By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Mothers aspire for a better life and future for their children, thus she will work hard to put her children to a good school and make sure that her children eat three times a day. But for Melissa San Miguel, a children rights advocate, an activist and a mother of two children, there is more to just providing for the needs of the family.
“A better life for my children is to live in a society where they will enjoy their basic rights such as social services and free education,” San Miguel told Bulatlat.com.
San Miguel is a working mom, but unlike the employed mothers, she is not confined within the four corners of an air-conditioned office up to 5:00 p.m.. San Miguel is working for a non-government organization; she has been a development worker since she graduated in college.
But what makes her life different from other mothers? Well, she has a son who has Downs syndrome yet she still continued with her advocacy to promote children’s rights. She gets a little help from the organization she belongs to but to maintain her son’s health is quite costly.
Dedicated activist and a mother
San Miguel committed herself to her advocacy. San Miguel worked as an organizer in a peasant organization after she graduated from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in 1993 and then she worked with the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in 1996.
From 2003 to 2007, San Miguel was also an organizer of Samakana, an organization of women in urban poor communities. She organized women who experienced demolition and empowers them by educating them of their rights.
When she had her first child, Mine now 12 years old, she did not see it as a limitation to perform her task. “Having a child is not a limitation for me to continue with my work. In 2004, when the community I organize was about to be demolished, Mine was with me until the wee hours of the night in the community. She was only four years old then” San Miguel said.
Her group helped her in taking care of Mine. They divide the task among themselves whenever San Miguel has to go to the provinces for trainings or fact finding mission. “For example I will be out of town for one week and my husband is also busy, someone from my group will be in-charge of taking care of her. If there are funds, they hire a nanny also referred to us by the group.”
Everywhere she goes, if there is no one to care for Mine and she has to carry out her task she brings Mine with her.
The Bahay Lunduyan Learing Center (BLLC), a day care center of the Parent Alternative Incorporated was also helped in taking care of Mine. The BLLC serves as a drop-in center for parents like San Miguel who are working in NGOs. “In BLLC they explain why mother or father has to work.”
She may have spend half of her time with the mothers in the community while Mine is spending time with other people if she is not in school. But San Miguel said Mine understands. “I explain to her, together with the BLLC, the nature of my work.”
She maybe busy but she sees to it that she attends every parent-teacher’s meeting and card giving. They also see to it that they have a meeting in the family especially during summer vacation. “We plan and we talk about her routine and what she should do and what her tasks are.”
On Jan. 17, 2008, JM came. A nurse and a midwife told her of her child’s condition. “I was angry; I told them ‘Are you a doctor to tell me that? I need to see the doctor.’ And then eventually the doctor told me. It was painful. We were told by the doctor that JM has to undergo newborn screening to know if there are other possible illnesses. Good thing he was only positive of G6PD deficiency (Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency).”
Immediately after they were discharged from the hospital they went to Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) for JM’s medical check-up. “The hospital was our home then. We were at the hospital three times a week.”
JM’s health has to be monitored since a baby with Down syndrome has a poor health condition. What also pains her is that she cannot breastfeed JM because he can’t suck and later on had breastfed jaundice. “He turned yellow, almost green. So the doctor told me that I can’t breastfed him. It was frustrating because all the more that I want to breastfeed him because of his condition aside from the additional expense of buying him formula milk.”
The doctor told them that JM had to go patent ductus arteiosus (PDA) ligation and they need almost a hundred thousand pesos for JM’s operation. “But he always had pneumonia so he can’t be cleared to go on an operation,” San Miguel said. Until in August of 2008 JM was finally clear to undergo operation.
“Because of his poor health, one time we thought that he would die. He was crying terribly, he was struggling to breathe and he was turning black! We could not bring him to the hospital because I didn’t have money that time. So we just readied ourselves that he might die that night until I saw something in his nose. Apparently a booger just made it difficult for him to breathe.”
JM’s suffering did not end with his heart operation. After a month, September 2008 ,he was once again confined because of pneumonia. “Whenever he has cough and we bring him to the hospital he would be immediately admitted.”
Until one day, San Miguel said, she woke up and decided not to go to the doctor for check-up. She went to a therapist to develop JM’s skills instead. “Since then up to now JM’s doing fine so far.” All funds for JM’s operation and medication were provided by the Gabriela Women’s Party.
Through it all, San Miguel never thought of working in the mainstream. She needed money for JM’s need as well as Mine’s but she never took the opportunity that few people have. There are attempts by her mother and friends to help her get employment in a government office but she declined.
“My mother is a retired government employee, she has many connections in different agencies so if I want to work I can be easily employed. My sister is also in the US and she was petitioning me to go there. My friends are willing to back me up in the private school where she’s working. But I just can’t.”
She dreamed of becoming a lawyer once but then taking law is such a long time for her so she took teaching units. “But only to gratify my mother who’s really pushing me to work in the government. I also passed the Civil Service Exams, but then I just took it to gratify her.”
San Miguel was still able to do her task despite JM’s condition. There are limitations now but it did not stop her to continue working. She is now the spokeswoman of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concern. Mine is also helping her to take care of JM with also a little help from relatives.
“So what keeps you going?” Bulatlat asked her.
“I grew up in Camp Aguinaldo and I witnessed how cruel the soldiers were with women. And as I grew up I was also exposed to problems that’s plaguing the society and I want to contribute to change this society.”
She said she can’t imagine herself doing clerical work in an office. “I think this is where I belong. If I work in a place where workers are abused then I just become an instrument of that system,” she said.
“I believe in the correctness of the struggle. And for as long as I know that what I’m doing is right and my children will benefit from it I will still continue with the struggle.”
“We live a simple life; we are not aspiring for an extravagant life. We live with what we have. I aspire for a better life for my children, that is to have a society that will serve their interests – that is the essence of a better life.”