March 15, 2015 was an ordinary day for some. But for me, it was a very special day because this was the day I met Allen. He had that most amazing smile-the kind that you won’t forget and will stay with you wherever you go. His petite frame shows how fragile his body is but hides how strong his spirit is. His eyes are full of hope. His feet looks like he has traveled thousands of miles. His skin is scorched by sun and his short and curly hair was black as night.
The UST-UNICEF Volunteers held its second Medical Mission in Brgy. Payangan, Dinalupihan, Bataan. The volunteers endured the sun’s rage and the tedious arid highlands just to get to the place where we will hold this Medical Mission. It was a successful one though we had a lot of challenges on this day.
Challenges were always those that make us stronger and better. These challenges will make or destroy us. Either way these will change and make us into who we are now. This is what I realized when I met seven-year-old Allen.
He was sitting alone on a porch when I said hello. He responded with a shy smile on his face. He held a chick with green-dyed feathers and I asked where he got it. He said he saw the chick running around on its own so he took it and he decided to take care of it. We had a lot of small talk until I asked him about his family. He told me that he had a sister. His father searches and collects bananas in the highland forest and sells it in the market. His mother also sells goods in the market. He told me his family’s condition and he had no choice but to help his father and mother work every day so that they can get through the day with three meals a day. Also, while doing this, he had to keep up with his studies.
The way he spoke at me felt like he was years older than me. When he was with his playmates, he seemed like he was out of place and he was trying to fit in. I feel like I was talking to an old wise man trapped inside a little boy. I noticed his scarred legs and he had infected fresh wounds that silently tell stories. Then, I realized this is what happens when a child has to work because of poverty.
Child Labor is undeniably one of the problems that continue to rise in our country today. And the reason primarily behind it is poverty. UNICEF established that it is the right of children to grow up in a suitable environment where they are safe and taken care of. They should not work until they reach the right age. This right is stated in the Philippines’ R.A. No.7658 wherein children below 15 years of age are prohibited from any kind of work most especially dangerous ones. But, from what I see in Allen and in all the children who will have to work to live, what the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children and the Philippine laws established remains but a piece of document, a political endeavor, a powerless structure and agreement.
Allen had to go with his father through the mountain forest to collect banana fruits every day. There were times that he and his family will actually have to skip a meal because they don’t have anything left to eat, not even a scrap.
We say that education should be every child’s top priority. But, how can children like Allen make education a priority when even the most fundamental need of all human beings is not satisfied? How can we make his parents understand that they should let Allen pursue whatever he dreams of? Much less, how can even a dream spark and thrive from Allen’s heart if everyday, he and his family had to scavenge for food?
When I asked Allen how he deals with all his challenges, he smiled at me and says “Okay lang naman po. Sanay naman na ako. Naniniwala ako na baka bukas ‘di na kami maghihirap.” I saw in his eyes all the hope he has. His scarred fragile body echoes how much he has been through. I never thought that I can learn a lot from a child more than he can learn from me.
This boy will always remain in my memory. I will treasure moments like these that make me want to lock myself in my room and cry. I want to help him and all the children with the same condition, in ways I can. This is what fuels me to be an active volunteer of UST-UNICEF. I will always believe that children like Allen deserve to grow up well without having to work as young as he is.
I see in Allen my everyday big and small challenges. I see in him how we should be proud of our scars and how we should always be hopeful. Because, after all, challenges are definitely what make us stronger and better and make us who we are now.