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Stop child labor: Bata Balik-Eskwela rehabilitates youth workers to students

Former child laborers raise flags to protest against child labor. Photo by Mark Louie Balladares
Former child workers raise flags to protest against child labor. Photo by Mark Louie Balladares

The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Inc. (EILER), in partnership with the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Regional, hosted the Bata Balik – Eskwela Youth Camp 2015 last June 12, 2015 at the Redemptorist Church Covered Court to commemorate the World Against Child Labor Day.

This youth camp is just one of the many efforts by various non-profit organizations to address the issue of child labor as majority of child workers all around the country are suffering from the dangerous and harsh environments of their workplaces while only earning menial pay.

According to EILER Executive Director Anna Leah Escresa-Colina, “We gathered all the children beneficiaries of the Bata Balik-Eskwela project. They are all former child workers in plantations and mining communities here in Mindanao. We set up Bata Balik-Eskwela learning centers in six project areas.

“We have four here in Mindanao, one in Camarines Norte, and one in Negros Occidental. The learning centers serve as bridge schools for the children who stopped schooling because they needed to work, and the centers provided the classes and catch-up lessons to facilitate their integration to formal school.”

In attendance were over 20 former child beneficiaries of the program who were brought from different learning center project areas all over Mindanao to Davao City for a day in order to assess and evaluate their adjustment and integration to formal school.

“These children are part of the two batches which took the review classes in our centers, so they are reintegrated now in formal school.” Escresa-Colina said.

The Bata Balik – Eskwela program was well-received by many of the former child workers. Geraldine Abil, a 14-year-old grade six pupil and a former plantation worker shared that she was thankful to EILER for implementing the program as it gave her a chance at having a better life.

“Dako ang pasalamat nako sa EILER kay kung dili tungod sa ila walay livelihood ang makaabot sa amo,” Abil told Atenews.

Abil also shared her story of becoming a child worker. According to her, she started working when she was eight years old in order to support her family and her studies. But she eventually had to stop schooling due to her family not being able to afford the expenses of her projects as well as having many debts.

When asked about her experience as a plantation worker she said, “Kapoy kaayo. Init. 4:30 magsugod na mi trabaho hantod alasdose.”

Cerino Plaza, a 17-year-old former child miner, also shared his experience to Atenews.

“Disisais ka oras. Alasais sa ka ngitngiton ko magsugod, mugawas ko alasonse sa adlaw.” said Plaza when asked how many hours he worked in the tunnels.

Plaza also stated that he could never forget the things he experienced in the tunnel. “Mahirap iyong trabaho doon kasi papasok ka sa ilalim ng lupa… parang hindi mo na kilala ang sarili mo. Parang hinahatid mo ang sarili mo sa langit doon kasi iyong mga kasama mo doon namamatay.”

Because of this, he was glad that the members of EILER found him and included him into their program. He also said that other children should not waste the opportunity to receive education. “Mag-aral sa ta para ma meet nato ang atong mga pangarap.”

After the program, the child beneficiaries were given dinner before they boarded the buses that took them back to their respective schools.

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