By Pathricia Ann Roxas
It can happen at any given moment and with any given moment. It can be someone you know—a total stranger, someone you’ve seen; maybe someone you’ve ignored, a friend, or even you.
I was wandering through the vicinity of a seemingly endless terrain of trees. They say here in UP, we could find the true beacon of hope amidst adversity, the symbol of equality for humanity. But as I remembered her gaunt and fragile little body that speaks its own story of agony and restlessness, I just want to look down forever, never to see her hurt again.
Let me call her “Karen.” Although she has a roof over her head and is able to go to first grade, Karen is one of the estimated 22,000 Filipino children living in poverty.
At a very young age, she learned how to make her own way of finding a living – asking for alms, that is.
Through her eight years, she has never experienced to live freely as a child. Her filthy hands and dark, grimy face suggest how hard she has been working just to meet an end of P158 for her family to have food for that day.
She returns home to her parents, who were both teenagers when they started living together. Karen’s father spends the whole day at home, as an accident left him crippled. They live in a small dwelling in Barangay Pansol, Quezon City. One time, the heavy rains came, which left them with nothing – the flood took everything away.
For Karen, working long hours did not just mean less playtime. Roaming the streets has already endangered her life.
She recalls that some time ago, she was threatened and mauled by other vagrant children when she fought for some coins she had inside her pocket, for fear that her father would beat her up if she gave it away.
She found herself begging for mercy as the other children ran away with her coins.
However, the horrors she experienced on the streets are nothing compared to the hurt her father gives to her whenever she could not earn enough – a responsibility that should not be borne by an 8-year-old.
As I continued to talk to them, I noticed there was something strange with Malou, Karen’s mother, who was holding her hand as they approached people. Karen said, “Na-rape po kasi siya dati kaya nabaliw si mama (My mom was a rape victim, and she went mad).”
Malou is one of the victims of sexual abuse that remains unresolved as of this moment.
I suddenly stopped and was saddened by such powerful yet, cumbersome statement of a child. I just couldn’t imagine how Karen was able to deal with such misfortunes, nor could I ever imagine if she still realizes the pain.
But when that sweet smile curved onto her face, everything seemed unbroken.
Asked why she continues to roam the streets, Karen said: “Kasi mahal ko ang mama ko (Because I love my mom).”
She was aware that the streets are no place for a little girl like her, but her love for her family is greater than any pain she has gone through.In the name of family, nothing is ever too heavy for Karen’s frail shoulders to carry.
I could even remember how she responded to me with enthusiasm, and how her delicate eyes shined when she said to me that she wanted to finish her studies. She even visualized of being an education student in UP. For her, education is the only hope she has of making a better life for herself and her family.
According to the National Statistical Coordination Board, more than 20 million Filipinos, or 22.3 percent of the country’s 97 million people live below the poverty line. The government’s aim is to reduce the number to 16.6 percent within the next three years. However ideal that goal seemed, the true face of poverty, like Karen, speaks how unsatisfactory the efforts of the administration are to assuage poverty.
They are out there, within the UP campus and outside, but not because they are learning lessons, reading books, nor because they are given the chance to discover the wonders of life, instead, they are here because they needed to live, and found it helped to ask for someone’s relief.
The government devoted considerable resources for the education, welfare and development of Filipino children. The Department of Education had the largest budget of any cabinet department: P293.36 billion, or nearly 15 percent of the 2013 national budget. Nevertheless, children face severe problems which not only jeopardize their safety and welfare, but also their hopes to a brighter future.
The stories of Karen and of all other children roaming the streets, however, shows how the hefty sum fails to trickle down to our fellowmen in need.
It can happen at any given moment and with any given moment. Victims of many different crimes can be someone you know, a total stranger, someone you’ve seen; maybe someone you’ve ignored, maybe a friend, or even you.
Their faces and little bodies are lingering around. Somewhere within a seemingly endless terrain of agony, you can find them unable to find food for their growling stomachs, incapable of reaching their own dreams, and deprived of the voice to make their own decisions. While swimming in the sea of poverty, they keep their hopes up in finding someone who would be willing to listen and respond to their pleas. It might as well be you.