(Article published in the Dec 29, 2010
issue of Manila Standard Today)
It must have been the same hope that Gizela M. Gonzalez saw sustain the children she profiled recently in her book, “Where the Children Are”, that had moved Jose P. Rizal, centuries earlier and himself then barely 18, to generalize and hail the young in his award winning poem as “bella esperanza de la patria mia.”
The hope of children is of a special kind; the majority of them, Ging writes, “live under trying conditions. Yet they face each day with a steadiness and lack of resentment many adults would be hard-pressed to muster.” Each one of them hope without hating, dream without damning, and struggle, not struggle against but simply struggle hard.
Aninia, for instance, lives in a one-room house of coconut leaf walls and a bamboo floor, in Bentangan, a town nestled in North Cotabato, Mindanao. Three times in the early morning, she goes back and forth from where she lives to fetch from a soft black pipe water that had come from a spring somewhere up in the mountains. She helps care for her siblings but finds time to play the children of the place. She joins in the village prayer-dances, even if fewer and fewer of the other young girls do so, and just one remains to play the single-stringed instrument that provides the music. “Aninia”, notes Ging, “dreams of becoming a teacher…to work with the children of her tribe…to live in Bentangan forever.”
Rachelle, of Bagbag,
Caloocan City, also lives in a flimsy home. It is under a tree, the roof
and walls are made from craps of plywood and lengths of blue plastic
sackcloth. The floor is cement, but only because it is atop four graves in
the Bagbag Cemetery. There is not much earth nor grass; cement gray is the
color of the day. But Rachelle, with her sister Marjorie, does venture out
in order to attend school just outside the cemetery. And she draws her
dream house. The house, notes Ging, “is two stories high. It has a garden
but all the flowers are in pots; they do not grow from the ground.”
Very focused on his job is Jelwin who lives and works in Lumban, Laguna. Like everyone else in the area, he is into barong tagalog production. But he is way down the chain; he works as a craftsman for some entrepreneur. His role is to embroider a piece of cloth with a design he himself must create. While others play in a nearby field, “Jelwin” observes Ging, “remains sewing. Brillant with his fingers, he has never learned to write. Neither he nor his grandfather or grandmother [Jelwin’s parents had both left and no one knows where they are] have ever worn the finery they embroider.”
Jelwin, says Ging, “has confided that he might like to be a doctor someday. For now he is a small shy boy, a child craftsman proud of his work and, despite the magnitude of his responsibilities, bearing no resentment in his eyes. He sits transfixed in part by need, but also by love.”
From one who creates what others will keep, Ging moves on to one who gathers what others discard, to Paul, 13, who lives and makes a living from the abundance in Payatas, the abundance of other people’s discards. He goes around collecting junk in a cart provided by the shop that buys the fruits of his scavenging. It is crucial, in an activity like that, that some rule of law or of orderly behavior is observed, by those similarly engaged. This, I surmise, was what prompted Paul to dream “of becoming a policeman one day. He says he wants to maintain peace and order in Barangay Bagong Silang where he lives. Even now he asks his neighbors’ permission before he looks through their trash.” And, yes, “His other dream is that when he grows up his family will have enough to eat. That is all.”
For now, however, Simon, at 7, holds in his hands, as do most of his townmates in San Antonio Zambales, a violin through which he ferries his audience to the heights of classical music. He must have been gifted by nature (he, Ging notes, one April opened the Vivaldi Evening of the Pundaquit music festival with a short solo) that is enhanced by nurture. In San Antonio, children take violin lessons from Coke Bolipata’s Casa San Miguel, the town’s art center that seeks to integrate art into the life of the community. But Simon wants to be a pilot one day, flying people’s lives into different heights, and at the same time uplifting his own.
Nelson lives further south, in fact, in the eyes of some whom history and economics have carried up north, too far south. Nelson is a Bajau and thus a native of the sea and subject to the whims of its tides and the caprices of wind. In Barangay Mariki where he lives, he sees his people’s way of life drifting away, flushed out by commercialization, cracked irretrievably every time the peace is blasted away by dynamite fishing, if not by the gunfire of war. He is anxious, it is true. But he continues to live on, “hoping each day for the kindness of strangers, or eking out a few pesos from tourists and passersby. He must beg so he can eat, and on certain days other people’s scraps are all he can find.”
But at least, Nelson has eyes by which he can see. Aaron and Czarinah of Ramon Magsaysay High School in Manila do not. Aaron has been blind from infancy caused by cancer of the optic nerves; Czarinah woke up one day, when she was 7, unexplicably vision-impaired.
Still, Nelson, who is able to ride a bicycle on account of his uncanny ability to hear an echo when he comes too close to a wall, hopes to marry someday, not necessarily to one who is not blind, but, he admits peevishly, to one who “isn’t mute.” Czarinah, for her part, “wants to have a good job to help her family, to return what she has received.” She hopes for a family of her own, too. “If I have one, I will be the best mother and wife. I’ll prove that even though I’m blind I can have a normal life.”
By bringing the stories of the children to the fore, Ging challenges our understanding of what it is “normal”. In the final analysis, the thesis of “Where the children are”, as I read is, is that, in children, as it ought also with us who are albeit older and often sadder, the norm is to hope and not to hate, to dream and not to damn, and to struggle on but not against.