Country where kids don't enjoy a school break?

Published : 07/02/2016 16:56:50
Categories : Hardy on Philippines

A specjał thank you to my sister Beata Wolczuk Pietkiewicz for being my support group,

for proofreading and translating my scribblings from Polish into English.

You can get in touch with her in your hour of need at this address

All rights reserved. Pictures Tom Bufeq.

Can you imagine a country where kids don't enjoy a school break? 

Smiling and frolicking like anywhere in the world they study, play but also work hard,and grow up with no idea that their future doesn't hold any promises. No prospects with a great chasm between a perfect picture sold on the net and harsh reality. That's the world of majority of kids in the Philippines.

Vision of the world known from the net is so different from the reality

The other day kids in Poland started summer holidays. At long last they got their diplomas and enjoy freedom. That's what most students wait for. Most of them chill out, and go away for holidays.

It's hard to believe, but there are places where kids are not very keen on having a break from school. The Philippines is a country with a fast growing population. A family with four brats is modestly speaking under norm. The further from a large agglomeration the larger families are.

My friend Juan jokingly mentioned that Philippos are more into planting rather than planning a family. He was right on the target, as there is always a birth explosion about 9 months after the storm-typhoon season. In the backwoods where shacks are built with palm leaves or other natural but not necessarily sound proof materials, and there is no surplus of entertainment, the season of roaring typhoon is conductive  to enlarging a family. 

According to the statistics population in the Philippines amounts to ca.100 million and considering current tendency we are talking 250 million by 2050.

My guests are going home. Daddy is unmooring the boat, Mummy is wearing a white T-shirt....and seven rag ruts

A few guests at a little thingy for neighbors. Average age maybe 12.

Of course I'm describing a situation typical of the Philippines, not these few affluent families who send their offspring to college, invest time and effort into education and are exceptions to the rule. A typical family in the Philippines is large, where age difference between the oldest and the youngest siblings is over 20 years. Quite often younger siblings grow up under the same roof with their older siblings' kids. A nephew/niece goes to the same grade with their uncle and aunt.

Some kiddos are lucky to be born into affluent families 
But most are not so lucky

These provincial villages are a good  example, because this topic is of utmost importance to me, but it is pretty common in poor districts in larger cities. Every morning narrow alleys crisscrossing into a stifling maze between small shacks called squats area are swarming with hordes of kids in white shirts or uniforms heading for school.

Education at the primary level is free and accessible. Schools looking like mission posts of old days are everywhere. They look similar, fenced,with an open sport area, and in every municipal district called barangay a primary/grade school is compulsory and free. But not necessarily within close distance. Typically in the countryside children start vet early in the morning. School age children ( from 7-10) as part of their duties must boil rice for breakfast for the whole family. So water must be carried in, fire lit, a pot set, rice cooked and the meantime it's necessary to get ready for school. Very often the road to school covers a few miles through the jungle. For example on the island of Palawan one of the barangay built a concrete road so that kids could get be brought to school by motors. 4 hour hiking was cut short by 3 hours in the morning. After school they must walk anyway because parents are busy.

On Mindanao I used to live next door to an average for that region family. 3 boys aged 8,9 and10 with their sister aged7, started moving around at about 4a.m. A walk to school took them 3 hours.a return run through the woods also 3 hours, no less.

Sailing along the river Cagayan de Oro, I noticed a terrifying installation of sorts. From a high steep edge , were hanging tied together old bike tyres, creating an oddly makeshift ladder. It ran down onto a narrow shore with a decking statin for rafts. Palm tree trunks tied together, we're pulled by a rope hanging over the river. That was the transport for kids living across the river. I guess not even a firing squad would make me use this contraption.

This so-called bridge is the road to school, but it's far away so...

Many students tackle it...down the 'ladder', than jump on the raft, pull hard the rope... That's the road to school

But why would younger, not older kids make rice for breakfast?

It's elementary, Watson. Older kids don't usually live with their parents. After primary school kids continue in a middle or junior high school. But junior high schools are not founded in every barangay and it's necessary to commute. They are usually so far away it's impossible to travel every day. So 12-year-olds move to live with their relatives, friends or benefactors. They come for a visit for weekends.

A benefactor is a widely known institution in the Philippines. Poor families-and they are majority-are only able to provide their offspring with education if they apply for a scholarship. It's often founded by private person, foreign benefactor or charity. A lucky child is given housing and food but they are required to help with house chores, housekeeping, cleaning, farming, washing, almost like bond servants after hours. I've heard also about pathological situations from victimized former students. But as a rule a benefactor is an honest charity model. Honestly without their help lots of kids would end up only with a few grades of primary education.

