'Dahon girl' of Bohol endures shame to beat poverty
With no money to buy school supplies, 11-year-old Jhessa Balbastro once wrote her assignment on a leaf, unmindful of the heckling from her classmates and determined to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.
The resourceful girl, the eldest of six children, also rushes to finish her homework before nightfall because the family shack in the fishing town of Buenavista, Bohol has no electricity.
"May spelling test po kami noon. Walang pera po kami pambili ng papel. Nahiya po akong manghiram ng papel sa mga kaklase ko kaya dahon na lang sinulatan ko," she recalled.
"Pinagtawanan lang po ako nila."
Despite the humiliation, the fifth-grader was unbroken.
"Gusto ko pong maging teacher paglaki ko," Balbastro says. "Gusto ko pong magturo sa mga bata."
Balbastro's construction worker father has no regular work and her mother often works odd jobs to make ends meet, leaving her to take care of her younger siblings.
Balbastro is fortunate that her parents don't force her to work.
An estimated three million children between 5 to 17 years old are forced to work in hazardous jobs, mostly in mining, agriculture and sex work, just to be able to survive, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report.
Child labor is a way of life in many of the Philippines' rural areas, the report said, citing aid workers and teachers. This, despite the country's robust economic growth and various efforts to mitigate poverty.
READ: Philippines bets on appeal of education to fight child labor
The government has been implementing a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), which addresses high hunger rates and drop-out cases in schools.
Under the 4Ps, qualified poor families receive a P500 monthly health grant and P300 to P500 monthly educational assistance until their children finish high school.
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