[Author's note: for this article, I deviate from the usual one (1) photo per article, thus the monologue, concept.]
As soon as the door of the van used to transport the books from Mandaluyong, Quezon City and Malabon, this boy whom I have known later as Gino, came from nowhere and was so eager to help and started carrying the bundled books. The bundles of thick and hard-bound books even looked heavier than his frail body. I was worried because we might be charged with child labor or child abuse! (Smile!). He did not mind but eventually gave in to my prodding. Perhaps he was just as excited like us in bringing the books to their small community.
From the look in his eyes, I could sense it was his first time to see so many books with colorful pictures and illustrations. He had that sheepish smile you would want to capture in photos. He seemed so excited that he could not help but peep into some loose copies, which he held along the way--with that sense of pride. I could not help but smile while following him. I was also like that when I was a kid when I have a new book!
While we tried to balance ourselves, he walked so fast and knew the muddy and slippery path by heart. From time to time, he would even stop to caution me that the trail I would be treading is slippery. When I was able to catch up with him, I engaged him in a pep talk. After all, it would have been very boring walking behind the rest of Flikristasindios members who already went ahead.
Although he is street-smart by their standards, he has that sense of inferiority when talking to a stranger like me. He had some reservations when answering questions, but after some time he finally loosened up.
Gino is 11 years old and currently in Grade 1. They had no money that is why he was not able to go to school at an earlier age, but he wants to study to become "somebody." He told me, at his young age, realizes that it is hard to be poor that is why he wants to finish schooling so he can find a better job. I told him that is a good attitude.
When asked about "what he wants to become" when he grows up--you know, the usual questions we ask children.
He simply reiterated: "Makahanap po ng magandang trabaho." [To find a good job.]
Perhaps, he had no idea what else to become later in his adult life. I did not probe further because he might realize that there is a bigger gap between the world of the "haves" and the "have-nots," than what is known to him, which may stop him from dreaming further. So I stopped there and just assured myself that he will soon realize when he grows up a little bit more. I took his word at its face value, and just encourage him to study hard, and he replied:"Opo." [Yes, sir.].
When asked about his parents' means of living, he told me, "Mag-uuling lang po." [They’re only charcoal-makers.]
"Huwag ganun, dapat ang sagot mo, mag-uuling po." I corrected him. [You should say "charcoal-maker" not "only" charcoal-maker.]
"Opo," he replied. [Yes]
"Ilan ba kayong magkakapatid?" I asked. [How many siblings do you have?]
"Dalawa po." [We’re two.]
"Ilang taon na ang kapatid mo?" [How old is your sibling?]
He clammed up a bit.
"Babae ba siya o lalaki?" I followed up. [Is your sibling a boy or a girl?]
"Babae daw po. Hindi ko nga po alam kung anong hitsura nya, at kung ilang taon na po sya," he finally replied. [They told me it’s a girl. In fact, I do not have any idea how she looks like and how old she is.]
"Bakit?" I probed. [Why is that?]
"Nasa tatay ko po kasi sya." [She is with my father.]
"Kala ko ba mag-uuling tatay mo?" I clarified. [I thought your father is a charcoal-maker?]
"Iniwan po kami ng tatay ko. Nang mamatay ang nanay ko, natakot daw po sya. Dinala ang kapatid kong babae. Hindi na ako binalikan. Natatakot na syang magpakita. Gusto ko nga po makilala ang kapatid ko eh." he answered straightforwardly. [My father left me. When my mother died, he got scared and ran away. He brought my sister with him. He is already afraid to show up. I want to meet my sister.]
Apparently, he considers his grandparents (on his mother’s side), his immediate family, and his parents.
I was a bit stunned by the revelation. This time, it was me who could not talk nor ask a question. This boy has so much ambition but he also has so much angst that is pulling him back. He longs for his sister and that parental care that his grandparents try to fill in.
Gino is just one of the kids in Isla Pulo who is living in poverty. Just like the other kids, he epitomizes a poor kid who dreams—to finish their studies and later on to find a better job other than what they know in Isla Pulo—as charcoal-makers, fisherfolks or fishpond workers.
I just hope Gino meets his father in the days to come. I wish him well that he may be able to finish his studies so that he can realize his dreams--find a better job.
Whatever that job is, only God knows.