After graduating from junior high school it's only further from home and even more expensive. Of course if someone can afford it. High school, junior college, technical or community college is a great financial burden. You pay the tuition fees, internship, materials during apprenticeship. In a hotel or culinary school it's necessary to buy aprons, uniforms and all products for cooking.

As a condition for graduation from school is apprenticeship or internship in the field of your major. But employers in the Philippines demand a hefty fee for admitting students and granting them opportunity of getting some experience. Believe me, for a family making their living out of fishing or rice crops, or a small garage or shop, whatever, it's impossible to educate a few kids.

What's noticeable is parental carelessness bordering on negligence. Parents either work or chill out. Kids take care of themselves, older watch the youngest. Everyone has a lot of chores at home, so, often the little ones run around within supervision in the alleys of poor neighborhoods. I have witnessed how parents went away for two weeks to visit their oldest daughter and younger kids were left under care of a 14-year-old girl. Surprisingly no one got killed or maimed, all survived, the shack didn't burn down to the ground,....but they all seem to play by ear and take each day as it comes. The relationships between parents and children seem to be quite cold and aloof. Let's not forget that time and attention is shared among numerous offspring, but the family bonds are very close. Relatives live in distant corners of the country, but they always try to support one another. They offer a temporary roof, house their siblings while they are at school,always find an excuse to visit their folks for a local festival. They support financially their folks. Yeah, that's right. Kids send hard earned money back home, even if they moved away many years ago. I've heard -and I'm going to write about instances where a few sisters work in the oldest profession in order to add to the 'central' family budget. In the country where most population live in squalor with no pension benefits or health insurance, no prospects for the future, the only safety net is a large number of offspring.

After school the youngsters, still wet behind the ears, try to earn a few pesos. Folks usually have nothing in the way of pocket money. They pick up odd jobs to collect some cash. Every time I watched 'pearl catchers' I couldn't stand still. Kids in canoes approach ferries docked in a dockyard or adults on the pier and ask to throw some spare change into water. Then they dive headfirst into water trying to fish out sinking coins. But apart from that they will try everything from hard manual work to,petty crime to begging.

Pearl catchers- seem to appear on shores and docks
To earn a few pesos. Working from an early age

In spare time they play and enjoy of the most popular games is basketball. Wherever you look there are metal rings and playing children. If they don't own a real ball, they weave rattan into a ball. You cannot dribble but it's still easy to throw.

Basketball rules
Impossible to  dribble but easy to throw

Wearing flip flops, sometimes only one, in heat, in darkness they take aim at a ring mounted high in a few boards nailed together and the keep,on throwing.... Local tournaments are a great event equal,to NBA. Basketball field is often a meeting place for local teenagers. Every so often I was amazed at the great number of teens coming to play and talk. After putting in a whole day, hiking many miles to and from school they are still into it.

Swimming in the sea and water games typical backwater hobbies for backwater kids

And yet school year isn't the hardest.

Once I heard about the upcoming school holidays and asked if they were looking forward to a break. The response was very...ambivalent if not outright negative, cause during a break they help shoulder even more duties. They need to help with house chores and crops. Definitely they would rather walk for many miles and spend some hours at school or even come back home for weekend visit. No way can they sleep in.

What does the future look like? The prospects are not good at all. Sailing from one island to another you get the same picture. Very young population, mostly kids to teenagers. Young adults have no education, capable of doing manual work, but even such job offers are rare. Salaries outside of state administration are ridiculously low, and for every vacancy be it in MacDo or construction,,or room service in a hotel there dozens of applicants. Most Philippos dream of getting a job abroad. Many apply and leave. Quite a few friends of mine have recently moved abroad. Geraldine is working in a hotel in Macau, Jale is a housekeeper in Bangkok, Benji is moving to Taiwan to work in a factory. The Philippines are an endless source of work force but still the greatest wave is ahead.

Among greatest problems are drug trafficking, easy access to handmade firearms, growing frustration and lack of prospects. All that makes it easy for gangs, kidnapping for ransom, mugging, burglaries robberies, tearing necklaces from necks in broad daylight in public.even worse such day to day living is doomed to failure. Without new chances these kids will have no taste of success, joy and hope for their life.

Jenifer and her older by two years nephew Luigi
 Luigi can do actually everything. Kindle the fire, catch fish in the sea from the boat, cook, plant rice. He is only 11.

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