SAN AGUSTIN, ROMBLON—I chanced upon a group of kids gathered on the shore during low tide. At first I thought they were picking shells but as I walked closer I saw that they were gathering some stones.
I noticed the smallest among them, a little girl who looked like she was eight. I sat on a rock next to her and asked what she was doing. She was shy at first but she warmed up to me after I introduced myself.
Her name is Jocelyn Moral, she is 12 years old. I asked her what she was doing with the stones. She said her cousins sell the stones to homebuilders in town. She usually fills a big repurposed can of biscuit in one day, which is equivalent to ten pesos ($0.25)
Jocelyn is the second of seven kids. Her mother works as a laundrywoman and her father cuts coco lumber for a living. When not gathering gravel, Jocelyn helps take care of her younger siblings.
Jocelyn is in 4th grade in school. “I should be in sixth grade, “she told me. “I stopped school twice because we have no money.”
I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, she looks at me as if unsure what I was asking. “Do you want to be a teacher, a doctor?” I prodded.
She shrugged, “I don’t even know if I can enroll next school year or even get into high school. Life is just too hard,” she said.
“But do you want to?” I asked.
She nodded, then said, “I do know what I want to do when I grow up.”
I nodded encouragingly. “I want to be able to help my family,” she said.
I sat quietly beside her, unsure of what to say next. A few minutes later, she said she had to go home as it was getting dark. Her grandmother will be waiting for her at the foot of the hills so they can start their long walk home.
She picked up a plastic noodle cup she kept beside her all the time. I noticed that it was full of shells.
“How pretty, do you play with them or are you going to sell them too?“ I asked.
She looked at me and chuckled. She picked the biggest shell and showed it to me. “This is dinner,” she said.