program to help combat child labor in the country.

This will be tested in the 3 regions namely Calabarzon, Eastern Visayas and Bicol Region, where the high number of children are found working in hazardous work like deep-sea fishing, agriculture, and mining.

SHIELD project aims to strengthen the capability of local government units (LGUs) in the prevention and elimination of child labor through the establishment of local child labor registration system that will identify child laborers in the community and monitor their cases; and a barangay help desk that will offer services for child laborers and their families.

Lester is one of the identified children beneficiaries of SHIELD project. Part of the intervention of the program is the provision of an educational grant amounting to Php 500 monthly and livelihood assistance for their parents.

Gusto ko makapag tapos ng pag-aaral para makapag hanap ng magandang trabaho at matulungan ko ang aking mga magulang at kapatid”. {I wanted to finish my studies to find an attractive job and to help my parents and siblings, he sighs teary-eyed”.

He dreams for his parents to have a bakery and for his siblings to finish their studies. This opportunity brings hope to him to make his dream into reality.

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